When the coronavirus came to Serbia, our already difficult situation became much worse. The disease was spreading, and our country didn’t have enough tests and didn’t order any special precautions. This is when the virus came to Serbian hospitals and when the panic started. There was no way for a person to get medical treatment unless they were tested positive on COVID19. And there was also severe media manipulation, or should we say “the darkness covered the media in Serbia.” The majority of media houses in Serbia are pro-government and they kept saying that the hospitals have plenty of protective gear and equipment, while the independent portals kept pointing out that the situation is exactly the opposite, and they kept being arrested and charged. The curfew started and it became stricter every week, so there were times where we couldn’t leave our homes for four days. The government took our freedom, manipulated us, and anyone who stood up against them was arrested, and this means that “the stronger ruled over the weak” in Serbia during coronavirus time.

Still, during curfew, a positive side came out which we are very proud of. Community Development Center LINK volunteers, members of YU Peace network showed solidarity. Some of them joined the Red Cross and brought groceries to fellow citizens who are older than 65 (because the elderly weren’t allowed to come outside at all). Others took it upon themselves to go grocery shopping and visit pharmacies for their families and elderly neighbors. Community Development Center LINK held online workshops during the national emergency thus staying in touch with our volunteers and trying to come up with the outlines for different activities that would allow us to help those who are in gravest danger during the national emergency. We received an emergency grant from one of our previous donors Medica Mondiale from Cologne which we will use to help single mothers who have lost their jobs during the national emergency. In the future, we will hand out vouchers for grocery shopping in stores owned by women whose businesses are also suffering because of the virus. We will implement this activity in Sombor and the surrounding villages. In addition to this, we will put up posters in stores and pharmacies with emergency numbers so that women who are experiencing any form of violence can reach out and ask for help or support. We will also leave leaflets in these places that contain phone numbers where women can get psychological support, suicide prevention, and support for victims of human trafficking.

What is more? With our partners across borders, the rest of the YU Peace network members we are planning on organizing an online camp that would last a few days so that our volunteers can stay in touch with their friends from other countries, thus keeping the peace building process alive during this difficult time. YU-Peace activists are overjoyed by this idea and they said they would gladly participate. Some of them supported each other online during this crisis by video calling, and so it turns out that YU Peace network once again showed its power and strength. Whatever the situation might be, no matter how difficult the things get, it’s wonderful to see that you have friends across borders; friends who send a message at least once a week to check up on you, who offer their help, who you spend hours video chatting in the evening. This support meant the most to me. I knew that my friends from across the borders will answer my online video call every night and offer their support, and that they will give me a chance to socialize while in quarantine. I am very grateful to the YU Peace network because I met true friends there, friends who have solidarity and empathy, and who have the means and the desire to keep up the peace building process even at this difficult time, and who are doing their best to keep the strength of the YU Peace network alive.

Jelena Stulic, YU-Peace Activist, works for the Community development Center LINK, our partner organisation in Sombor, Serbia