COVID-19: Branimir Gvozdenovic on the challenges of disinformation, emergency preparedness and contingency planning to create innovative responses in the fight against COVID-19

09 July 2020

Branimir Gvozdenovic, Head of the Montenegro Delegation to the NATO PA, shares his views on the challenges of disinformation campaigns and how they hampered efforts to contain the pandemic; Montenegro’s coordination efforts in the repatriation of citizens; and Montenegro’s path to declare the country free of COVID-19 cases.

4 questions with Branimir Gvozdenovic:

I.    Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries has been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Montenegro has used NATO structures to help others and how Montenegro has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis?

It is said that when you face a crisis, you learn who your true friends are. The COVID-19 challenge and the struggle to contain the virus indeed reminded us how much we can count on our partners. NATO Allies continued to prove their readiness to stand together and assist each other when needed the most. 

Since the beginning of the crisis, Montenegro has been closely following international assistance requests submitted by Allies and partners, primarily through the NATO’s principal disaster response mechanism – the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) but also through bilateral assistance avenues. Bearing in mind our capacities, we focused our efforts on coordination and organisation of repatriation of citizens of Allied countries, who were located outside of their homelands at a time when the crisis hit and borders started to close to slow the spread of COVID-19. Within this framework, we closely collaborated with our Croatian friends and enabled repatriation of their armed forces from KFOR Mission in Kosovo, as well. 

Soon after the first COVID-19 case was noted in Montenegro on 17 March, the Government of Montenegro submitted a request for international assistance to the EADRCC. Turkey was the first country to respond to the request by sending medical equipment (masks, overalls, and test kits), while the Kingdom of the Netherlands transported sets of personal protective equipment and medical supplies from Beijing to Podgorica during April and May. The United States donated medical supplies to the Podgorica Clinic Center, including 3 Dräger Vista 120 patient monitors, 210 infusion sets, and one infusion pump, while the U.S. European Command donated USD 300,000 to the health system of Montenegro. Financial and medical assistance was provided by other Allies as well: Canada, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, the UK, Germany, Bulgaria, and Norway. 

As of 2 June, Montenegro is officially a COVID-free country, so we are gradually opening our borders to welcome friends and partners. We remain grateful for all the support selflessly given by our Allies and we stand ready to assist our NATO friends in all future challenges we may encounter. The joint response to COVID-19 confirmed once again that the spirit of solidarity and unity is the solid pillar that supports the NATO Alliance.

II.    What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis? 

NATO has undertaken many activities in order to support national and international response of its Allies to the COVID-19 crisis. The organization assisted Allied countries and partners through the already existing instruments. For instance, in April, NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers tasked NATO's top operational commander, General Tod Wolters, to coordinate military support to Allies and partners. NATO moved on to help Allies improve their resilience by updating the 7 Baseline Requirements, maintaining their essential preparedness, defense, and deterrence capacities, and developing additional NATO support measures in response to the pandemic. 

NATO Allies showed true dedication to their partners. In the time to come, we must continue to rely on each other, bearing in mind that some of our partners are still facing the COVID-19 challenge but also that a second wave of the pandemic might already be underway. Shaping common political response and positions in relation to the crisis will be essential, however, we need to think about increasing our emergency preparedness and contingency planning and create innovative responses. In those endeavors, NATO must continue to work closely with other international partners and organisations, especially with the European Union. 

III.    Ensuring public access to transparent, timely, and accurate information about COVID-19 is critical to counter disinformation campaigns during the crisis. Allies and NATO continue providing factual information to counter disinformation. But how could they step up their efforts against such disinformation campaigns?

Unfortunately, the pandemic brought to light the new challenge of disinformation campaigns that affected the wider Euro-Atlantic area and hampered efforts to contain the pandemic. For us to fight it, we must always exchange information and best practices in a timely manner and take coordinated and proactive approach to communication with our citizens, pledging to provide them with true information and thus further build their trust. 

IV.    What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can inter-parliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis?

Parliamentarians play an important role in every crisis, as they have a duty to ensure that all measures taken by their governments are in the best interest of citizens and consonant with human rights. Therefore, we closely follow and examine the Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and make sure to hold it to account. In addition, we stand ready to assist the swifter implementation of health measures adopted by our governments but also to create solutions that will enable the socio-economic progress at a time of slowed economic activities.

During the pandemic, the Montenegrin Parliament limited its business, however, our parliamentarians held a number of meetings with ministers and representatives of financial institutions, chamber of commerce and other actors whose work is essential to economic and social stability of the country. Moreover, with the aim to raise awareness of the COVID-19 challenge among Montenegrin citizens, we have designed tools to support the risk communication and community engagement. 

Sharing such experiences with our partners within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is of crucial importance, as we learn and grow together, which enables us to react faster and achieve better results in the future. The close collaboration helps us to build up the resilience of our Parliaments and to contribute to the overall efforts of our countries in fighting the pandemic. 

Branimir Gvozdenovic, Head of the Montenegro Delegation to the NATO PA

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