Everything is under control – a state of emergency has been introduced. I guess it’s kind of in the nature of a state of emergency for it to have arrived so suddenly, on a Sunday night. But wasn’t it only two days earlier that we heard how crazy and unnecessary the idea to close the schools was, which is a far milder measure? Wasn’t it also said that Serbia might get through the pandemic without a single death? What changed over the weekend that made us suddenly jump out of our comfortable armchair with weapons ready?
The epidemiological situation is definitely not the culprit: the ministry of health recorded a total of 7 new cases of corona virus infection from Saturday morning until Sunday night. The plausibility of this number is another issue, as Serbia has conducted relatively few tests so far, only 300, which is why the actual scale of the domestic epidemic remains unknown, but, according to the experience of China, it is realistic to assume that the number of those infected is much larger.
But we need to be guided by existing data, not estimates. If the epidemiological situation did not change, what caused the state of emergency? Certainly not the words of Patriarch Irinej, so I’ll assume it was something else.
And that something else was, as far as we can tell, nothing.
Absolutely nothing has changed since the first cases of infection appeared in the country and since some professionals and the public sought a reaction for the first time and were ridiculed on state television, since people went out on their own and bought alcohol and disinfectants, causing shortages, since we were served delusional misinformation by the government, for the first and hopefully last time, like the claim that children do not transmit the infection.
Nothing has changed because this particular state of emergency wasn’t just a reaction to the coming health crisis, but also a blatant demonstration of the current government’s power.
To paraphrase Karl Schmidt, an influential political and legal theorist (despite his open and lifelong support for the Nazis): the state of emergency is the basis of sovereignty, and true power belongs not to the one who enforces the laws, but to the one who has the power to suspend them. In other words, every government, even a democratic one, is the authority over the very framework of the law and a constant threat of the law’s abolition.
Once put together, power and emergency are bound with each other: a state of emergency is more powerful if it is abrupt, if it comes unexpectedly, if it can change at any moment. Its power doesn’t lie in its justification, quite the opposite – the power is more powerful if it is naked, if it more resembles a whim, like a parent who doesn’t need to explain their commands beyond a simple “because I say so.” There is, after all, no better way to express power but to make contradictory decisions.
That is, I believe, felt: one does not need to know the nature of power, it is enough to experience it. Its nature is simply absorbed through living it. Just three words are enough to change the fate of society, everyone’s health, life, and death; just one bang on the table and the whole opposition, all the media, the public, all fall silent. That is what “state of emergency” means.
Someone might say that the state of emergency was necessary. And I agree. Although it may seem that way, this is not really an argument against the introduction of a state of emergency, nor against state intervention, which was certainly necessary for our well-being.
No, I want to point to something else. To the fact that the reasons here are murky. The intervention is to be welcomed, but the danger lies in the fact that, tomorrow, this naked will for power may no longer be in line with public health needs. After all, this was the case even before the state of emergency. What are we to do now, just hope that it doesn’t happen again?
Translated by Marijana Simic