The new normal: COVID-19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Enna Zone Donlic, EST Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina
A year ago we started to face the biggest pandemic ever, there is no place in the world that was not affected by the virus and its effect on the countries economy or social life. Slowly we are starting to get used to living in the so-called new normal. Freedom somehow got a new meaning, or we finally happen to understand it fully. The forgotten workers, we took for granted, started to be our heroes – finally getting the respect they deserve. The changes in spheres of public health, education, work, work environment and economy are important; and will lead us to the new future. The world in general is becoming less global and more isolated. People are starting to move from cities to rural areas and to put more emphasis on the locally produced and health market food. Environment and good quality, healthy food came high at the peoples’ list due to COVID-19 outbreak. Just, like the concern with public health will encourage people to seek the necessary changes. Unity and neighbouring solidary have proven to be stars of the quarantine time. While at the same time, everyone hopes that the future will be filled with even better relations and stronger unity.
It is evident that the right to health is an essential/fundamental human right, but it is rarely discussed how to improve the public health and health systems and its flows are usually pushed under the carpet until a crisis happens. The current global COVID-19 pandemics urged for the new and necessary debate on the improvement of public health, not just in Europe, but in the whole world. Each country is facing a treat to its healthcare system, the time of pandemic is the crisis for the health. As the governments put the restrictions of the freedom of movement of all or just part of the population, there are more and more discussions whether pandemics, the status of crisis allows the government to impose the restrictions on certain human rights? It is a highly debatable question, but the answer is in a way simple, the severity of the COVID-19 raised a treat to public health and that in a way justifies the restrictions on the certain human rights, such as the freedom of movement. While governments are restricting one of our human rights to protect the right to health and deal with the treat to the general population, it has an obligation to timely provide the public with all necessary information.
The right to health in times of pandemics solely lays again in the hands of the government, its crisis bodies and the organization of the health care institutions. Governments timely response with necessary measures is the key to dealing with the crisis and ensuring the best possible health care to each citizen, following the principle of non-discrimination. Unfortunately many countries in the world in general and Europe in particular struggle with the lack of resources for the effective and large scale action needed to provide the best quality health care during the crisis. The communication, good organizational skills and time management proved to be crucial in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemics. The government in the time of crisis surely has a hard task of ensuring that the information received by the health institutions helps them in securing the institutions and maintain the quality of the provided health care, while at the same time keeping the public well informed and dealing with the false and misleading information offer by some media agencies (spread through the social media).
The government’s response in the countries of former Yugoslavia was on time if we take into account occurrence of the first infected COVID-19 person within a single country, on the other hand, if we take the beginning time to be the occurrence of the COVID-19 in the country you closely cooperative with, like Italy, then the governments were a bit late to react. Either way, the steps taken by the governments were taking snowball effect, if one country in the region imposed certain measures, others were close to follow. The restriction of the freedom of movements, therefore start of the quarantine and social-distancing, happened quite quickly and helped stop the rapid spread of the COVID-19 in the countries. We can say that the governments’ restrictions and measures were effective in a way that the former Yugoslav countries, even though they lack the economic support and do not have the highest healthcare standards and best equipment, Italian scenario did not take place. The spread of the COVID-19 in these countries, as in all countries in the world, was inevitable but at least the measures and policies brought by the governments managed to keep it under the control in a way and secure that our hospitals and other health care institutions do not receive an overflow of the patients.
The economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly affected, the policies introduced by the government, like to moratorium on the bank loans were not sufficient to many small businesses to keep their door open. Many people lost their jobs due to COVID-29 quarantine periods. On the other side, the remote work and home office setups became the new normal, especially for the researchers, professors and students. Psychological support and advice on how to keep the personal and professional work balance while being in quarantine and working from home proved to be essential.
