How to win it all and ruin everything: the Serbian elections and COVID-19

by Aleksandar Novaković

“Those who underestimate the Serbian crisis will dig graves for their own democracies.”

Hundreds of new cases of COVID-19 after the Serbian parliamentary and municipal elections are mostly the result of the irresponsible, self-centered and power-ridden politics of Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić. Most of the security measures were cancelled by the middle of May, and Serbia came back to a “normal” life, giving citizens a false sense of safety.

After all, Vučić’s SNS and its satellite parties have organised large political meetings during the past two months. In addition, there have been two football games in Belgrade (with an audience of about 20,000 people) and Niš (5,000 supporters). The leaders of  the SNS even celebrated their “victory” in an overcrowded electoral HQ while dancing a Serbian folk dance — kolo. Most of them were not wearing masks. If you think this is it… it’s not. The SNS organised a concert of popular “turbo-folk “– an odd combination of Serbian folk and pop music — with singer Nataša Bekvalac in Capitol Park, Rakovica, Belgrade. It included several thousand fans.

The results of this callousness were “positive”: several members of the government, including politicians cooperating with Vučić, were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the days following the elections. Furthermore, members of the supervising body RIK (Republic’s Electorate Committee), who are mostly SNS members, also tested positive.

The BIRN (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) has published data on June 22 about the real numbers of Serbian citizens that have died of coronavirus: “the total number of deaths was 632, which is 388 more than the officially announced number of 233 deaths.” The BIRN published data revealed that the number of infected citizens during the past month peaked at between 400 and 450 — not around 90 as the government and anti-covid Crisis HQ claimed. Yet, the worst was to come.

The Sandžak region in Southwestern Serbia, with a predominant Bosniak population, was hit the hardest with COVID-19. Rasim Ljajić, the local politician and Vučić’s satellite, has organised in-person meetings during the election campaign. Ljajić — who is himself a doctor —  has even gone to the lengths of stage diving in a rock-star-like manner. Vučić was posing handing the hospital ventilators of medical staff in Novi Pazar hospital (Novi Pazar is the biggest town in Sandžak) during the election campaign. Yet, he was nowhere to be seen when news emerged that the hospital of Novi Pazar was overcrowded with patients coming from this town and neighbouring municipalities.

There has been a lack of ventilators and testing across the country.

Patients have been laying in corridors, and waiting for hours to get help from the remaining members of medical staff. At the time I was writing this article, 20 doctors and 40 nurses were positive for COVID-19 in Novi Pazar alone. The situation in neighbouring Tutin is abhorrent, with 200 people being registered in the local hospital daily. In Tutin, infected people are dying every day. The decimated staff is fighting the pandemic, along with volunteers from Serbia and Bosnia.

The government did not send any help because by sending help Vučić would have admitted that he was wrong. Novi Pazar and Tutin can only depend on donations of the already impoverished citizens of Serbia, which means that they cannot meet the needs of their own communities. It is highly plausible that the virus will soon spread to neighbouring towns of Užice, Čačak and Kraljevo — Western Serbia will be hit hard.  The situation in the Serbian capital of Belgrade is not much better, with a limited number of tests and a rising number of infected citizens.

These lies and lack of funding constitute a deep betrayal of Serbia by Vučić, the SNS, the Serbian Anti-COVID Crisis HQ, and Ljajić. But this is not the end of the list.

The citizens of Serbia were encouraged to vote by the EU and US in what amounted to rigged elections.

The perfect examples are the statement of Sem Fabrizzi, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia: “Boycott of parliamentary and municipal elections on June 21 is not the best idea” and one coming from USA ambassador in Belgrade Anthony Godfrey who said: “Everyone should participate in the electoral process.” EU and USA leaders have accepted the results of these “elections” even though the public health situation has suggested otherwise.

Their reinforcement of the problematic elections through their statements constitutes a legitimation of an undemocratic process. The health and well being of Serbian people appear to mean nothing to them. Their only interest is that Vučić, whose SNS party has absolute power with 190 out of 250 MPs in Serbian Parliament (the rest of the MPs are members of satellite parties) fulfills their main objective:  giving the majority of Serbian natural resources and industries to EU  and US corporations, and keep promising that he will, someday, accept the independence of Kosovo. Of course, Vučić is afraid to do the latter because he knows that the moment he accepts all this, his services will no longer be needed. Through their support, he has gotten away with a flagrant breaching the electoral process QED, as can be seen in this video.

Vučić is trying to prolong his rule as long as he can and, for the time being, he can do almost anything. He can even make Serbia a fascist-like state. If you do not believe this, let me remind you that 30 years after the end of World War II, there were three fascist regimes in Europe: Salazar’s in Portugal, Franco’s in Spain, and the “Dictatorship of Colonels” in Greece. The COVID-19 outbreak in Serbia is a metaphor for social and political illness that is already spreading across the world. Those who underestimate the Serbian crisis will dig graves for their own democracies.

Aleksander Novaković is a historian and dramatist, and member of the Thematic DSC Peace and International Policy 1.

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