The Serbian head of state had already announced the start of mass vaccination last week, and the pro-government press announced victoriously on Thursday, January 28, that 400,000 people had now been vaccinated.
Perhaps not surprisingly, but we’re mainly talking about purchasing and using Chinese and Russian vaccines for our southern neighbor, although they also have some Pfizer supplies.
40,000 Russian Sputnik vaccines also arrived in Belgrade on Friday morning, and as a result of severe pressure from the Serbian government in Moscow, they were promised that Belgrade would be a priority in their vaccine exports. With Serbia being Russia’s most important ally in the region, this promise also has some credit. An additional 1 million vaccines are expected from China in February, and several other companies (Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) are negotiating independently with Serbian leaders.
Realizing this privileged position, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic decided to show Serbia “goodwill” in the region and promised to provide vaccines to Serbs across the border as well as to the western Balkan countries. This is needed, and Serbs living in Bosnia have long been trying to get a vaccine in Belgrade if they hold Serbian citizenship and some personal “protection”. North Macedonia has also welcomed 8,000 vaccines, although this is clearly only a token help. A community of 100,000 Kosovar Serbs will also welcome the rapid vaccination, which was already granted to them by President Vucic in December, especially because Belgrade has not seen any change since independence in 2008. Point of alignment.
Kosovo’s Health Minister, an Albanian-speaking politician, announced Thursday that coronavirus vaccines will arrive in Kosovo in February, adding that Prime Minister Abdullah Hoti will return to normal life by spring. On the other hand, they are in a really difficult situation as they hold elections in Kosovo on February 14th, so they have no choice but to treasure optimism. The credibility of the promise is questionable in this case, as Kosovo can only obtain vaccines from Western sources, and the EU leadership is still struggling to advance the interests of its member states with the giant pharmaceutical companies.
An election campaign during a pandemic
Belgrade has also offered to help Kosovar Albanians with the vaccine, but no enthusiastic response has been received from Pristina. However, there is growing dissatisfaction with epidemiological restrictions in Kosovo as well. In the Balkan country, which declared its independence in 2008, the second wave began to erupt in the summer, and after a brief autumnal calm, it was greeted by a third wave, which continues to this day. Health statistics in Kosovo, officially about 1.7 million, currently has 6,000 active cases, with about 300 new infections per day. To date, nearly 1,500 deaths have been linked to the Coronavirus, which is a relatively low figure in the population, which is explained by the low life expectancy of the population.
The distrust of Kosovar Albanians in all aspects of Belgrade’s politics is nothing new and is deeply rooted. Now, however, there are some major political considerations preventing the Pristina government from serving as a partner in the coronavirus vaccination case. The most obvious reason is that there is currently an election campaign and it is not possible to win the votes of the Albanian voters with the Serbian party. Although the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina gained momentum in September, it was delayed.
Epidemiological activity in Belgrade, Kosovo is also a sensitive issue because hospitals in settlements inhabited by Serbs are still run by Serbia in practice.
Doctors and nurses get their salaries from Belgrade, managers are hired from there, and equipment comes from across the border. This is clearly a small piece in the eyes of the Pristina government, which in turn has neither the political power to eliminate this nor the money to take over the financing.
On the other hand, when news of vaccination from Serbia came in 10 major settlements inhabited by Serbs, the Pristina authorities took action. Home searches have been carried out and some have also spoken of the arrests of Serbian doctors, but the latter has proven to be a rumor. In contrast, it is possible that the Kosovar Serbs will be vaccinated in neighboring settlements in Serbia and not in Serbian hospitals in Kosovo. Belgrade likes to flirt with the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians, but abstained from provocations for some time after the Kosovo Special Police hit in March 2018 in northern Mitrovica and produced a member of the Serbian government income Young country Area.
The author is a senior researcher at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Economy