By Stephen Karganovic for The Saker Blog

The corona virus controversy has hit Serbia particularly hard. Les pauvres Serbs, as once, during World War I, they were called by their compassionate French allies, are now harvesting the bitter fruits of their political immaturity. The rogue regime that was fraudulently installed to finish them off, upon which they never conferred the mantle of legitimacy but which they have irresponsibly tolerated by passive acquiescence, has now gone fully berserk. It is determined not to let the singular corona virus crisis opportunity go to waste.

From a medical standpoint, which is what should be guiding the authorities in a public health crisis, the response has been a disaster. In a matter of days, regime officials shifted their initial rhetoric from ridiculing the threat (“the ridiculous virus,” is what a high-level apparatchik pointedly called it) and even irresponsibly encouraging Serbs to test their immunity by going shopping in virus-ridden Italy, to dire warnings soon after that there would not be enough space in the cemeteries to accommodate all the corpses. Even the precise date of the first corona case in Serbia is subject to dispute, and for that there are good political reasons. There is solid evidence that the first case of contagion was registered on February 1. But because February 5 was the deadline for collecting signatures for ruling party candidates running in the parliamentary elections scheduled for late April, the public acknowledgement of the pandemic threat was callously delayed until the 6th. Once that political formality was taken care of, Italian shopping sprees were off the official agenda. In the blink of an eye regime virus propaganda changed from clownish to apocalyptic, with sinister insinuations of impending doom on a medieval pestilence scale.

In a matter of days, draconian regulations with no evident medical justification were introduced, including a constitutionally questionable “state of emergency,” severely limiting fundamental liberties. By a clever manoeuvre, even the rubber-stamp parliament was excluded from the introduction of emergency rule. Gatherings of over 50 persons (parliament consists of 250 deputies) were administratively banned on the pretext that it could propitiate the spreading of the contagion; the state of emergency was then proclaimed by cabinet decree, in direct violation of the constitutional requirement that parliament alone may take such a decision. The artful official explanation for this illegality was that the number of parliamentary deputies unfortunately exceeded the maximum number of persons who are allowed to assemble in one place without endangering everyone’s health. It did not occur to any of the frightened Serbian deputies to imitate their French colleagues in 1789 and meet malgré tout at the nearby tennis court.

Once ice was unconstitutionally broken with this neat excuse for one-man rule, there followed an avalanche of restrictive ordinances, all ostensibly motivated by public health reasons, turning ordinary citizen’s lives into a veritable nightmare. For the first time since the German occupation, curfew was imposed, enforced by armed police and military. At first, it was between 8 pm and 5 am, but later it was extended, beginning now at 5 pm. The elderly, defined as over 65, were effectively placed under permanent home confinement, except for the granting of indulgent permission to leave their homes and go shopping for necessities between 3 am and 8 am, but only on Sundays. Good luck if any food stores or pharmacies are open at that time.

All public establishments were shut down by government decree, including small groceries and peasant markets where Serbs buy most of their foodstuffs. Economic activity, always faltering, has now ground to a complete halt, except for a few lucky individuals who are able to earn a bit by doing work out of their homes. Relentless regime propaganda hammers on the theme of impending death on a mass scale, frightening out of their wits everyone who does not have access to reliable and accurate news from the outside the world. The possibility of even more stringent restrictions, including the prospect of 24-hour home confinement, has been raised by regime officials and their team of medical quacks, unless the current oppressive policies should succeed in magically driving the contagion away. Perhaps symbolically, unfortunates found to be or accused of being infected will be dumped in collective quarantine facilities on fairgrounds which during World War II housed a concentration camp for Serbs and Jews.

Did we say Batista? Actually, it is Nero that comes to mind. Or perhaps the Serbian usurper’s model is the Paraguayan dictator, Dr Jose Rodriguez de Francia, who styled himself “Supreme and Perpetual Dictator of Paraguay”, and was popularly known as El Supremo.

Not unlike Dr Francia, whose final years were marked by acute clinical paranoia, the Serbian Supremo, acting under cover of medical emergency, is also lashing out at his real and perceived non-medical enemies. On March 29 regime tontons macoutes kicked in the door of Nikola Sandulović, leader of the miniscule Republican Party, and carted him off to prison on the trumped-up charge of “spreading panic”. But only days before Sandulović’s arrest, it was el Supremo himself who calmingly informed the nation that soon even 30 pandemic-related deaths daily might become commonplace and that the country risks running out of cemetery space.

Of course, panic mongering had nothing to do with the real reason behind Sandulović’s disappearance. It was to do rather with the politician’s persistent and skilful use of the few media resources in Serbia left to those who don’t toe the party line and denounce the regime’s egregious misconduct and colossal corruption. One fears that the fate reserved for Sandulović may resemble that of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija who in 1999, during another national emergency, while everyone was distracted by NATO bombs raining on Serbia, paid with his life for similar acts of boldness. Bonus question: does anyone remember who was a prominent government minister at the time of Ćuruvija’s untimely demise?

We therefore appeal to readers to react to Nikola Sandulović’s predicament by making it an international issue, which it properly is. Please email your concern for Mr. Sandulović’s safety and wellbeing to David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, at . You may send him a fax message at: +41 22 917 9006. If you are able and wish to contact him by mail, please write to him at the following address:

Mr. David Kaye
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10

In the unpredictable Balkans, cause and effect do not generally follow Western cultural patterns. Long periods of sullen passivity may suddenly give way to outpourings of mass defiance. The mishandling of the corona medical emergency could prove to be the undoing of a cornered regime that everyone is fed up with.

Please add your voice for a regime in the heart Europe that is rapidly catching up with North Korea to be sternly instructed to try to respect the European convention on human rights. Write to UN human rights rapporteur David Kaye to demand freedom for Nikola Sandulović and for the imprisoned nation of Serbia, whose collective, occupation-style mass confinement is tyrannical and sadistic. It has nothing to do with the application of rational public health measures to control a plague. It is simply a ruthless totalitarian power grab.



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