Even though there are many good sides to the quarantine time, like all the jobs we before heard are not possible to be done remotely, now were smoothly performed from the improved home offices, professors and students that avoided the online classes and exams adopted to the new system; there were a number of the problems that are yet to be solved. The biggest issues with the COVID-19 outbreak in Bosnia and Herzegovina were the transparency about the distributing of the donation, mone flow (orders of the medical equipment), showing of the new issues in the health sector, weaknesses of the economy and corruption. In December 2020, the State Court confirmed the indictment against the Prime Minister of the Federation Fadil Novalić and others in the case “Respirators” for associating for abuse of office, receiving an award for trading in influence, money laundering and forgery of documents.  In addition to Novalić, the indictment charges Fahrudin Solak, suspended director of the Federal Civil Protection Administration, the legal entity “F.H. Srebrena malina” Srebrenica and the director of this company Fikret Hodžić, and Jelka Milićević, Deputy Prime Minister of the Federation and Federal Minister of Finance. The indictment charges the defendants with committing criminal offences (abuse of position or authority, receiving a reward or other form of use for trading in influence, money laundering, forgery or destruction of business or trade books or documents, forgery of official documents and violation of trade or business records) in connection with the procurement of 100 respirators worth 10,530,000 KM, and protective equipment worth 2,900,000 KM for the needs of the fight against coronavirus in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period immediately after the declaration of the accident. They joined together, and through the legal entity “F.H. Srebrena malina” Srebrenica procured 100 respirators “ACM812A” at increased prices, whereby the delivered respirators cannot be used for the purposes for which they were procured – for the treatment of COVID-19, as a result of which the budget of the Federation of BiH suffered property damage and enabled acquiring illegal property gain that would be shared between members of the associated group.  The investigation into the procurement of 100 respirators from China, which the Federation bought through the company “F.H. Srebrena malina”, which deals with the sale of fruits and vegetables, the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH has been conducting since May last year and is still ongoing. This case shocked the Bosnia and Herzegovina society, which now hopes that the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH will be as transparent as possible and efficient in handling this case.
The police hour and mandatory face mask (indoors and outdoors) is still in force, even though the police hour and limiting of the citizens’ movement were labelled as the human rights violation. The COVID-19s outbreak influence on the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be long lasting, and we will realis its full effect once it is over and we can reevaluate and calculator all the losses and gains. It has been a hard year for new and small businesses, but hopefully, this situation will influence the citizens to turn to locally produced goods and food. Now is more important than ever to help the domestic business get back on their feet. We will be able to rebuild our economy only if we work together.
Healthcare systems of all countries in the world were put on the hard test with the previous pandemics such as H1N1 flu, Zika, Ebola, but the COVID-19 outbreak is the one that challenged everything we now. The COVID-19 outbreak will serve as the lecture, showing us all the flows of the current system and guiding the decision-makers to create the policies and measures that will help develop the better and stronger healthcare systems around the world. It does sound dramatic, but the world we knew is gone. The globalisations, digitalisation and localisation will change the economies and societies we knew for good. As Gibran said:” Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”
 Tužilaštvo Bosne i Hercegovine. “Tužilaštvo Bosne i Hercegovine podiglo je optužnicu u predmetu “Respiratori”. December 12, 2020. http://www.tuzilastvobih.gov.ba/index.php?id=4696&jezik=b
How COVID-19 has affected young people in the United Kingdom
Maria-Madalina Ifrim, EST Ambassador to Manchester
The first of January came around and besides the end of the free movement of people, goods and services between the UK and the EU, the new year also came with a lot of anxiety and fear of missing out for the youth. According to a Youth Indexed published by the Prince’s Trust (“2021 Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index Report”, 2021), 53% of the respondents with ages between 16 and 25-year-old reported that they “always” or “often” feel anxious.
With contradictory and constantly-changing information about examinations (when it comes to A levels and GCSEs) and with The Russell Group (which represents 24 leading UK universities) announcing that they will not provide a ‘no detriment’ or ‘safety net’ policy (“Russell Group statement on ensuring fair assessment and protecting the integrity of degrees”, 2021) as they used to last years’, youth people are uncertain. Uncertain not only because they live in a global pandemic in which they do not know when and how they can see their friends and relatives. Uncertain because they also do not know how they can cope with studying while also taking care of their mental health and wellbeing.
