The first assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina arrived from the United States of America
Author: Dženana Karup Druško
While the European Union and NATO were deciding on which necessary decisions to take, some right-wing European leaders, including some Balkan leaders, rushed to demonstrate that the EU and NATO solidarity was only declaratory, and that the EU and NATO failed to provide help, while, at the same time, Chinese and Russian assistance was extensively promoted. Every human life is precious and every act of assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina is of a great importance so it should not matter whether politicians find it worth mentioning or not.
Yesterday, truckloads of assistance arrived in the Republika Srpska from Serbia, with an extensive media coverage. Milorad Dodik, a member of the Presidency of BiH, was very clear: “This is not just about the material assistance we will get, which is very important in itself, but also about the awareness that Serbia takes care of the Republika Srpska. As I could conclude from my talks with Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia, and according to his words, ‘As long as there is Serbia, there will also be Republika Srpska and that is what I want to convey to everyone in Republika Srpska’.”
According to the media reports, five clinical and five movable respirators, 30,000 epidemiological N95 masks, 2.000 sets of protective gear, 200 protective glasses, 50,000 gloves and medicines arrived in the RS from Serbia. Radovan Višković, the entity Prime Minister also thanked Vučić on behalf of his government, emphasizing that, and “It is important that the first assistance came from Serbia“.
At the time when the whole world is faced with the Coronavirus pandemics, there is no doubt that every assistance, particularly that of medical material, is important so that citizens have better healthcare - because every life matters.
“A friendship made of steel”
However, the question is whether any assistance in the time of pandemics is used for political goals?
Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia, when addressing its citizens as early as on 15 March, immediately after the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemics, was more than clear, “China is the only country capable of helping Serbia”, and added that ”there is no such thing as great international or European solidarity”, describing it as ”the fairytale on paper”. On the other hand, Vučić made a pledge to China that their “friendship would be made of steel”.
The European Union as well as NATO, are built on shared values of which, perhaps, the first and foremost is solidarity. In the time when Vučić made this statement, most of the countries were faced with the pandemics, closed their borders and introduced preventive measures to protect their citizens from this dangerous virus originating from China. The crisis caused by the pandemics prompted right-wing leaders in Europe, primarily in Austria and Italy, to attack universal values of which solidarity is the first, by claiming that Italy was left alone; there was a statement made by Austrian Chancellor that, ”in Europe, you can see that solidarity does not function when situation becomes serious”, at the same time when his own government undertook unilateral measures.
Like so many times before, the Republika Srpska authorities have publicly demonstrated that, in the domain of foreign policy, they would follow Serbia. The same Serbia that, in this crisis, as analysts are pointing out, definitely chose the side and left the policy of ”sitting on two chairs”. It is because of solidarity, or rather the absence of solidarity from the West, as Vučić has already stated.
Two days later, on 17 March 2020, Vučić stated that Serbia would export a part of its food reserves, particularly flour, in the next couple of days, because, as he put it, ”we have more than enough of food and that is why some of the food would be exported first to BiH and the Republika Srpska. We have a request from North Macedonia and we will respond to it. We will try to do the same with Montenegro. Let us recall that, on 16 March, the Government of Serbia decided not to export wheat ”because of the need to stabilize domestic market”.
How are Russia and Serbia protecting their own interests
The prohibition of export of wheat from Serbia poses a problem for Montenegro, as it has been reported by the Beta News Agency in an interview with the owner of Montemlin Company, Žarko Rakčević, who said, “This situation, realistically, is a problem for Montenegro, although, for me, it is understandable that Serbia, and Russia before it, are protecting their own interests and keeping account of the needs of their populations. So far, my company used to import two-thirds of wheat from Russia, and 25 % from Serbia”.
Tarzan Milošević, the Montenegrin Minister of Agriculture accused Serbian Government for the breach of CEFTA Agreement when it prohibited export of wheat to Montenegro. In order to prevent the shortage of flour, Montenegrin millers were forced to negotiate the purchase of 6,000 tons of wheat from France.
While reducing its trade with Montenegro, criticizing Kosovo because it had decided to remove taxes on import of goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, under the condition of gradual introduction of reciprocity of the trade with Serbia, Vučić has been selflessly helping Dodik and the Republika Srpska.
Why is it important to emphasize that the first assistance provided to the Republika Srpska came from Serbia of all countries and that it came thanks to the resourcefulness of Aleksandar Vučić and that such assistance originated from China, when it was not the first assistance that came to the Republika Srpska to counter Coronavirus. It is because it seems the assistance in question is not politically ”apt” because the United States of America and the European Union provided it.
