In Serbia, public trust has been irreversibly eroded. Since the very beginning of the crisis, Serbian citizens have been exchanging articles about Bill Gates and 5G. But their suspicions were also fuelled by officials who made jokes about “the most ridiculous virus in the history of mankind” and “the lion gene that protects Serbs from the corona”.
One event especially added to this distrust. During the first months of the crisis in Serbia, 632 people who had tested positive died. This was more than twice as many as the officially announced number of 244, as the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) uncovered
. During their investigation, the reporters found serious discrepancies in the numbers, including 388 unreported deaths.
At first, state officials blamed BIRN for “[spreading] fake news, misinformation, and politicking”. Serbian PM Ana Brnabic responded that if you suffer from COVID-19 and get hit by a bus while heading to a hospital, you count as a victim of COVID-19.
Switching from jokes to dramatic warnings, state officials created a sense of confusion that ended in a widespread sense of mistrust. Public debate is now open to every alternative explanation. After all, in the end, why should we even care? “Our genes” are our vaccine.