British and overseas students who would like to build a career in the UK face another job market problem. 2020 represented the most significant drop in graduate jobs since the 2008 crisis. The number of jobs has been cut, but the demand still exists. In 2020, employers received 14% more applications for their flagship graduate roles and 9% more for internships and placements. 2021 will likely be a year in which the new graduates (that will not receive the same treatments as the 2020 ones having preferential assessments and safety nets put in place to make sure that they do not underperform) will compete with the previous promotions that would like to step into the job market. In an already over-competitive market, this situation puts the soon-to-be graduates into an unpleasant situation. Unsure of how they will conduct their final semester examinations, forced to maybe change their plans regarding their future and unpleased with the way universities and accommodation providers minimalise the impact of the pandemic, it is not surprising that 38% of the youth population already is “dreading the year ahead”.
2021 Prince’s Trust Tesco Youth Index Report. (2021). Retrieved 21 January 2021, from https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/about-the-trust/news-views/tesco-youth-index-2021
Russell Group statement on ensuring fair assessment and protecting the integrity of degrees. (2021). Retrieved 21 January 2021, from https://russellgroup.ac.uk/news/russell-group-statement-on-ensuring-fair-assessment-and-protecting-the-integrity-of-degrees/
How COVID-19 has affected Spain
Pedro Arànguez-Diaz, EST Ambassador to Madrid
Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns as the main tool to deal with COVID-19. During March, April, and May of 2020, the Government imposed a mandatory and centralized ‘stay at home’ order without any exception for exercising or walking at any time. The major exception was the ability to leave home for work. After this initial period, measures became increasingly decentralized and dependent on regional governments (“Comunidades Autónomas”) responding to the health data of each location.
As of 2021, common measures in place include the prohibition to travel between regions, the obligation to wear masks, a maximum of six people per social meeting, curfews, and the complete closure of certain industries such as nightclubs. In contrast, restaurants and public transport are generally allowed to remain open with conditions, depending on local regulations.
The aim of that approach was to only impose the measures when they were necessary and where needed. However, the patchwork of regulations provoked complexity and instability, leading to confusion and constant change in the normative status. In this mix of regulations, the differences in regional ideologies and the internal conflicts affecting local governments emerged, highlighting a stark opposition in priorities and approaches, with preservation of the economy on the one hand and protection of the public healthcare system on the other. The several changes experienced since the start of the pandemic are the result of an attempt to balance both interests.
To apply measures only locally and when needed, probably had a positive effect on the economy. A large part of Spain’s GDP is dependent on industries like tourism and restaurants, which benefited from more relaxed restrictions. During some weeks in the summer, the measures applied also seemed moderately successful from a healthcare perspective.
However, the whole strategy has revealed the inadequacy of the public healthcare system, especially displaying its inability to effectively assist the elderly. Although new hospitals were built and emergency infrastructure was developed, not enough personnel has been mobilized to operate them. The biggest mistake has been the lack of planning during the mild months of Summer to prepare for the announced crisis that would have come in Autumn. A better organization could have started by localizing the shortage of resources and reserving funds for them.
At the horizon are now EU funds and vaccines. Spain obtained a sufficient number of vaccines for its population, but regions are not applying their vaccination plans at the same pace. Furthermore, in contrast with the fear for the economic consequences to come when government-subsidized plans stop, the EU funds provide hope because their careful distribution may help stabilize the country and boost the economy.
Dealing with COVID-19 – Youth’s perspectives and actions in North Macedonia
Konstantin Solarski, EST Ambassador to Kumanovo
Northern Macedonia is among the most severely affected countries in the world from the pandemic per million population – both in terms of registered cases (31st) and mortality (10th).
