Pandemic and Geopolitics
What’s going on in the Balkans during Coronavirus
Three-point to understand the impact of the pandemic in southwestern Europe
In the southern corner of Europe, in the trouble region of the Balkans, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has represented new challenges for an already weak political and economic system. What is happening in the Balkans, is interesting not only for its geopolitical impact in the area but also to foreseen future political trends in other world countries.
The surge of cases after the quarantine
In the Balkan, the coronavirus arrived between March and April, as well as most of the world. The most hit country was Serbia that has begun to registered its first cases on March 11, 2020, with a peak of 441 cases reached after a month. Kosovo has reported its first cases on March 14, with a peak reached of 79 cases, with similar numbers declared by Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia.
All these countries quickly decided on the closure of borders and a strict quarantine for all their citizens. The measures taken to enforce the pandemic seemed to work with a steady decrease in the number of infected people in all the countries. So, the governments have decided on the reopening of the country at the beginning of June.
However, differently for any other European regions, all the Balkans countries between June and July experienced a new dramatic second wave, reaching the highest number of cases since the pandemic has started. Kosovo and North Macedonia decided then to close all the airports for one week, and talking about another closure of borders are already taking place in Slovenia and Croatia.
Furthermore, with the summer approaching the effects of the crisis could only worsen. Most of the Region relies on tourism and the return of migrants from Northern Europe could mean a new increase in the number of cases spreading it the territories. The absence of tourists and migrants could decrease the risk of stressing of an already weak hospital system and avoid a further increase in cases but also have a big impact on the economics.
Any future decision to enforce a new quarantine might not be so easy to be taken by the governments who have to make a difficult choice between health and economics.
Political records of the Balkans
The second element to understand about Balkans is the impact of the pandemic on the fragile democratic institutions. Kosovo and Serbia hold quite a record: Kosovo was the first country in the world in which the government fell during the emergence and Serbia the first one to hold political elections after the quarantine.
In Kosovo, as soon as the first cases appeared in the country, the government's coalition partners were divided over its response to the eventuality of voting and declaring the State of Emergency. The historic fracture between the newly elected Prime Minister Albin Kurti and the Kosovo president Hashim Thaci brought the government to an end. A new government was soon formed inside the Assembly with the former coalition party, with an executive more compliant with the political lines of the president and the international allies, especially the United States.
On the other hand, most of the countries followed a more autocratic approach, declaring the State and emergence and centralizing all the political decisions to the president, allowing him to avoid any vote in the Assembly. Enforcing the curfew and social distancing represented then an excuse to control society.
On a small scale, the Balkan countries have shown the different approaches chosen in the world to control the spread of the virus. Moreover, understanding the political events in the area could allow us to analyze future development also in other countries.
The Geopolitics of humanitarian aid
The third and last interesting element is the foreign intervention in the form of humanitarian and financial aid. Sending health devices to the most needed becomes part of the new diplomatic strategy for all the countries which shared an interest in the area. Sending necessary equipment and activating financial aid packages was an approach followed by many countries to tighten their ties and to reach their geopolitical aim.
The Balkans still represented the crossing point of different geopolitical shares with Russia, China, Turkey, the USA, and Europe, all of them interested in taking decisive steps to help the area and boost their power. For understanding the new diplomatic policy the case of Serbia is exemplary.
As soon as the coronavirus broke out in other countries, China has started to send humanitarian aid to other countries included Serbia. The arrival of the cargo planes with medical supply in Belgrade was welcomed by President Vucic in which it seems a very well managed propaganda event to boost the international image of China and strongest its ties in the country.
European Union soon followed the example, in the next Western Balkans meeting, the EU members decided to mobilise a financial support package for the region for over 3.3 billion Euros.
On the other hand, the United States adopted a different approach without a direct economic and humanitarian intervention but more a hidden interference directed to influence the internal politics of Kosovo in favor of a change in the government, with one more trustworthy one.
In conclusion, the Coronavirus outbreak could worsen the weak democratic institutions establishing a more centralised and authoritarian executive. The result of that might mean for the area moving away from a European perspective. An authoritarian path that could be taken also by other countries in Europe with stronger institutions.
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