The incompetence and hypocrisy of the European Union in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak seems to have sobered up Serbia, a country that has previously slavishly committed itself to following orders from Brussels.
For the past 20 years, every flavor of politician that ruled Serbia has signed on to the dogma that “the EU has no alternative” and that membership in that trans-national bloc was in the highest state interest – even if joining wasn’t even remotely on the horizon and would require giving up national identity and territory like Kosovo, among other things.
Then came the novel coronavirus, and the EU ban on exports of medical equipment even to obedient vassals like Belgrade, right after the Brussels bureaucrats’ commitment to open borders made Europe the new epicenter of the pandemic. Sure, now the doors are slamming shut, but for thousands of Italians and Spaniards it’s too little, too late.
Declaring a state of emergency and national lockdown on Sunday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic slammed the “fabled international and European solidarity” as something that “only existed on paper,” noting that he reached out to “friend and brother” President Xi Jinping of China for assistance, specifically with medical equipment.
“Only China can help us,” the Serbian leader said, adding that Beijing has sent five million masks already and offered to send doctors as well. China was the first to deal with the disease, which reportedly emerged in the city of Wuhan in November 2019.
The technology development minister, Nenad Popovic, soon shared a photo of the first shipment of coronavirus detection tests arriving, praising China’s “steel friendship” with Serbia.
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic also sought help with medical supplies from his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who was supposed to visit Belgrade at the end of April but has canceled the trip for obvious reasons. Lavrov reportedly promised that Russia would help Serbia “as always.”
Serbia’s crackdown on coronavirus is possibly one of the strictest in Europe, enforced by armed and masked military patrolling the streets. Public transportation has been severely curtailed, and the entire population ordered to stay at home and only go outside to dispose of trash, buy groceries or medication, and walk pets.
Daycares, schools, and universities are closed until further notice. General elections scheduled for April have been postponed indefinitely. Price controls are in place.
Anyone, even citizens and diplomats, who returns from abroad must undergo a 14-day quarantine. If they are coming from Switzerland, Iran, Romania, Spain, Germany, France, Austria, Slovenia, or Greece, it goes up to 28 days. Violators may get up to three years in jail. Italy is not on the list only because it had been in full lockdown for over a week.
“I say to foreigners: don’t come to Serbia, except for the Chinese who are called upon to come, their doctors, the people who help us,” Vucic said.
On Sunday, when he declared the emergency, Serbia had registered 57 cases of the coronavirus, with no deaths and one recovery. Not surprisingly, the president’s liberal critics have denounced the measures as far too drastic.
“The virus is too tiny to be killed by a bullet,” tweeted former Democratic Party leader Bojan Pajtic. He also noted that masked and armed troops sent to enforce the emergency shouldn’t keep their finger on the trigger, offering a photo as proof.
“Hope it’s clear now that we must join the EU as soon as possible!” tweeted former defense minister and fellow Democrat, Dragan Sutanovac. “Help from China is great, and thanks, but we belong with everyone else from Europe, in the EU.”
Bear in mind that this is the man who melted down much of Serbia’s arsenal during his tenure, so as to make it easier to bend the knee to his Euro-Atlantic masters. Not even a deadly pandemic that is demonstrating the EU’s hypocrisy and incompetence on a daily basis has been able to shake his cult-like devotion.
For the rest of Serbia, but also much of the world, the Covid-19 crisis is turning into a sobering experience. It has revealed not only which friends are fair-weather and which ones are true, but also that globalization is hardly inevitable, while having a massive downside.