The vaccination center in Belgrade can vaccinate up to 7.5 thousand people a day in two halls. According to Tragana Milosevic, the center’s coordinator and physician, the Serbian government had already granted vaccinations to citizens of other countries in March. Every week hundreds to thousands of people come to Belgrade and other Serbian cities for a vaccination. Their own governments cannot deliver them quickly.
“Serbia is the only country in the world that offers more vaccines than its population,” says Serbian epidemiologist Soren Radovanovic. According to him, the vast majority of people are not interested in vaccines.
There are actually enough vaccines in Serbia. The government decided to buy all available creatures – Spotnik V, Astra Genek and Pfizer / Bioendech. So far most of the vaccines come from China. Serbian TV journalist N1 Peter Kazik adds: “The government does not want to support Chinese vaccines at the expense of Russia or the West.
People from all over the Balkans, Croatia and the Czech Republic are now getting vaccinated in Belgrade. Is it vaccine policy or diplomacy? Stephen Vladisovlev, a Serbian political scientist and project coordinator of the Belgrade Security Council, is in charge.
Yes, Serbia The vaccine does the diplomacy. It took this opportunity because the government was able to quickly order and buy millions of doses of vaccines for its citizens. At the moment, the situation is that we have more vaccines than Serbian citizens are interested in. At the regional level, Serbia has adopted a similar approach to that followed by China or Russia globally.
In the Western Balkans region, Serbia redistributes purchased vaccines. The government has already sent vaccines to northern Macedonia, Montenegro or Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, it arranges vaccinations for citizens of other countries directly in Serbia.
So what is happening now is not only vaccine diplomacy, but also vaccine tourism. Foreigners come to Serbia to be vaccinated. This is further evidence that Serbia is actually implementing vaccine diplomacy, not just in the region.
But isn’t Serbia part of any other player’s vaccine diplomacy?
Not directly. But yes, in some cases the vaccine supply is declining. China is the main supplier of vaccines in Serbia – so far the government has purchased 2.5 million Chinese Sinovac vaccines.
Serbs have already purchased 2.5 million Chinese Sinovac vaccines.
Interestingly, Serbia is no longer allowed to redistribute the Chinese vaccine. So in cases where Belgrade sent vaccines to other countries, it was never Sinovac. He sent Sputnik V to Montenegro, Pfizer / Bioentech to northern Macedonia, and Astrogenk to Bosnia and Herzegovina. But Chinese vaccines are nowhere to be found.
However, the fact that its citizens received 2.5 million doses of cinnabar allowed Serbia to send vaccines from other manufacturers to neighboring countries. So Serbia is not directly part of another country’s vaccination diplomacy, but rather manages to use it.
What does this mean for Serbs?
This is definitely good PR, good promotion. This makes Serbia more popular – in the last 30 years, our country has never been more popular in the current region.
There are many reasons here, but the division of power between the individual states of the region gradually changes. We can say that Serbia is the first among equals at this time, and can use its success with vaccines to become a regional leader. It is a leader not only in internal regional policy but also in politics involving other actors.
If actors like the European Union or the United States decide tomorrow to establish strong mechanisms for regional cooperation, Serbia could be at the center of this effort.
Belgrade is the largest city and Serbia is not only the largest country in the Western Balkans region, but thanks to the success of vaccinations, regional political officials are looking at Serbia, which is now in the best light. If there is an opportunity to negotiate in the whole region, there may be a better chance that Serbian President Alexander Vusic and his government will become a key player in the talks.
How can it take advantage of a better position in the region?
Over the years, efforts have been made to strengthen regional cooperation, for example through the Mini Schengen project, the creation of an economic zone between some states of former Yugoslavia and Albania.
There are other similar regional cooperation initiatives. Their vision is to transform the Western Balkans into a more cohesive region. These efforts have often been negotiated by Western actors such as Germany or the United States. However, it is in these plans that Belgrade can become a formal regional leader.
In terms of application Serbia’s “best picture” in negotiations with Kosovo, but that’s something else. This is a very difficult question because Serbian influence in Kosovo is zero. Belgrade has no power except in the majority north of Kosovo.
But what will happen is that Serbia will get a better position in future talks with Kosovo. They are now suspended and have not been created. However, if the EU or the United States succeeds in initiating negotiations, Serbia could gain a better position in the negotiations thanks to its actions during the epidemic if these actors begin to work more in the region again.
Will President Alexander Vusic strengthen his position in the domestic political scene?
His power has long been generally undeniable. He is a really strong politician. Serbia’s political power is concentrated around Vusic and his CIS party. However, even the most vocal Serbian opposition agreed that the vaccination process in Serbia was very well organized.
Of course, there are many questions about how much the vaccines actually cost, or why the government decided to buy them in China. But we have to admit that it worked: there are not many countries in Europe or anywhere else in the world where people can choose to get vaccinated.
Like I said, they are all with us now and they are available to the citizens of Serbia and other countries as well. This is something we should recognize as Alexander Vushik’s greatest achievement. It will definitely increase his popularity, but he had it before. But now he has strengthened his popularity, strengthened the stability of his government and further centralized his power in the country.
Do you think there is competition among vaccine distributors?
The vaccine market is definitely competitive. This is very obvious. This is a conflict not only between vaccine manufacturers but also between world powers.
We can certainly talk about Russian vaccines and their potential impact on relations between EU member states, but we must not forget that there is competition between Western countries as well. We now see a relatively negative attitude towards Astrogeneka.
We have seen that the European Commission has decided not to renew the contract with this pharmaceutical company. Attempts by China and Russia to enter the European market have so far failed twice. China was only able to sell its vaccines to Hungary. Buying a Russian vaccine is still considered somewhere, and we saw what a sharp discussion of these vaccines can do in Slovakia.
If there is one, who will win the competition?
If there is a shortage of them in some parts of the world as a result of competition between individual vaccine manufacturers or states, no one is a winner.
In a crisis, the Union does not act as a player, but rather as 27 individual member states.
This is because the purpose of vaccine production should be, first and foremost, to save lives and human health. So if there are unwanted deaths due to this contest, I will not call anyone a winner.
But if we look at this matter as a competition of many more actors, who is performing better in this matter?
Globally, China has established itself as the most effective distributor of vaccines. But early in the epidemic, China dominated the world, largely distributing various protective equipment such as veils and respirators.
At the time, the United States and the Union focused mainly on epidemiological issues within their borders. The European Union has begun to close its borders with the outside world.
Once the epidemic is over, you can see two instead of one superpower: the United States and China.
But we must not forget that the EU also closes borders between member states. This is a really important moment – we saw in a live broadcast how the union in crisis does not function as an actor, but as 27 members trying to handle the situation themselves.
When the situation calmed down, it began to focus only on aid beyond its outer borders – for example, here in the Western Balkans. This took even more time for the United States – they could not yet access foreign aid. Only now are they preparing a framework for a more active role in resolving the global epidemic. Of course, the government of the Donald Trump administration is the result of its inability to deal with the corona virus in its own territory.
Usually we can China, unlike Western actors, is very active there, enabling foreign aid. Beijing has been a global leader for many years, and in times of crisis we find it very efficient to act quickly and intervene in countries in need of assistance, where it can improve its image and strengthen its power.
However, as far as China is concerned, we do not see the strengthening of power that would not have happened without an epidemic. China has been strengthening for a long time, and its influence over the growing territory is increasing. When the epidemic is over and we see what it brought, instead of one superpower, we will see two on the world map – the United States and China.
Listen to the full attention of Magdalena Fajdova in the audio recording. His next guest was Ivana Karaskova, an analyst at the Association for International Affairs.