Let’s start with a simple assumption that I won’t waste much time arguing for – with an aggressive vaccination campaign and strict quarantine, the pandemic in Serbia would be, if not solved, then at least reduced to a controllable level. The healthcare system would be relieved, lives would be saved, and the functioning of society could slowly go back to a more or less normal state. This claim is supported by numerous experts, as well as by the experiences of those countries which addressed the pandemic in this manner.
So why aren’t we in the middle of an aggressive vaccination campaign and strict quarantine?
One possible answer could be that we don’t have enough vaccines, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. There are more than enough vaccines for all who applied and then some, with additional supplies arriving daily. Instituting a quarantine also doesn’t require any special resources that we don’t already have. So, it must be something else. But what?
Despite its power to control all media and institutions, the current regime is fundamentally helpless – in front of their own clients and the capital whose profit it serves, as well as in front of the electorate they previously stuffed with a deadly cocktail of conspiracy theories and lies. Strict quarantine would put the regime in confrontation with its financiers, as well as with citizens who would suffer losses due to bans on economic activity. A clear and decisive vaccination campaign would antagonize the part of the electorate that was deliberately poisoned by Nestorovic’s skepticism about the vaccines back when it wasn’t certain we would get them.
The anti-regime part of the public, on the other hand, is confused and unable to understand the real intentions of the regime. They constantly find themselves rising up to resist, as it turned out, completely baseless threats of instituting a curfew. Not only is the regime unprepared to reintroduce the curfew, it is unwilling to implement even the minimal measures it prescribed reluctantly and under the pressure of the doctors and the so-called “medical part of the Crisis HQ.” Between public health and “the economy,” the regime has clearly chosen the latter and made it clear to the citizens on numerous occasions that the responsibility for not getting sick in the middle of the pandemic is entirely on them.
The paternalistic figure of state power – embodied in Predrag Kon, a doctor, lieutenant colonel, and member of the Crisis HQ – was brought to the forefront at the moment when the regime needed the pandemic to actually be under control for the upcoming election. Kon spoke in the voice of a state that is no more – the voice of SFRY and its health and military institutions – the voice of a state that cares about the public good, even if only paternalistically. The message hit the target, especially among senior citizens (“our grandmas and grandpas”) who still, at least to some degree, think of this state as that state, a state that cares, like a parent.
But as soon as the election was over, the economy became a priority, and the outdated concern of the “medical part of the Crisis HQ” for public health, the healthcare system, and human lives became the subject of ridicule in the regime media. Kon was thrown to the hyenas from Pink and Happy TV, the regime representative in the Crisis HQ said that “every family is its own crisis HQ now,” and only ten days ago, at the height of the crisis thus far, with a huge number of infected and an unknown number of dead, the prime minister mockingly explained to the citizens that “the state is neither their father nor their mother.” The paternalistic mask has fallen and reality has appeared before us – a state that serves to lubricate the wheels of the “economy,” and not to preserve the security of its citizens. The real face of the Progressive Party’s Serbia and its reaction to the pandemic is not Kon, but Vesic.
At this point, you may wonder why I keep putting economy in quotation marks. The lockdowns really do endanger businesses, even the survival of many companies, not only or even primarily regime clients, but rather mostly small and medium-sized enterprises which may easily go bankrupt due to quarantine. The question is reasonable, but the answers we are offered are not.
Which is better – to work in spite of the pandemic and save your health while risking losing your job?
Which is scarier – to end up in a hospital with pneumonia or on the street, broke?
Which is more insensitive – to infect your parents or confine your depressed child to home?
Which is worse – to die of Covid or of hunger?
The behavior of the virus is outside of our control; it is what it is and it sets fixed conditions for the fight against the pandemic. What we can do is to justly and humanely divide the weight and risks of the fight against the pandemic, as well as the resources we have available. However, in a society in which the path to the latter is permanently and persistently closed – for so long, in fact, that the possibility itself disappears from the collective consciousness – only a stubborn and uncompromising rush after hard facts remains available.
The already slightly tired idea that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism could today be paraphrased as follows: it is easier to imagine that Covid does not exist, that the pandemic was invented, that the Illuminati, Bill Gates, or the pharmaco-mafia are behind it, than to imagine that society could be arranged in a manner that doesn’t force us to choose between our health and making ends meet, between basic anti-pandemic measures and basic living needs. Hence the dancing around Stefan Nemanja’s monument and the readiness of otherwise reasonable people to follow conspiracy theorists and cynical snake oil salesmen.
As Nikola Zdravkovic noticed at the very beginning of the pandemic, the fight against conspiracy theories can’t be conducted only by science, arguments or facts, it also requires finding new ways of collective action, establishing an economy that will really work for the common good and not for the profit of a small elite. The only answer to the question “your money or your life?” posed by the criminal regime is to reject the choice. We choose both money and life, of course, because without money there is no life, and without life, money has no meaning.
To conclude – lockdowns and vaccination are necessary and should be uncompromisingly advocated for. However, we don’t need to ruin people’s lives, jobs, and families because of it. This is not a choice between health and the economy, but a choice between an “economy” that works only for the profit of the richest and an economy that will work for the common good.
Translated by Marijana Simic