Over the past few weeks, Serbia has donated thousands of much-needed batches of vaccines to the countries on its borders and spreading goodwill as well as a sense of collegiality and good-neighborly relations during the acute pandemic crisis.

Serbia ranks among the top five countries in the world in terms of the successful per million rate of vaccination of its citizens. According to the rate of second jabs per million, Serbia is number 1 in Europe and fifth in the world after Israel, Seychelles, the UAE and the US. 

It is also a rare country that has at its disposal all four leading vaccine types – AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik V and Sinovac – having started its acquisition process ahead of many countries. Its key decision was not to rely on just one provider. Adding to that, Serbian authorities have already announced that Moderna is also on its way. Some 1.6 million people out of some seven million have been vaccinated once and another 600,000 have received the second jab.

“We are not interested in politics, we are interested in saving lives”, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said.

Earlier this month, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic personally brought 5,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Sarajevo in a gesture of goodwill. Bosnia and Herzegovina has yet to start the vaccination campaign.

“I would be happy if these vaccines could be used by all – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – with no distinction and we shall help, if we can call it that, the same in the future. I will also allow myself the liberty to request assistance from Bosnia and Herzegovina on some other matters when we need it. That is how friends and neighbors should talk to one another,” said Vucic.

He invited the Bosnia and Herzegovina leaders to a summit “on cooperation, trust and openness, to seek ways to open wide our mutual borders. “

Vucic has been a devoted champion of a mini-Schengen among the Western Balkans states to enable for the free flow of people, goods, capital and services. So far, he has won the approval, apart from the EU and the US, for the idea from Albania and North Macedonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, under President Milo Djukanovic’s rule, have remained skeptical of the idea.  

“No less important is the announcement of the Bosnia-Serbia summit, to discuss open issues. I would point here to the conclusion that any dialogue is healing and that finally unresolved issues between the two countries are openly put on the table. Dialogue is the best way to solve problems. Definitely, this may be the final departure from the prevailing policies that have burdened the relations between peoples and states in this area,” Dr Antonio Pehar, a highly respected political expert, told New Europe.  

Bosnian politicians welcomed the donation: “I am grateful to President Vucic for this donation and assistance. I know this will cause different comments, some will be grateful, and some will be mean, but I would like the people to think just about one thing – if only one or more of these vaccines saves one or potentially ten lives, it all would have been worth it,” Zeljko Komsic, Bosnia and Herzegovina tri-partite Presidency member, said. 

One of those to rain on the goodwill parade was the country’s top diplomat, the hardline Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic from the Bosniak SDA party. She downplayed the assistance saying the vaccine was “cheap and intended for use in poor countries”. Her comments caused an instant and massive backlash on social networks.

“The authorities are so incapable that even their so-called allies like Turkey failed to provide a single vaccine,” read one of the moderate tweets.

Vucic’s gesture by no means qualifies as pseudo-solidarity as commented in some Bosnia and Herzegovina political circles, Pehar said.

“This is Serbia’s best soft power move in the past 50 years”, Robert Coban, a top Serbian publisher, said of the donation. Bosnians are now asking for a Serbian passport to get vaccinated, he said. “A friend of mine from Sarajevo told me that she did not get even a mask, let alone a shot in her hometown. In Belgrade, she got her jab in 15 minutes and free of charge”.

Previously Serbia donated 2,000 Sputnik V to Montenegro and 8,000 Pfizer vaccines to North Macedonia. After receiving the Serbian donation in mid-February, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said “the borders between our countries are open precisely because of the initiative in the Western Balkans to increase and promote regional cooperation, whom some call mini-Schengen. Whatever its name might be, it is an expression of cooperation and friendship.” 

“The door is open also to Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro and I believe they will soon join this initiative,”  Zaev said.  

Serbia’s Brnabic delivered the Sputnik V vaccines to Montenegro herself some two weeks ago, using the occasion to make the first visit to Serbia’s erstwhile biggest ally in the region. 

“We want nothing else with this gesture but to open a new chapter in relations between Serbia and Montenegro… at this time, solidarity is of the utmost importance and we must stick together”. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here