The Corona virus has hit Northern Macedonia hard, and its health balances are not encouraging. Out of one hundred thousand inhabitants, two and a half times more died from the virus than, for example, in Serbia. They are hoping for the first vaccines in Skopje only in March. They are expected from the international procurement program “Covax”, and until then… Until then, they will still be able to do something important, they will be able to alleviate this unfavorable picture and start a final showdown with the virus, long before they expected.
As Zoran Zaev announced, Serbia made an effort for this “beautiful and happy news”. He received good news from the President of Serbia, Vučić, in the form of 8,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which Serbia had already procured. It will be a fair, neighborly agreement, but what is incomparably more important, it will be timely. It will enable the Macedonian health care system not to wait for the distant March, but will be able to immediately start vaccination of its health workers, the elderly and other high-risk groups of the population.
Nowadays, is there a more convincing evidence of friendship and cooperation than mutual help in the race for as many bottles of vaccine as possible? This is without a doubt the most important job of every government in the world, both the most powerful and the richest, and also the poor and the small. They know that very well in Belgrade, where Ana Brnabić, as the first European Prime Minister, received the vaccine, and the fight for their purchase is her everyday life and her priority. All policies that do not concern vaccines today are second-rate and can wait. That is why the move of Belgrade and Vučić is not only a symbolic gesture of friendship and good neighborly relations, it is a direct support to one government and its people to overcome the great crisis as soon as possible, in which we, as neighbors, are together.
However, in order not to leave everything so idyllic, the critics (Vučić’s critics) in Serbia made an effort, looking for a flaw even in such a decision. Of course, they found several. Most of them referred to the number of vaccines given, so 8,000 doses are actually nothing, a drop in the ocean, just an opportunity for Vučić’s marketing. However, those 8,000 doses will be enough to vaccinate all Macedonian doctors in primary health care system and almost half of all nurses and technicians! That will be enough to protect the largest and most risky part of the health care system from the Coronavirus, and get rid of one of the biggest health problems in northern Macedonia overnight. Then, they say that, with this help, Vučić harmed our health care system, because it is not the time for gallant distribution of vaccines when we do not have enough ourselves. There is not much room for comment here, because it is obviously about people who have never lent a cup of sugar to their neighbors, nor let a neighbor’s child drink water at the fountain in their yard.
Most of the malice, however, comes from those who kept silent about this Serbian-Macedonian episode, and were obliged to announce and greet it. From those who have been talking and writing about the Balkans for years without touching real life and the needs of the people, those who see the Balkans as a space of divided countries and even more divided people. Therefore, we can already assume with a high probability that the delivery of 8,000 Pfizer vaccines from Serbia to Northern Macedonia will not be found in the next report of the European Commission, in the section on regional cooperation. There will be other, “more important” topics, but not this “little thing”, regardless of the fact that it may bring a turnaround in the Macedonian fight against Coronavirus.
Delivery of vaccines to Skopje will certainly not be found in dozens of reports on Serbia, Northern Macedonia and the Balkans, which will come out of numerous European institutes and think tanks during the year, because they will also assess that it is some kind of “Vučić’s PR”, or an event irrelevant to their attention. And especially because the Serbian support for the Macedonians does not fit in at all with everything, they have written about the Balkans so far and on which they have built their careers and earned money. And that is a hopelessly dark picture of backward, irreconcilable second category Europeans, who want only evil for their neighbors. Vaccine bottles traveling from Belgrade to Skopje ruin their life’s work, and that must not be allowed, and for that reason – silence.
The load of Pfizer vaccines has both symbolically and in fact done incomparably more for the European future of the Balkans than volumes of impersonal and futile studies, reports and recommendations on the region that have ever come out of these quasi-scientific and para-political laboratories across Europe. The thing is that the government of Zoran Zaev would have acted in the same way towards Serbia if the circumstances had been reversed. The point is that Vučić correctly and pragmatically assessed that the epidemiological picture of Serbia can change for the better only if its first neighbors keep up with us, because the fight against the virus must be cross-border in order to be successful. It is vitally important for Serbia to eradicate the virus at home, but will it be satisfied if it has to close its borders with its neighbors, because the infection rate is still too high?
This is a well-thought-out, timely and efficient action, which has not been seen in the Balkans for a long time, if anything similar at all has ever been done. In the absence of an effective international system to combat the pandemic, a neighbor and a friend helped, not only symbolically, but essentially and at the right time. Not asking for anything in return, because he knows very well that helping a neighbor means helping himself. A good lesson for many in the Balkans, and even more so for “concerned” Europeans.