Not talking about many nightmares for many of us that happened during this pandemic, I would immediately jump almost a year forward. All of that because I want to speak of what the country has done to stop the spread of the virus. Firstly we must mention that the Government said that the “magic cure”, Ivermectin, in which many see salvation to defeat the deadly Covid-19, will be available to Macedonian citizens (Deutsche Welle, 2021) which can be helpful.. But in the long run we need to talk about the vaccine which still is not available. Due to delays for various approvals, and because of the delayed start in the process of providing the adequate number of required vaccines, Northern Macedonia has not yet received vaccines that are intended for citizens of this country. Now the country will get 8,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Serbia and expects additional doses from various countries. But until now we can see that the EU has “forgotten” its closest family, the Western Balkans by not sending any property help needed for these counties.
The government has allocated 28 million euros to support citizens, as well as domestic products and services, in overcoming the crisis with cards that will be able to buy only domestic products (Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, 2020). Young people also received a home card. Mentioning the youth and as the numbers of new infections began to rise this summer, young people became the focus of media attention. Because, unlike the beginning of the pandemic, this summer mostly young people, not pensioners, became infected with Covid-19. This was accompanied by pictures of gatherings and parties in the city centres, which obviously did not follow the rules for keeping the necessary physical distance. Alternatively, I believe that the vast majority of young people in the country fully or generally adhere to pandemic rules and recommendations. We should not make them the “devils” in this situation. Statistics and counting how different age groups behave is not the main problem that we have. Bigger problem is that we are not together in this problem that is pushing us to not having power to deal with this virus.
“Super expanders”, as they like to call the youth, have done quite significant positive things during the crisis. As an example, The Red Cross First Aid Center, where a large number of young people volunteer and work, has organized a number of activities, which have mainly helped with temporary quarantines and curfews. Also, the Minister of Health has held many meetings with young doctors, some of whom have received work licenses that will be engaged in infectious diseases departments and clinics for the treatment of patients with Covid-19. The new doctors will be hired on a paid internship basis. Another opportunity that the government has prepared for the youth includes Ministries have introduced a decree on awarding vouchers to young people for digital skills training.
A group of civil society organizations, mostly led by youth, aim to help institutions overcome and reduce the negative effects of the pandemic and measures to prevent it among young people. They are making a document that provides coordinated and urgent recommendations to the institutions for proactive and informed policymaking with whose timely implementation will reduce the consequences on the well-being of young people in Northern Macedonia and will support young people overcoming the crisis. Separated into four different groups: unemployment and economic effects; education; psycho-social and health consequences; youth engagement and volunteering, these groups of civil society organizations believe that the change can be made. “Stop Corona” is a domestic innovation, made by youth, of the Fund for Innovation and Development against the epidemic (Ministry of Information Society and Administration, 2020). The saved data from the application will become available to the health authorities only with the consent of the owner of the phone, which in turn can help epidemiologists detect the points of transmission of the virus.
These are examples that young people can help, that they are not here just to be on the radar, not doing anything useful, and that they are not just spreading the virus. We know this is a big blow and for them, their education and possible job opportunities are also affected, along with mental health that we should not forget. I believe that we should work against creating conflict between young and old. Ultimately, social cohesion from the pandemic can be an important resource.
One of the most important things that this virus has taught us all is that we should work together, regardless of our differences. The greatest human strength is our desire and ability to work together on the same problem, which we should use not only to deal with this “monster” but for any other obstacles. Together we are stronger.
Kosovo’s double challenges: COVID-19 pandemic and political crisis
Albulena Uka, EST Ambassador to Kosovo
It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has put all world and European countries at risk and surely, Kosovo makes no exception. For Kosovo in particular, the pandemic period was of prominent difficulty due to the added political crisis. The management of the pandemic started quite well, with a lot of restrictive measures that assured that the number of infected people remained low. But these restrictions raised some legal issues when the President of Kosovo contested the decision taken by the Government to restrict citizens’ rights at the Constitutional Court. The latter found that the Government had not acted in line with the Constitution and the fundamental rights guaranteed in it when taking this decision.