Assistance to the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The first round of humanitarian assistance from the United States Government arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 March 2020. It arrived by the U.S. military plane that landed at the Sarajevo Airport and it was donated to the Armed Forces of BiH. This first round of assistance contained medical material and other important items, as it was announced on the official Twitter account of the U.S. Embassy. Therefore, it was the assistance provided for the whole country and, consequently, for the Republika Srpska.
A couple of days later, in an interview to N1 TV, Eric Nelson, the U.S. Ambassador in BiH said, “Now we can see some results of our efforts. Last weekend, I talked to the RS Minister of Health and he told me how he appreciated the assistance provided by our Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and how it helped the Republika Srpska to respond more effectively to this situation. For years now, we have been committed to BiH and we are a good partner. Although we are attacked by this virus ourselves, we are still providing material and financial assistance to BiH. Last week, we opened an airlift for supply of the material from our European Command to the BiH Armed Forces as our response to the crisis. Yesterday, we allocated the first tranche of the financial support to WHO and UNICEF operating in the country.
The U.S. has allocated 1,2 million dollars of assistance to BiH, but, as the Ambassador said, “The Ministry of Security plays the coordinating role so that the international community, led by the UN, could have one address from which we will be receiving requests. This process must be transparent and we are expecting from the UN, but also from the Ministry of Security, to play this important role as the centrally located coordinator”.
Following a meeting held with more than 50 participants, among whom there were the representatives of all the PIC members as well as Valentin Inzko, the High Representative in BiH, announced major help for BiH, and that the IMF will provide 150 million Euros to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Yesterday, when the trucks with the aid arrived from Serbia, the EY Delegation to BiH informed that the assistance in 2,500 Coronavirus tests, funded by the European Union, was provided for the Institute of Public Health of Republika Srpska and to the cantonal hospitals in Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla. The purchase of these tests was done by the UN Development Program (UNDP).
At the same time, it has been announced that, while China, Russia, Cuba and Vietnam are sending protective masks, the European Union is preparing the greatest fund ever to assist the countries’ economies. On 26 March, Themoscowtimes.com announced that La Stampa, the Italian daily, reported that 80 % of the assistance Italy had received from Russia was useless, claiming that it had sent 600 ventilators, 100 military virologists and epidemiologists after Vladimir Putin, the President of Russian Federation talked with Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister. The article claims that Putin is exploiting geopolitical and diplomatic opportunities launching its packages of aid under the motto “With Love from Russia to Italy” which Conte accepts because of his good personal relations with the leadership in Moscow.
It is exactly at the time when the European Union and NATO have been deciding on the necessary actions to be taken, that some right-wing European leaders, including some in the Balkans, started claiming that their solidarity is only declaratory and that the EU and NATO failed to offer help, whereas the Chinese and Russian assistance was extensively promoted.
Carl Bildt, the Swedish politician, diplomat and the Co-Chair of the European Foreign Policy Council, wrote on his Twitter account as his reaction to the assistance sent to Serbia by the European Union to help them to fight against the Coronavirus pandemics, that there was an evident absence of reaction from the Serbian government officials to that assistance when compared with what happened when the plane with aid arrived from China. Bildt wrote that, when China sent a plane with a group of experts and medical equipment, Aleksandar Vučić, the Serbian President, ”organized a great show”. “But when much more important assistance arrived from the European Union, neither the fanfare nor the President were anywhere to be seen”.
The fanfare was also there, accompanying Vučić when assistance was handed over to the Republika Srpska, which was exploited to send the message that links between Serbia and the Republika Srpska are thus being strengthened, as if those links were ever questionable. Somewhere at the same time, in Republika Srpska (East Sarajevo, more precisely), anonymous billboards appeared, with the message, “No to NATO”, and the message above it “NATO planes took half a million Coronavirus tests out of Italy”. It is an absolute lie, which can easily be proved.
Spreading fake news is a dangerous thing and it is most dangerous in the times of crisis when they can cause panic and hatred. They are particularly dangerous when politics is behind them. The Coronavirus pandemics is the greatest threat facing contemporary humanity and even for the great and successful nations it is difficult to cope with it and to provide an adequate protection for their citizens. We are witnessing every day the cooperation of the world experts as countries are fighting together after the first Coronavirus attack.
To Bosnia and Herzegovina, every act of help is precious because it means that more human lives will be saved. It should not matter where the help comes from and, in particular, it should not be exploited for the political aims. The manipulation with information and, consequently with citizens, can bounce back as a boomerang to those leaders who are trying, in these moments of crisis, to build the leadership cult, by reducing human rights and freedoms, which we see happening in some countries. Only solidarity, mutual assistance and support can save us.