April 10, 2023

Manipulating the myth of Kosovo, the politics of Aleksandar Vučić has enabled public/media discourse to become consumed with hatred towards vulnerable groups (women, the LGBTQ+ population, people of different religious and political affiliations) and almost completely devoid of empathy and solidarity.

When former British footballer and current sports presenter Gary Lineker tweeted about the UK government’s controversial migration bill, BBC’s management cut his airtime. The reaction by the British public as well as by prominent figures including his Match of the Day co-hosts was immediate. 

Lineker’s tweet characterised the UK government’s migration bill as “immeasurably cruel” and “directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

On the other side of Europe, in Belgrade, Aleksandar Šapić, a former water polo athlete and the current Mayor of Belgrade, said that the integration of the Roma is impossible unless they want it and used stereotypes that are commonly used against the Rome population:

“There have been attempts to provide Roma families with permanent accommodation, but they do not stay there for long. They rip out doors and windows, strip the plumbing, sell all that can be sold, cause disturbance to their neighbours and eventually return to their unhygienic settlements.”

Serbia’s Roma Party filed charges against him but despite the criticism he receivedmostly from the Roma community – Šapić continued with the same narrative and mentioned that he did not consider his comments discriminatory, as he had not referred to the entire Roma community. He claimed he was not concerned about criminal charges filed against him by the Roma Party.  Nataša Tasić Knežević, who is an opera singer and member of SNS, as well as Roma herself and an activist for the rights of the Roma people, commented on Šapić’s statement by saying that he “offended Belgrade and all people who live there“.

Mensur Haliti, director of the Office for Roma Initiatives and Democracy at the Open Society Foundation, stated for Serbian daily newspaper Danas that Šapić’s words “are racist and violate international, European and state laws,” whereas Branko Đurić, the editor of the television show Romanipen went one step further and stated for the weekly Vreme that Šapić “recreates dangerous concepts that once led the Roma to the guillotine and gas chambers”.

Lineker and Šapić’s cases may be different but the way they were reported by the Serbian media is indicative of the Serbian media environment. For the media close to Serbia’s government, Lineker’s case was not covered widely. In general, positive representations that do not serve the government’s agenda are rare. More independent media on the other hand, covered Lineker’s case widely and called attention to Šapić’s inappropriate comments.

Hatred ‒ a pattern for personal advancement

By looking at those two cases comparatively it becomes clear that the Serbian media environment lacks from positive representation of diversity-related issues. Why is it so difficult for the country’s media to share examples of solidarity and empathy towards those who do not have a voice or whose voice is rarely heard?

Nebojša Milenković, a writer, art historian and curator, who constantly points out the anomalies of Serbian society, says that the reason for this lies in the fact that Serbian society is neither decent nor civilized:

As a society we are dead, or clinically dead. There are ordered and decent societies in which people do not degrade one another, in which institutions do not degrade the citizens, and we do not have either one of these qualities: neither are we decent nor civilized. It pains to realize that it pays off, so to say, to generate hatred. The highest state officials spread nothing but hatred around them. The President deploys an overbearing, arrogant and unseemly manner of speaking when he talks about his political opponents and the media, or anyone who dares say anything he considers unwelcome. It creates a pattern, a model, a desirable norm of behaviour, so the members of his party think that hatred is a reference for personal advancement. The Serbian Parliament is an arena for exercising hatred. There is not a trace of parliamentarism or democracy there. They compete at reciprocating insults and being creative in expressing hatred. Serbia is not ruled by Aleksandar Vučić. Serbia is ruled by hatred and fear. Vučić himself is terrified and panic-stricken, and he knows only too well why he should be afraid,”

Milenković told RDN.

The case of Kosovo still seems to be present in every conversation in Serbia’s public domain and it influences different political and media narratives. Milenković underlines that present-day Serbia has been brought up on the myth that Kosovo is the heart of Serbia, which has been the platform Vučić has used to win elections.

The talk about Serbia-Kosovo agreement is a generator that brutalizes our society. What lies ahead of us is a dramatic period in which those from “the patriotic Serbia” will fight among themselves, and what they call patriotism is anything but that. This distorted view of patriotism now metastasizes in the form of media messages, posters, messages on pavements, murals, fabricated affairs… There are, of course, incidents of defending common logic. We may be able to recall numerous instances of solidarity and empathy in the public/media sphere, but they still remain incidents, which is what decency has become here an incident. The reason for that is the fear that dominates the society. It is like a virus, it spreads faster, faster than Corona for example. On the other hand, courage is like a virus, too. It could also spread if it were a desirable model of behaviour. As for the reason why it is not, the answer lies in the pathologies of our society; for there are dogmatic societies, in which the truths are not questioned but created by a single person, and then there are questioning societies developed societies in which there is a dialogue and where people exchange their opinions,” Milenković explains and adds that Kosovo has become a multiple risk for Serbian citizens in every way: it has become a personal issue of Aleksandar Vučić, whom the representatives of the international community have approached with a “take it or leave it” ultimatum ‒ “those who refuse take the blame for everything”, which shows that the international community, too, treats the peoples of this region and their representatives with astounding disrespect.

Examples of solidarity expressed by public figures in Serbia may be rare, but they exist. For example, the singer Seka Aleksić publicly opposed the leader of the right-wing movement Dveri Boško Obradović, who feels that in vitro fertilization by donor reproductive material from Spain and Denmark requires “particular moral and ethical assessment”.

You have offended all people who struggle to become parents in this way, shame on you. Who are you to decide and impose opinions? It is God who grants children, whether through natural conception, IVF or with donor eggs, and brings joy to thousands of families. Do you know how many couples struggle like this?” posted Aleksić on Twitter, as the media report.

The actor Milan Marić also spreads solidarity and empathy in the public sphere whenever he can. As a host of the recently held national Eurovision selection, he used the opportunity to send a message to the auditorium speaking against violence against women, children, the elderly and the LGBTQ+ population. For a long time, the writer Vladimir Arsenijević has used the power of public speaking and his personal integrity to stand up for the weak and vulnerable. Since the beginning of war in Ukraine, Arsenijević has been helping collect aid and speaking publicly about the importance of understanding the Ukrainian situation. He took aid to Ukraine, and organized residence in Serbia for Ukrainian writers. Arsenijević, as well as Milenković, finds that the reasons for the poor state of the Serbian society and media, which are often blamed for everything, lie in what we live, which according to him is “the result of revisionism, self-victimization and utter inability to take responsibility for anything”.

After all, is that not the best answer to the question why there are more and more of those like Šapić and fewer and fewer of those like Lineker in the Serbian society?

Author: Snežana Miletić

Photo: LCV / Shutterstock