Savamala is a neighbourhood of Belgrade that stretches along the right bank of river Sava and it is part of the city's historic core. This area includes state-owned land containing a formerly industrial waterfront zone, old railway tracks, small businesses, 101 individual households, and football club established by railway workers. Since 2009, one part of “Savamala” have been transformed by community of young artists and students and now hosts many bars, galleries and cultural centres.
“The Belgrade Waterfront” is a project developed between the state-owned company “Beograd na vodi d.o.o” and Eagle Hills - the newly established private property developer from United Arab Emirates. This project plans to transform “Savamala” into an area of offices, luxury flats, and a shopping mall (the biggest in Eastern Europe - EE) and commercial tower (the tallest in the EE), including displacement of main train and bus stations out of the city centre. The national government declared the project to be of national importance with an explanation that it would revive the collapsed construction industry, create of hundreds of thousands of jobs in construction, commerce and tourism, apart from the share of the profit.
In October 2014, the city's architectural, artistic and academic community organised “Ne da(vi)mo Beograd” initiative (the brackets suggest two sentences meaning "We're not giving Belgrade away" and "Do not sink Belgrade") which uses a yellow rubber duck as a symbol of their resistance against a project that they oppose for architectural, urban planning, transportation, economic, ecological, and broader social reasons. The initiative criticises the fact that the project started without public competition and discussions, which prevented citizens and professionals to provide alternatives to the current consumerist vision of the project that include use of public finance for exclusively private benefits. In addition, the project would cause traffic collapse, dramatically alter the visual identity of Belgrade, and promote spatial segregation giving the fact that the luxury flats would be available only to rich people. Moreover, the government adjusted effective laws regarding the spatial organization of the city in order to enable the project.
In 2014, “Ne da(vi)mo Beograd”: 1) submitted the list of objections to the project’s draft spatial plan, 2) protested in front of the National Assembly during the session on the laws and regulations adjustments, 3) participated in public session of the spatial plan in Belgrade City Council using inflatable rings and balls to send the message that “’Belgrade Waterfront’ is hollow and we do not want to sink”, and 4) used the banner "Stop the investor urbanism" to disrupt the award ceremony of the 23rd International Salon of Urbanism - organized by the Urban planners association of Belgrade- , given that “The special purpose area spatial plan for regulation of the coastal part of the city of Belgrade” won the first place in four categories.
In 2015, the initiative protested in front of the National Assembly against the adoption of lex specialis for “The Belgrade Waterfront”, as well as in front of Geozavod building (headquarters of “Beograd na vodi d.o.o”) against signing the contract between the government and the partner. In addition, the members of the initiative interrupted the project related presentations held by the mayor and the main city planners at various occasions. They also participated in the 51st Critical mass organised to express concerns over the faith of bike lane located on the future “Belgrade Waterfront” promenade, which was eventually closed due to the start of construction works that have resulted in further protests and area blockades. At “Belgrade Boat Carnival”, the initiative’s boat carrying a big yellow duck and a message was excluded from the parade by the police for sending “political messages”. The protest against setting the project’s foundation stone for two residential towers followed.
All named peaceful activities were organised in the presence of large number of police that has been forbidding the initiative members the access to the project related event sites and distribution of a printed newsletter, while several journalists have been prevented from filming and interviewing.
Despite the resistances, the promenade has undergone a makeover including construction of a controversial project’s “exhibition area”, actually a private restaurant “Savanova”. The construction works on the tower are also ongoing but facing the problems of extremely high groundwater and flood risks. Namely, the construction area coincides with flood defense zone significantly impacted in the big floods in 2014.
Most recently, in March 2016, in the light of upcoming parliamentary elections, the initiative reported that a group of people related to the leading political party the Serbian Progressive Party have misused their symbols in order to mislead citizens and prevent substantiated criticism of the project. On the night of April 24 (election day), around 30 masked men using vehicles without number plates demolished several buildings in the Hercegovačka street (Savamala), while tying up the witnesses and taking away their phones. This event provoked a series of the citizens’ protests against the authorities suspected of being involved in the demolition that gives a way to Belgrade Waterfront project. The protesters are asking for identification and punishment of the perpetrator as well as the resignations of the city and police authorities who did not protect the inhabitant of Hercegovačka. Around 20,000 people participated in the last of three protests organised so far. The initiative has announced it would organize further protests until the demands are fulfilled.