All of us are locked down somewhere in the world.
As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic handcuffs nations and borders, I continue serving my sentence in Melbourne. All this while, I've been receiving and exchanging more stories of lockdown with friends from all over. I spoke previously with Sara Watts, Non-Executive Director of Syrah Resources, Uniting NSW and ACT, LiteracyPlanet and Vision Australia in Australia
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is a cumulation of stories shared with Affluent Society by its members and members of Platinum Circle.
Jovan Jovanović is a Member of the Serbian Parliament since 2016. He is the President of the Civic Platform and a former Serbian Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia, 7 South-East Asian countries and ASEAN (2011-14). Since 2017 he has been an Advisor to the 1000 Abrahamic Circles project, a global interfaith community-based project initiated in Indonesia. He is a Board member of Harvard Club of Serbia. since 2017 and was a Board Member of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2005). He translated ten books and is a black belt holder in the Japanese martial art Aikido.
Affluent Society (AS) spoke to him about his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in Serbia.
AS: What is the lockdown like in Serbia?
Since late February Serbian Authorities have been implementing inconsistent, incomprehensible and contradictory anti-pandemic measures that have resulted in the loss of trust in the government and its Crisis Center. In the beginning of the pandemic, the government underplayed the seriousness of the threat labeling Corona “the most laughable virus in the history of mankind“. However, only two weeks later, the authorities made a U-turn, and, unconstitutionally, bypassing the Parliament, declared almost a two-month long state of emergency.
An array of restrictive measures had been introduced at the very beginning of the state of emergency: kindergartens, schools, sport facilities, bars and restaurants were closed and public transportation was suspended, both city and intercity. A countrywide curfew with frequent changes of duration was declared, instilling confusion among citizens. The curfew lasted until the end of the state of emergency. Senior citizens, those over the age of 65, faced the toughest restrictions: for a month and a half they were forbidden from leaving their homes, except for buying groceries once a week from 4a.m. until 7a.m.
Such restrictive and inconsistent measures, which were among the toughest in the world, provoked dissatisfaction and anger with many citizens. By way of protesting, angry citizens banged on pots and bans, and produced noise from their balconies and windows every evening at 8.05pm, after applauding medical workers five minutes earlier.
AS: What challenges did you face when the lockdown started?
The biggest challenge was how to organize life and work from home with two little kids (2 and 4-year old unruly boys) who were 24/7 at home since kindergartens were closed for almost two months. The lockdown and restrictions on public gathering significantly limited the possibilities for activities of an MP, who is expected to have personal contacts with citizens which can never be adequately replaced with online meetings. These restrictions were also detrimental to leading the political organization I am President of. Family-wise, yet another challenge was doing groceries since it was extra-time consuming due to the limited working hours of stores and long queues this measure created .
AS: How are you coping with the lockdown?
What helped me most to cope with the lockdown were my regular individual Aikido practices either in my garden during the lockdown periods, or in the park nearby my home when free movement was allowed. I was also involved in a real-time virtual Aikido seminar lead by an instructor from Italy, a long-term friend of mine, which gathered a few hundred of practitioners from every continent. This Aikido solidarity helped me keep my spirit high. This is an issue of high importance to me since I have been practicing this martial art for 25 years. Professionally, online meeting platforms helped me partially compensate for the absence of personal contacts and organize my activities.
AS: Anything positive came out of staying and working from home?
Since, on the one hand, it had been very hard to work from home and, on the other hand, there was an increased amount of free time, I used that time to do some home maintenance that had previously been postponed or neglected, such as refurbishing, detailed cleaning, throwing away unnecessary things, etc. Due to that, everyday living environment has become more pleasant than before.
AS: What's happening to return to normalcy?
The major problem in Serbia was that due to the general election held on June 21st the government, in just a few days, revoked restrictive anti-pandemic measures in order to create an impression of normalcy. Even large-scale sports events with tens of thousands of attendees were allowed. Moreover, the government declared victory over Covid-19 before the election.
As it turned out later, the authorities were intentionally presenting lower figures of newly infected and deceased in order not to discourage people to participate in the election. After the election, the numbers of newly infected started to skyrocket and the authorities put the blame for the sudden spread of the disease on “irresponsible citizens.” When the President announced, on July 7th, that a curfew should be reintroduced, outraged people poured out onto the streets and violent clashes with the police occurred in front of the Parliament.
Due to such citizens’ reaction, the government backed out from imposing another curfew and introduced relatively mild measures, such as obligatory wearing of masks indoors. After the forced normalcy in the pre-election, it is hard to predict when and how Serbia will return to genuine normalcy. As of now, facing a serious epidemiological situation, many people are still working from home, some companies introduced shifts with limited number of employees, and school will probably continue with online learning. It seems that Serbia is still far from returning to normalcy.
Next up: We speak with Ingrid Newkirk, about her COVID-19 lockdown experience in the United States of America.
The COVID-19 Lockdown Series is brought to you by the Partners of Affluent Society including
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