Spending consecutive days locked in our homes, fearing for our health, our lives, the lives of those around us, wearing face masks and gloves everywhere we go, being frightened by an “microscopic creature” … sounds movie-like. Something in between a horror and tragedy. None of us could’ve imagined the turn 2020 would take in just a few weeks. No one saw it coming, so when it came, it hit us like crazy.
Only recently, I was head over heels with life in Belgrade, that was as careless, as free and as dreamy as possible. It sounds almost impossible how mine and everyone's else lives have rotated for 180 degrees in about a month. From feeling the freest I have ever been, in Belgrade, to feeling like a prisoner in my own home in Mostar. An invisible force has come and ruled over everyday routines of, now more than a million people, and the Balkans are no exception.
Considering the Balkans’ historical and cultural context, it has constantly been a place of many discussions. Therefore, the topics of fundamental and social rights as well were always ardent matter, especially after transitioning from autocratic to democratic society, when the implementation of mentioned rights is one of the crucial criterion to evaluate the success of democratic consolidation. 30 years after asserting democratic principles, including the rights, the public questions the respect of theirs fundamental and social rights during the corona virus pandemic.
Every person is born equally with fundamental rights that cannot be taken away from them. It is something that each one of us has inside us, and only by being born it belongs to us as long as we live. That is, in regular living conditions without any outer threats. But, what happens when our lives become endangered, and the only way to save them is to temporarily give up on our fundamental rights? Are we ready to abdicate a part of our own beings for greater good? That is a self-reflecting question that usually seems irrelevant, because we like to see ourselves as immune to any kind of threat that may seek those actions. When a threat knocks on our door, there is no time for thinking. The time is now, and it requires instant actions. Given the circumstances, a particular right that I would like to touch on is a fundamental right to freedom. Our freedom has been limited as much as possible. Balkan countries put out a curfew, borders are closed, no public gatherings are allowed, churches are closed; restrictive measures for fighting the virus have been implemented widely across the countries. People are being restricted, movements are limited.
The relationship between the government and people should be based on mutual trust and should not be restrictive towards the people. We as a nation give out a part of our legitimacy to the government with the trust that the decisions they make will be the best for us. That is, in democracy. The government is chosen by the people to work in the favor of people, to meet people’s interests and it should completely be accountable to the people only. In crisis situations, a healthy and steady democracy implies that every decision made by the government is for the nation’s best, and that people should accept it based on the trust they have in the country’s leaders and representatives and their best intentions. However, mentioned decisions must not be restrictive in any way because the government, as well, should believe its nation enough not to restrict, but to advise them, and in return seek for the respect and cooperation. If one of the two parties is not completely involved in the described relationship, a disbalance appears, and the complete democratic system loses its main base. It is a vicious cycle that attracts focus in current situation.
There is no correct answer to why are people accepting to be restricted if it means contributing to the disturbance of democratic model? “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”, said Ronald Reagan. The only way to protect and fight for our freedom right now is to give up on it and pass it onto those who are in charge of saving it. Even with the democratic misbalance, situation requires acting in accordance with presented measures. With the current situation of corona virus, our right to freedom may endanger someone’s right to live, another fundamental right and is our responsibility to protect not only ourselves, but the people around us. As fairly young democratic countries, Balkans are actively trying to work by the democratic model, and respecting the measurements given out by our countries is the best we can do to contribute to the improvement of Balkan countries, especially during the crisis. There are many questions up for a debate, mostly considering is bringing up a curfew direct disrespect of fundamental rights. In the regular circumstances, there is no legitimate explanation of the restrictive measures, and every attempt of limiting someone’s movements and rights to freedom would be a straight up tyranny. One of the possible answers for the acceptance of restrictions is the facts that countries have declared the state of emergency, which brings many alternates in everyday life compared to regular state may be the, therefore as long as restricts are for everyone’s well being they are understood as legitimate and with justification. Without any doubt, it would have been more democratic, legitimate, and politically correct only to advise people rather than to restrict and limit them, which requests the creation of a mutual trust based environment, both political and general. I strongly believe that that should be the goal Balkan countries should be aiming at, and I hope that the corona virus situation doesn’t only change us as people for better, but that it also puts out a stronger democratic model that we should focus on developing in the future. With the past cases of abusing fundamental rights in Balkans, disbelief amongst people is understandable. Therefore, countries are using resources for public education on the situation, having experts explaining the purpose of every taken measure in the media constantly.
Fundamental rights have always intertwined with social rights, given to us as a part of society, unlike fundamental rights which are ours a priori. Social rights include the rights to an adequate standard of living, affordable housing, food, education, an equitable health system, and social security based on respect, not sanctions. There is evidence that they improve the lives of individuals and communities. In situations like this, we clearly see why is it important to cherish our social rights, and to see the level of importance they have when it comes to our own safety. With corona virus being a serious threat to societies, there is no other option than to work in the best favor of our rights so we can continue to cherished them in the closest future possible, whatever it takes.
Putting aside political background and analyzing the situation from the humane point of view, the truth is that my fundamental rights mean nothing to me, if they are the cause of someone else losing their life, and I believe that that is the principle that has really been implemented amongst people in Balkan in the last months. For the first time in ages, people of Balkan are cooperating, thinking one of each other, fighting the same enemy together instead of one against each other, and even if the corona virus has temporarily taken our right to freedom, it has surely given us back our right to love our neighbor, to help those who need it, to stop thinking in a egoistic way and to start thinking as a community.
Perhaps we should thank the “microscopic creature” for bringing us even a little closer when some of the biggest people in the region have failed to do so; for bringing us to a realization how small we actually are compared to the nature, to the life; for reminding us what it’s like to work as a collective and to put aside our egos and individual aspects just for once. We are all equally important and play a huge role in this movie-like situation. And one is for sure: we are all wishing on a happy end.