The whole world is affected by the coronavirus, Italy in particular. What mistakes had your country made has made that have led to this situation?
At first, it was not at all easy because we were faced with a deadly, invisible and unknown enemy. Then we took severe, unpopular, but necessary measures to fight COVID-19 and we went down the right path. The WHO continues to praise Italy’s course of action, as Prime Minister Conte said, as the country is facing the most serious crisis since the end of the Second World War. At this moment, thousands of men and women – doctors, nurses, researchers – are “in the trenches” every day, working towards saving lives with the utmost commitment. In the face of the extraordinary sense of duty of so many Italians, it would really seem ungenerous to me to talk about mistakes. We will overcome this difficult challenge with a sense of responsibility and solidarity: we will succeed!
You’re in contact with your colleagues and family in Italy. What do they say to them? How is life over there?
Italians have shown a sense of responsibility by accepting the many restrictions on their movement, which are necessary to contain the contagion and safeguard everyone’s health. Habits, daily life – in all its simplest expressions – and even the way of studying and working (many are working from home and there are online courses at all educational levels) have changed radically. The physical presence in offices and in many companies has been significantly reduced (not all of them, however, some categories – the most important ones – continue to operate). This is a completely new reality to which Italians are getting used to, as they are increasingly aware of the importance of staying at home and of reducing contact with the outside world. As for work, since the beginning of the crisis, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian diplomatic-consular network have been working uninterruptedly on several fronts. I would like to mention two of them in particular: on the one hand, there is the procurement of medical equipment for our hospitals, and on the other, rendering assistance to our fellow citizens who are, for various reasons, abroad.
The world is in solidarity with Italy, aid has been sent, there is plenty of moral support… How important is this to you?
Very important, believe me. In the meantime, I would like to thank many Serbs who have demonstrated, once again, their friendship and the closeness. We have been receiving support and help from many countries – from the EU Member States, China, Russia, the United States and many others. We are not alone and we have received validation of this, i.e. of how much Italy and Italians are well-liked in every part of the world. Perhaps, at the beginning of the crisis, when its scope was not completely clear, there was some misunderstanding, but now everyone understands that the coronavirus emergency is a huge challenge, which concerns everyone. Italy is going through a very painful ordeal and its experience of fighting the coronavirus contagion may be a model to follow for many others. Divisions are not necessary; cohesion and solidarity are needed to fight against the panic and selfishness.
What is your message to the Serbian people? How to overcome the crisis?
I have said it on many other occasions and I am saying it again – it is essential to respect the rules of hygiene and behaviour prescribed by the Serbian authorities. There is currently no vaccine against the virus, so the contagion must be combated by reducing contact. It is important to accept this point, although it is not always fully understood. You have to stay at home as much as possible, go out only if it is absolutely necessary and protect your health and that of those around you. Here in Serbia, as in many European countries, restrictive traffic measures have been adopted. We must show responsibility, with the awareness that if everyone respects the rules, it will be possible to gradually return to our habits. Perhaps we can also use this moment to think about what is really important in our lives. I am sure that this crisis will make us better.
What lessons will the world learn from this tragedy?
It’s probably too early to tell. Many countries, starting with Italy, are paying a very high price in terms of human lives. We inevitably talk about figures every day, but we have to think that behind every single person who loses his or her life there are so many families who will have to try to return to normalcy with great difficulty. When everything is over, it will be important to reflect on what happened and learn important lessons from it. One aspect, for example, will undoubtedly be the creation of rapid solidarity mechanisms at both European and international level. That is why the European Union is already working towards setting up a fund to deal with the economic consequences of the state of emergency. A few days ago, President Conte launched an important initiative together with eight other European prime ministers, proposing an ambitious common strategy for entire Europe to combat Covid19 and cope with the economic and social effects of the pandemic.
Finally, on the subject of the EU, I would like to mention the exceptional financial assistance (€93 million) promptly provided by Brussels to Serbia for the COVID-19 emergency which is another remarkable proof of the strong European support to Belgrade. Let me conclude with a remark on the issue of enlargement: in these days, despite the current emergency, Italy has been in the front line in Brussels in supporting the launch of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, which has been decided by the European Council owing also to our efforts. This is a very positive message for the whole Balkan region, which allows us to look ahead, also think about the future of Serbia, in these difficult days.
This post is also available in: Italiano