I returned home a month ago. I was in Mostar doing an internship. I got back just before the border was closed. It was March 15; a state of emergency was introduced that day. Although I didn't receive any information, written or oral, of how I should behave, I "volunteered" to put myself into self-isolation and called the number of the relevant service to ask what else I should do. "Measure your temperature twice a day and isolate yourself from other people for 14 days. If you have a temperature of 38 and start coughing, go to the hospital", the lady told me kindly over the phone. Not a problem, I already knew these were basic measures, and was prepared for them. I have college commitments anyway, and I have the internet and a bunch of books on my list that I haven't had the time to get to (or I've just been lazy). What I didn't know was how much the state of emergency would affect our society and how hard it would be for me to watch it all unfold.
At first, I supported all the measures introduced. Given how much the planet, not to mention Serbia, underestimated this virus, and that tragic press conference by the government at the end of February, I thought the restrictive measures introduced by mid-March were fully justified. Yes, the state of emergency contradicted with the messages relayed in the Constitution; yes, that decision was not made by the legislative, but the executive power and unfortunately, it is not the first, and I fear it won't be the last situation in which the Constitution is violated. But I thought in the midst of a pandemic it could be somehow justified. In a state of emergency, a temporary partial or complete restriction of certain human rights can be justified, and it is logical to restrict to a certain extent freedom of movement and freedom of assembly to prevent the spread of the infection. “Pause a life to save a life", Aleksandar Vučić said at the time, the BBC wrote.
Schools, faculties, cafes, and gyms were closed, companies were either reestablished remotely or in such a way that all the measures and recommendations of doctors could be abided by, and I thought that maybe we would somehow get through without excessive repression, considering the seriousness of the situation. I was right to a certain extent; most people did follow the recommendations. However, despite the measures introduced, which were reasonable at the time, images of crowded city promenades spread on social networks and portals, and the number of patients grew. I was angry at all the people who so arrogantly and flagrantly violated the measures, not taking care of themselves or others. I was even angrier because I was aware of the political consequences that such behavior would bring - greater restrictions and repression, with an even stronger political tirade from the government, something we have been exposed to every day for many years. Hence, the extension of the curfew on weekdays and weekends began, finally reaching 84 hours in a row during the weekend of the Orthodox Easter celebration.
As time goes on, and the Government's measures are becoming stricter, I begin to wonder if it is really necessary. Of course, we should respect all the introduced measures, but I guess we can also rethink the justification and expediency of such drastic restrictions of our fundamental rights, especially when they neglect particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with autism or other developmental disabilities, and the elderly, who require regular walks to keep health conditions under control, and who simply need human contact to avoid becoming anxious or depressed. Even pets have been given thought, and a time when they are allowed to fulfil their most basic needs. At the beginning of April, the Serbian Chamber of Lawyers issued a press release stating: "Human rights guaranteed by the Constitution may be restricted only if those restrictions are permitted by the Constitution for the purposes for which the Constitution allows it, to the extent necessary to meet the constitutional purpose of the restriction in a democratic society and without interfering with the essence of guaranteed rights".
If we compare the measures of the Serbian Government with those in other countries that have many more cases, but milder restrictions, such as Germany, this issue becomes even more apparent. Of course, one of the arguments presented is a difference in mentality, i.e. the claim that Germans unconditionally respect the measures and recommendations from the institutions, and that, to put it nicely, this is not always the case with our people (is this perpetuating a stereotype?). However, today I read an interview by bishop Grigorije for daily newspaper Danas, in which he addressed the topic:
“... (He pointed out that) there are almost no differences in the behavior of Serbs and Germans in the pub, but in everyday life, every German is aware of the possible consequences of his irresponsible behavior, while our people sometimes do not have that awareness at all, because we often lack repercussions from the relevant institutions for the irresponsible behavior of individuals. I, therefore, got the impression that the draconian measures introduced in Serbia during the state of emergency are a direct consequence of this stated disrespect of the law in normal circumstances, that is, they are the result of a lack of awareness of the previously mentioned consequences of irresponsible behavior, particularly by those who are supposed to enforce the law. Therefore, it should not be surprising that we now have appeals from the authorities falling on deaf ears, and the consequential introduction of even stricter measures, which, as far as I can see, lead to increasing pressure while still not achieving the desired result”.
I would just add that the messages of our officials range from scolding us for not respecting the measures, to praising the vast majority of citizens who do respect them yet introducing stricter measures because of the minority of violators. It reminds me of those times in high school where an entire class is punished for the misbehavior of a few students, rather than simply holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions.
In any case, we have no choice but to be patient for a little longer, and to respect all the measures brought by our institutions, even if we do not fully agree with them. Let’s use this time to be as productive as possible, or to just do what makes us feel good and helps us to preserve our mental health in these moments of great insecurity. And of course, let's stay at home.
P.S. The day after I finished this text, information arrived that in the next few days the measures will be loosened, specifically, that pensioners will be able to walk three times a week and that curfew will be reduced by one hour. This is good news that will certainly help our oldest citizens at least a little bit and bring hope to all of us that the pandemic will end soon.
LDA Mostar intern