No human alive today remembers a pandemic like this one.
We know through studying history that pandemics have plagued the world over the centuries extending back to Ancient Athens and beyond. Some of these pandemics were nearly incomprehensible in the scale of their lethality, killing tens of millions, like the Black Death in the 1300s, and the Spanish flu after World War I.
In more recent times HIV/AIDS killed tens of millions, H1N1 Swine flu killed hundreds of thousands in 2009-10, the Ebola virus ravaged West Africa between 2014 and 2016, taking more than 10,000 lives, and the Zika virus has caused thousands of birth defects since 2015.
None of these have spread across the globe as rapidly as COVID-19, exposing such a huge percentage of the human population irrespective of nationality, race or region to the very real possibility of contracting a potentially deadly virus, all within a few short months. The epicentre of this pandemic is now in Europe, while the USA has already surpassed China as the country with the most cases.
We know for a fact that pandemics, especially the most deadly ones, have changed history, and the very core of society’s fabric, culture, behavior, politics and values.
These changes are usually felt and documented only after the pandemics have passed or been controlled, but Kosovo’s politicians, by choosing to prioritize petty politics over public health, have become a mirror of the darkest side of humanity during the biggest global health crisis in more than a hundred years.
How governments are dealing with this pandemic around the world has varied, but the main focus of every nation has been on reinforcing the health care sector, and promoting public health through social distancing, based on transparency and trust. Those with the most resources have also tried to provide economic support to rapidly slowing economies and to citizens and businesses suffering the worst consequences of the economic impact of the crisis.
By contrast, our political leaders, past and present, have already squandered our reserves and now have insufficient economic tools to provide anything more than token support. Trust is the essence of a relationship. It doesn’t exist on one side only.
In recent years we have seen a decline in trust between people and governments around the world, but we are seeing the first signs of trust being rebuilt in these extraordinary COVID-19 crisis times. For example, in Hong Kong, after months and months of protest, people are praising the government’s action and response.
With the no-confidence vote in parliament, Kosovo has now lost both its government and the trust of the people.
Kosovo’s people are more vulnerable than ever — they might be the most vulnerable nation in the world right now. Apolitical people, and those of all political affiliations, are in disbelief that politicians and lawmakers have chosen power over national unity to deal with the health and wellbeing of people in a time of existential crisis.
Politicians in other countries have sensibly bridged political divides to address the pandemic crisis. In the Netherlands, the government even appointed an experienced opposition figure as temporary health minister. Even the polarized American Congress is on the verge of passing a $2 trillion emergency package. However, there is no sane individual in Kosovo right now who believes that common citizens are a priority for our leaders.
The collapse of government isn’t just opportunistic, it’s well-orchestrated.
People know that their government didn’t fall just because of COVID-19 management or mis-management but for much deeper issues. It is not just because of the dialogue with Belgrade, the rumored territorial swap deal, fear of criminal indictments, losing the support of the USA, gaining the sympathy of the EU.
It’s about the global leadership vacuum that this pandemic exacerbated, the fight for dominance in the Western Balkans between the USA and the EU, and the filling of the global leadership gap by China and Russia. The USA, Kosovo’s greatest ally, has surrendered world leadership in fighting this pandemic and leading the world like it had done previously during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
China and Russia are rushing to fill the void created by America’s lack of leadership. For example, one sees medical experts and planes from Russia and China landing at Italian airports, not American or EU ones.
Some might argue that Kosovo is too small and poor a country to attract the interest of powerful states, especially in a time of crisis. Kosovo is a mere guinea pig at the best of times.
Now it’s about the new post-COVID-19 world order, whatever that might be after the corona pandemic, but almost certainly the new order will be one with a stronger and more nationalistic, self-interested, approach to international relations with China on the rise.
China has already established itself as a country that managed to contain the corona virus within its own borders, and that is now in the position to help others. China is producing essential medical supplies for export and sending medical staff to countries that are in need. What China will ask in return for its assistance, if anything, remains to be seen.
The EU, mostly Germany and France, is disappointed with the no-confidence vote by Kosovo’s parliament, while the USA has encouraged and supported the collapse of the government.
I bet that President Trump cannot even find Kosovo on a map, and his administration, now entering a time of peak pandemic crisis, won’t have time to deal with poor, little Kosovo and its political situation. The Americans might unfreeze the aid they froze, but otherwise, will not be expending significant time or resources to help Kosovo right now.
As a citizen of Kosovo, while the virus rages, I don’t care who is supporting whom and who is condemning whom in our political realm. I care about people who are scared, hopeless, frightened and left in isolation, pretty much to fend for themselves, while our already weak and neglected health system is waiting to fight the virus with promises and insufficient supplies.
While our leaders have failed to come together to address an enormous national challenge our people have an opportunity, rather a necessity, to come together to act more responsibly than those elected to govern. We’ve overcome severe hardship and isolation before and we can do so again.
All I know and believe is societies and their values globally will change after all this has passed. Some leaders will gain trust based on how their governments managed the pandemic, others, like Kosovo, might not only lose complete faith in any government in the near future, but they might even alter their relationship with each other and with God.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.