Coronavirus in Serbia and Croatia

Pandemic crisis has speeded-up the destructive politics already at work: collapse of the public health system, erosion of working conditions and workers rights, and urban policies.

The health situation in Croatia is still under control and within capabilities of the almost destroyed health system, which could not bear much more. The class divisions in the system are more and more visible. On the one side, the workers in hospitals are doing their best, working themselves out, although being the most exposed. On the other, at the early stage, the virus has entered the health system, and has done so through the medical elites. Some doctors have namely been on a skiing trip to Austria and have hidden it.

Hospitals in minor towns do not have appropriate equipment, even the tests have been sent to Zagreb. This proves to what extent the system collapsed.

In Serbia, with similar situation in general concerning number of infected specific is arrival of medical experts from China and organizing large “collective centre” situated in big halls (for example, Dome of Belgrade fair, capable to receive 5000 infected). Most of the infected so far, by official data came from Italy or was in direct contact with somebody from Italy. It is still unclear when first case is discovered; official data is March the 6th, but there are strong indications that first cases are documented on March the 1st. But, that was period of preparations for electoral campaign and ruling party organised a meeting in Valjevo on 9th march. Valjevo is now one of three most affected cities in Serbia.

In order to act preventively, Croatian government has brought emergency measures: closing of schools, kindergartens and all cultural institutions, ban on public assemblies, closing of all the shops and markets, but the food stores, even the public transport has been suspended (including interurban transport). Last week, the government proposed a change of the Electronic Communications Act under which, in extraordinary situations, the health minister would ask telecommunications companies to provide data on the locations of users’ phones. The health minister, a new one coming from a conservative governing party HDZ and till now completely unknown to public, has been turn into „national hero“, just for acting minimal professionally. Beside his ultra-conservative views, his political background and motivation are largely unknown.

In Serbia Emergency state is proclaimed by government and president, not confirmed by National Assembly as current constitution demands, and also imposed curfew as “anti-pandemic measure” from 5 PM till 5 AM, weekends 3 PM to 5 AM. Almost every day president or prime minister hold press-conferences representing themselves as most important factors in whole crisis. They formed two “crisis headquarter stuff”, one is about medical and other economic issues.

Regarding the workers situation in Croatia: there have already been many dismissals, workers are forced to use annual leave. For a country totally dependent on tourism and its service sector, it is clear that we face a deep crisis. The government has just announced urgent changes in the Labour Law, which will severely decrease workers’ rights and allow for employers to act unilaterally.

In Serbia is very similar situation with specific difference in economic structure: companies that are part of production systems of large international companies ie Yura, Siemens and so on still working with no pause and many of them even do not respect standards of epidemic safety like distance or protection gloves and masks. President of Serbia in one of the press conferences stated that “it is capitalism” so state is unable to prevent dismissals or salary cuts.

Beside the pandemic, capital Zagreb was hit by an earthquake. It demolished the city centre (every third building is out of use), housing, hospitals, schools, culture institutions. It has exposed all the miserability of this public infrastructure and non-existing city services that could deal with its consequences.

There is no organised answer to this situation, so people are building small support networks. Political elites are using the crisis for new accumulation, dispossession and profit making, and there is no organised strength capable of efficiently countering it. What has become obvious however is that the still existing socialist infrastructure is the only one helpful in this crisis. And that opens space at least for agitating…

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