The global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has shown the strength and level of responsibility of countries and politicians, and the true face of any government and its democratic or authoritarian capacities. The situation in Serbia, where the state of emergency was introduced, has been recognized as a blatant example of an authoritarian regime. Our government is trying to manage the crisis through manipulation of fear and has, thus, introduced the category of “disobedient citizens” as the main culprit for the introduction of curfew and the spread of disease. We’ve heard, for example, that 92% of the citizens respect the prescribed measures, while the remaining 8% don’t. If this is true, then we can easily say that the measures are working and there is no citizens’ disobedience. It is completely impossible for any measure to be 100% followed.
The term “disobedient citizens” includes different groups. Although only those who have violated the legal measures are legally responsible, according to the authorities this category also includes returnees from abroad, pensioners, dog owners and those who went on walks during the weekend. In everyday experience, we can see how careful the citizens are being. Without any police having to force them, many citizens stand in line trying to respect the prescribed distance. Violations of recommended and mandatory measures and socially irresponsible behavior are also evident, to some extent caused by numerous contradictory messages we’ve received (ridiculous / dangerous virus; open / closed schools and universities; unnecessary / necessary masks; don’t hoard supplies / 24-hour curfew). In many cases, it is not only the responsibility of the citizens, but also those who are obliged to organize life in these circumstances and, for example, block access to the city promenades.
On the other hand, the government presents itself as obedient – it listens to the voices of experts. This is highly doubtful. In times of major crises, the activities of numerous professions and their unified action are important. A pandemic certainly requires the primacy of opinion and the guidance of medical professionals, but the state and society are complex organisms that must be taken into account. The Serbian government has been repeatedly warned by psychologists that mental health care must also be considered and that the spread of fear can have catastrophic consequences. This important recommendation is not respected at all. In his public speeches, the president of Serbia regularly manipulates fear, and the release of footage of the unfinished hospital in the Belgrade fair hall has led to collective unease and massive backlash. Today, it is also evident that psychological help is needed throughout the society, which is in a state of stress.
Disrespect for the experts and their expertise is characteristic of the current Serbian regime. It has long been publicly condemning every form of independent and critical thinking. It talks about a “false” and a “true” elite and persecutes critically-minded university professors in assembly sessions. Public condemnation of critical voices has also led to the silencing of the experts, so that citizens are informed about the situation in particular areas, such as health, through personal experiences and stories of relatives and friends.
The extent to which the government has disregarded the experts in the past, and still does so today, is evident in its activities in Belgrade. Contrary to all expert opinion, the government has devastated the Serbian capital by building the Belgrade Waterfront, attempting to erect a cable car / gondola on Kalemegdan, remodeling the Sava Square, erecting a monument to Stefan Nemanja, etc. Instead of investing in capacities important for the society and population of Serbia and Belgrade, huge funds were invested in an attempt to create an amusement park for tourists. This practice continues today in Sava Square.
In times of crisis and pandemic, one would expect that, as in all responsible countries, financial resources, construction and economic activities would be directed as much as possible to the treatment and protection of the citizens. Instead of expanding hospital capacities, equipping and building laboratories and encouraging the production of missing protective equipment, the deputy mayor of Belgrade announced on March 30th that the works on Sava Square will continue, including, among other things, “the base wreath on which a 23-meter high monument (to Stefan Nemanja) will be erected”. This venture really seems surreal. I am sure that, at this moment, no expert would direct Serbia’s meagre financial resources to building monuments, instead of strengthening medical capacities for protection against infection.
The monument to Stefan Nemanja, meaningless by all parameters – from its gigantic dimensions to its nebulous iconography, is now becoming a monument to the ruthlessness and meaninglessness of the failed pro-Russian ideology and misguided investments of the Serbian authorities. It is possible that the government plans to reveal this monument after the crisis ends and offer the citizens a big colorful lie, which should suppress all their unpleasant memories and signal a bright future.
The division between “disobedient citizens” and “obedient authorities” is not a reflection of the real situation, but rather a rhetorical mechanism of the rulers of Serbia. From the very beginning of its reign, SNS has been dividing its citizens, using the principle of “divide and conquer” and presenting itself as a tutor who reproves and punishes the disobedient and rewards the good. This principle has obviously been taken up by others, as evidenced by a growing number of people who are recklessly addressing the citizens and scaring them on a daily basis. Emphasizing the collective disobedience of citizens masks the responsibility of those who, at the time of the onset of the crisis, mocked the “ridiculous virus” and, in the midst of a pandemic, invested money into renovating Sava Square and erecting a monument to Stefan Nemanja.
Translated by Marijana Simic