It would be beneficial for Serbia if the arrival of Prime Minister Brnabić which was announced, and cancelled at the last moment, to welcome the train with Chinese medical equipment from Wuhan at the New Belgrade railway station was a political decision, and not a protocol omission. If for the presence of Aleksandar Vučić at the airport when in the first, crazy days of the epidemic, we were waiting for first aid from China and a state reason could be found, then in the case of Ana Brnabić and the Chinese train in New Belgrade, it was certainly not there.
Whatever the reason, it would not be serious to interpret the Prime Minister’s absence from the socialist-realist ceremony as a kind of Serbian turn from China. Just as the interpretation of numerous large European media and even bigger analysts was equally frivolous, saying that Vučić’s reception of the plane with the first masks and respirators from China meant Serbia’s breakup with Europe and turning to Beijing. Gestures are important in politics and sometimes suggest big decisions, but we will assume that this is not the case with the mentioned ceremonies.
However, the end of the Covid 19 pandemic is the right time to look for an answer to the question – which alliances are important for Serbia in the years to come, and given the changes that will occur in a “world that will no longer be the same”, as the prophets of general practice may say.
First of all, it should be clear to us that a pandemic that is slowly leaving is one of those historical hubs in which nations make fateful decisions, which way they will start from the crossroads where they found themselves. In order to make the right decision, they must, first of all, recognize that this is a moment when far-reaching decisions are being made and that a bad choice means a long-term burden. In making a decision, they use all the resources available to them, from collective memory, intellectual strength to predict future events, to leadership determination. Does Serbia have these resources? The easiest answer, but also a non-answer, would be – we will see in ten years. However, we will assume with plenty of ground that there is all of the above in Serbia. And whether that will be enough to make a good decision, no one can really say.
We have been in a similar situation recently. The collapse of communism in Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall were understood by all Eastern European nations as a moment when they should move towards in building orderly societies, market economies and liberal democracies and, here they are today, as longtime members of the EU and NATO, with economies twice as large (Slovakia) or four times larger (Hungary) than Serbia. Serbia did not recognize the significance of this historical hub, it tried to preserve the order by force, for which candles were lit all over the world at that time, and thus stepped into a national tragedy. Aleksandar Vučić admitted a few years ago that at that time, at the beginning of the 90s, he did not recognize the significance of these tectonic changes and, unfortunately, he was not the only one. His recognition and the fact that he is 30 years older and more politically experienced today, can be a hint that he will be able to recognize some future historical hub and make good decisions. Right now, he is at such a crossroads and, in addition, in a position to make far-reaching decisions, so we’ll see.
Serbia has the opportunity to put its relations with the world on a rational basis, forget about “friendships” between countries and turn to interests, as the only driver of life in the world community. The crisis with the virus has opened up the already existing cracks in the authoritarian orders, which we too often and for too long call “friends”. The Serbian president met with Xi Jinping six times and as many as 17 times with Vladimir Putin, which is a really valuable diplomatic result (and at the same time the only result). But should this frequency permanently bind us to countries whose traditions are far from us, and especially to their leaders, who seem to be already in the descending part of their careers.
Corona is just the latest in a series of severe crises the reign of Xi Jinping is facing since 2012, a contender for the title of the strongest Chinese ruler since Mao Zedong. It was preceded by constant riots in Hong Kong, brutal clashes with the Muslim minority in the west of the country, economic decline and trade war with America. Its response to the limits it naturally has as a communist state is the only one the authoritarian system can apply – a firm hand. And that inevitably leads in only one direction. What direction that is let them ask their neighbors from Russia, who found themselves in front of similar limits three decades ago. And that they did not learn the lessons from that period is also shown during the fight against the virus, in which Russia and its leader Putin demonstrated traditional inefficiency, cover-up, lack of a plan, and even inhumanity.
Apart from being far away, both geographically and ideologically and culturally, these “friends” of ours, in the difficult years to come, will be dealing with their misery in order to benefit the interests of Serbia, which is also facing difficult decisions. The facade of “friendship” that we have nurtured so far has no reason to exist anymore, and Serbia should decide that, if it wants to make the right decision, at least at this historical hub. The question is whether it will have the next opportunity to correct the mistake at all. We can only hope that Aleksandar Vučić will not say again in 10-20 years that he did not understand the significance of the changes in the world that took place during and after the Covid 19 pandemic