Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

If there ever was any room for doubt, now it is gone – the government, led by Aleksandar Vucic, has decided to sacrifice the health and lives of the citizens of Serbia for the sake of its own ratings. There were many opportunities to introduce meaningful measures, and they’ve missed them all. Now that the situation has become so relentlessly bad due to their own irresponsibility, that the only solution is to resort to the strictest of measures – lockdown and restriction of assembly – the government refuses to do so and, instead, introduces meaningless symbolic measures that are unheard of elsewhere in the world.

Indeed, what’s the point of vaccination passes which are only required after 10pm? An optimistic interpretation could be the one offered by several members of the Crisis HQ – this measure is just the beginning, a gradual introduction of increasingly restrictive measures that should stimulate mass vaccination. Even in this optimistic interpretation, however, the measures were tragically delayed. Dr. Predrag Kon recently stated that Covid passes were discussed at the Crisis HQ back in April this year (it was in April that such passes were introduced in Denmark, which has reached almost 80% of vaccinated citizens, in large part thanks to them). If the conclusion was that it is tactically wise to go for the gradual introduction, then it should have started much earlier. Today, every day of hesitation costs us tens, and probably hundreds of lives, which means that the decision to introduce measures “gradually” is equal to the decision to consciously sacrifice these lives.

In a somewhat less optimistic reading, the government led by Aleksandar Vucic intends to pass these symbolic measures through the filter of polls and focus groups – the only real source of all their policies – and decide based on the results whether they can afford stricter measures. Since the focus groups are nothing but a reflection of what the government itself has created by propagating anti-vaccine charlatans and lies, it is hard to believe that the result will be different from the previous one – the measures must not be introduced because they will jeopardize Vucic’s election chances.

However, it is much more likely that the government does not view the symbolic act of introducing Covid passes as an introduction to more serious and effective measures, or even as a test for their introduction, but simply as a replacement for these measures. How do we know that? Because the government treats all other requests this way. A good example is the way in which they responded to the demands for free and fair elections – instead of taking into account the demands of the opposition and fulfilling at least some of them, the government made a lot of effort to manipulate both the opposition and MEPs and the general public. First, they invented a “second track” of negotiations and invited their Trojan opposition, then postponed the negotiations and flattered European representatives by sending signals of obedience and cooperation in other fields that seem to be more important to them than democracy in Serbia (Kosovo, foreign investments, etc.). In the end, they offered worthless, purely symbolic measures, which in no way solve the problem of electoral conditions, but allow the government to obtain a passing grade from the envoy and the European Parliament. We have seen the same method with the opening of new “clusters” for EU accession: a few tricks here and there, a few laws passed through the one-party parliament, and then present the results to the public as proof that EU accession is progressing.

The same thing happened with the pandemic. Offer the virus a deal that it won’t be able to refuse, write a formal proposal that looks real. Get vaccines and say – now it’s all up to the citizens! Say – I would, but the Constitution won’t let me! Swear that you really believe in vaccines. Finally, propose the introduction of Covid passes after 10pm – that has to work, right?

Except that it doesn’t. Unlike MEPs, the virus cannot be deceived with bureaucracy or symbolic acts. The virus doesn’t understand the “second track of negotiations”, doesn’t care about focus groups, isn’t ready to make concessions or open clusters. The virus is ruthless and stupid, though not as stupid as a regime that believes a pandemic can be fought with symbolic acts, and not as ruthless as a regime that would sacrifice thousands of its citizens for electoral success.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 01.11.2021.