Gradually, the management of the pandemic changed when the political situation took a turn. Kosovo’s coalition government faced a lot of disagreements between the parties that formed the coalition for the topic of the pandemic as well as other topics which led to a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Thus, Kosovo became probably one of the only countries in the world to dismiss a government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Afterward, a new government was created and the main challenge for the new government remained the old problem: the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the governing period of the new government, legal action such as the adoption of Law on preventing and combating the COVID-19 pandemic took place. Moreover, economic measures were also undertaken, namely the emergency package which received not very few critics.
The pandemic was used as the prime issue for political debate and arguments from which it can be considered that all the political parties benefited. However, what they failed to do is to be united during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period most needed. It is generally accepted that the measures taken including health and economic ones, would have been much more efficient, if there had been a political consensus and if the managing of the pandemic would not turn into a political battle.
 Bytyci, F. (2020, March 25). Kosovo Government Faces No-Confidence Vote After Dispute Over Coronavirus. U.S. NEWS. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-03-25/kosovo-government-faces-no-confidence-vote-after-dispute-over-coronavirus
 De Launey, G. (2020, March 26). Coronavirus row helps topple Kosovo government. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52044136
 Distler, W. (2020). Political crisis and the Corona—‘State of Emergency’ in Kosovo. Z Friedens und Konflforsch 9, 375–384. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42597-020-00046-w
 Walker, S. (2020, March 26). Kosovans look on aghast as government falls while coronavirus bites. THE GUARDIAN. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/kosovo-government-falls-in-vote-of-no-confidence
Dealing with COVID – 19 – Youth’s perspective and actions in Albania
Xhoana Shegani, EST Ambassador to Albania
With the coronavirus quickly spreading across the world, the morning of the 8th of March 2020 found Albania in a global pandemic. When the first case of Covid-19 was reported by the government, Albania found itself in times of economic, social and political uncertainty. In this situation, this news was accompanied by immediate measures to enter isolation in order to prevent further spread of the virus.
Isolated when key information in media contained updates on the pandemic situation all over the world that deepened the consequences on mental health, Covid-19 raised many questions over whether we would be able to get equal access to treatment, considering the serious weaknesses of the health system in our country. Covid-19 has also affected mental health. Albania became the only European country where infected patients commit suicide (Faktoje.al, 2020), this is also due to the lack of treatment by psychologists. The use of cautious language in communication by the media and a good plan from the government in response to the pandemic indicates an appropriate behavior according to the situation.
Constant updates on the decisions of the “Technical Committee of Experts” were announced but without disclosing, since the beginning of the pandemic, who was part of the committee and who made decisions on managing the situation (ABC News Albania,2020), which also raises the question of whether one existed before the pandemic.
Moreover, at a time of a global health crisis that condemns crowd gatherings, in May, the decision to go ahead with the demolition of the historic National Theatre claiming that a new one will be built with public funds, knowing it would cause many protests, worsened, even more, the lack of trust in the Albanian government. In the midst of the reconstruction efforts from a devastating November 2019 earthquake, the crisis put more pressure on the response of the financial support for low-income and vulnerable groups. Meanwhile, the youth was and is still facing difficulties with the educational system, because the pandemic has deepened inequalities and risk of exclusion in the access to education.
These times of uncertainty acknowledge the importance of cooperation and common effort by all, influences the way we perceive the future and emphasizes the importance of health, well-being, loving your family, helping and realizing how important it is to be together in such a situation and to understand that to love is not necessarily indicated through a hug but through words of encouragement.
Faktoje.al (2020). Albania, the only European country where Covid patients have committed suicide in the hospital. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3rgJVH8
ABC News Albania (2020). Why do we not know who is the “Technical Council of Experts”? Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3tnShyw