Caution, wall falling, photo: Predrag Trokicic
Caution, wall falling, photo: Predrag Trokicic

The reception of the prime minister and the minister of health in Novi Pazar provides excellent material for analysis. Some of that analysis will be done now, and some later, with the hindsight that comes with distance. Whenever the SNS rule finally comes to an end, the recording of the address of the officials in front of the Novi Pazar hospital, the indignation of the audience and the actions of the doctors will be a symbol, a grand finale of the outgoing government’s epidemic policy. Whistles and messages like ‘Resignations’, ‘Thieves’, and ‘We want the truth’, could be heard from the gathered citizens.

It would be interesting to know why it was the prime minister who came to Novi Pazar. We know whose job it is to appear for important state functions, especially the ones which involve saving and rescuing people – the president’s, of course. The impression of the unusualness of Brnabic’s visit is reinforced by her statement made only two days earlier that “not all patients who tested positive for Covid-19, died of Covid-19” and then gave an example of a patient positive for Covid-19 who gets killed by a bus on his way to an infectious disease clinic. “There are a lot of cases like that,” she said, thus explaining the drastic difference between the number of infections and deaths published by the government of Serbia, and those from the specialized medical database.

Brnabic came to Novi Pazar to calm the situation – because the data from the field points to a much larger number of infected and dead than officially announced, as well as to the inability of the local hospital to cope with the scale of the epidemic. It seems as if someone has sent the prime minister on this task consciously, to meet a fate similar to the one of the patients from her story, who – as we know – gets hit by a bus. It seems that the chieftain sent his protégé to her political death. This would confirm his already known treatment of his closest associates, where even the most loyal are used, humiliated and discarded, thrown out of the political game.

The other main character of the drama, the minister of health, had a formal and legal reason to be in Novi Pazar. He is managing the epidemic on the territory of Serbia. At least according to the law. However, as we haven’t seen Zlatibor Loncar for days, and sometimes for weeks, the fact that the minister nicknamed Dr. Death came to resolve issues of life and death in Novi Pazar, to count the dead and the tin coffins for the journalists, really seems like part of the same farce from the same malicious director.

And so, sent as infantry to the front line, both speakers tried to say more or less expected things: that the health and epidemiological situation in Novi Pazar was politicized and that news of the collapse of the system and a far greater number of sick and dead could be classified as fake news. I counted how many times these words were used during official speeches. Politics, politicization and political 18 times; and lies, fake news and misinformation as many as 11 times.

So let’s recap – the people who allowed mass gatherings and a general election in the middle of an epidemic are talking about politicization and fake news. These people still do not have a meaningful answer to the questions of why the medical records of infections and deaths from coronavirus differ from the data that the government has been presenting to the public for months, as well as why the government allowed mass electoral contact of the citizens. In Novi Pazar alone, about 18,000 people participated in the elections, i.e. 47% of the population registered to vote. The number of those present at pre-election and other rallies is not publicly available.

On the video made in front of the hospital, a minor character was noticed – even though he is a minister in the government and the winner of the local elections – Rasim Ljajic, who briefly and pathetically called for unification against the virus, and was then forced to continue trying to extinguish dissatisfaction in the audience. Apparently, after his recent jump into the pre-election audience, Ljajic specialized to some extent in crowd management, but not enough to calm those gathered in front of the hospital.

Surprised by the fact that, unlike at the staged press conferences, the story of politicization and false news does not work with the gathered audience, the two key speakers resorted to a rhetoric of biblical martyrdom. Brnabic stated pathetically that “the truth is the loudest thing in the world” and that they “can even kill her.” Loncar said that the citizens who were whistling and voicing their displeasure “should not be given attention” and that “they should be forgiven.”

Other highlights that should not be left out include Loncar’s statement “I cannot be held accountable for somebody dying at home,” as well as Brnabic’s that “philanthropy is always a beautiful thing, but that there is nothing lacking in Novi Pazar hospital.” There was also the phenomenal statement that she “is not afraid of thugs, the opposition, and obscure online portals.” Well, of course, when all three are, directly or indirectly, controlled by her party.

Once the tragedy and embarrassment reached their climax, to the patient viewer, the one who managed to watch the full hour of the recording, things became far clearer. Statements by dissatisfied audiences given to the media indicate that most of them are people from the ruling party or parties that cooperate with the ruling party in the local government.

If the loud indignation of citizens in front of the representatives of the highest state bodies cannot be considered a major turning point, then a protest that comes from the supporters of the ruling party certainly is one. It seems that we have discovered a line they are not willing to cross – the deaths and serious illness of their own family members. Everything else, they’ve been enduring stoically for years. Despite the fact that it was said and historically confirmed so many times that in a criminal regime, which does not care about anything, not even the lives of its citizens, no one is spared. In the end, everyone suffers. Maybe this has now finally become clear.

One of the loudest dissatisfied people from Novi Pazar put it this way: we gave you our vote, only so that you could kill us.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 07.07.2020.

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Sofija Mandić je rođena 1986. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirana je pravnica, posrednica u mirnom rešavanju sporova i aktivistkinja za ljudska prava. Radi u Centru za pravosudna istraživanja (CEPRIS), a prethodno je bila angažovana u Beogradskom centru za bezbednosnu politiku i Nacionalnom demokratskom institutu. Generalna je sekretarka Peščanika, sa kojim sarađuje od 2007, kao učesnica u radijskim emisijama, a zatim i kao autorka tekstova. Autorka, koautorka i urednica je brojnih analiza o vladavini prava, stanju ljudskih prava u Srbiji i njihovoj perspektivi. Neke od skorašnjih su: Izbori pred Upravnim sudom 2022 – pregled postupanja i odluka (ur. CEPRIS, 2022), Izveštaj o javnosti rada Visokog saveta sudstva i Državnog veća tužilaca (CEPRIS, 2022), Sloboda izražavanja pred sudom (ur. SĆF, 2021-2022), Rad sudova tokom epidemije zarazne bolesti COVID-19 (OEBS, 2021), Ljudska prava u Srbiji (BCLJP, 2018-2021), Naša urušena prava (FES, 2019), Uslovi za izbor i napredovanje sudija i tužilaca u pravnom obrazovanju (CEPRIS, 2018), Skorašnji Ustav Srbije – rodna perspektiva (ŽPRS, 2017). Kao predstavnica civilnog društva učestvuje u procesu izrade komentara i mišljenja na izmene Ustava iz 2022, kao i zakona koji proizlaze iz ovih promena.

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