By Nikola Jovic
The Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic is definitely right in saying that his plan to resolve Kosovo’s status does not have citizens’ support. Theatrically speaking, he seems to be admonishing and speaking with a cocktail of emotions made up of anger, sadness and contempt. The fact that citizens do not know what Vucic’s plan is not a consequence of their disinterest, but the intended effect of his strategic way of communicating with them.
This complex and carefully designed strategic communication has several goals. Firstly, President Vucic is trying to maintain his position, which is based on ratings at home and support from abroad. As it is more difficult to manipulate international authorities, a manipulative communication strategy is being used on the citizens of the Republic of Serbia.
President Vucic knows that negotiating and potentially signing an agreement that resolves Kosovo’s status is not popular, thus resulting in a deafening silence about his plan for Kosovo, not informing the public and avoiding to answer reporter’s questions.
The results of such communication are indicated by data from a survey conducted by the Sprint Insight agency, which shows that 60% of respondents do not know what Vucic’s plan is for resolving Kosovo’s status. President Vucic is holding his cards close because he believes that informing the public about the plan automatically means that his ratings will decline. The data from this research confirm that this assumption is correct.
Secondly, the strategic communication of the President of Serbia is aimed at dismantling the dominant transgenerational emotional attitude of citizens towards Kosovo. The citizens of Serbia, for the most part, perceive Kosovo as the cradle of Serbian identity and spirituality – the foundation of Serbian statehood. The question then arises as to how to communicate the potential arrangements leading to Kosovo’s independence, where we come to strategic communication at two narrative levels.
On the one hand, the President of Serbia is calling for an agreement and the necessity of delimitation, that is, a solution to Kosovo’s status, using a rather realistic narrative: „I will not lie and say that Kosovo is part of Serbia“. In this way, he is preparing a part of (his) electorate for this unpopular decision. Such communication also suits the international authorities to whom the President is telling what they want to hear: openly and directly communicating national defeat and preparing the public for passive acceptance or anesthetizing reaction.
On the other hand, the emotional attitude towards Kosovo is constantly reinforced in the media controlled by Vucic’s propaganda machinery. This is not a positive, emotional discourse presented in the narrative – Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. On the contrary, it is a narrative that is riddled with hatred and intolerance towards Albanians. The newly created narrative is regressive, inhumane, and fundamentally anti-Albanian.
The goal of this negative emotional discourse is to neutralize the positive emotional attitude towards Kosovo and to „cover“ it with a negative one. This marketing job is being accomplished by demonizing Albanians, and the sublimated message is presented to the citizens that it is actually in our interest to separate ourselves from the Albanians because it is impossible to peacefully coexist with them.
In the government-backed tabloid media, this narrative is promoted via news with the following headlines: “Shiptars are bullying! Shiptar torture! Shiptars arresting Serbs again! Shiptar’s abnormal dealings! Shiptars are bullying Serbs – provoking bloody conflicts! Shiptars are ‘cutting off the heads’ of the Serbs! Liar, liar, Shiptar pants on fire!”
This kind of media discourse is violence in itself, while inhumane and anti-civilizational strategic communication of this type, even with short-term „positive“ effects, has a terrifying potential for long-term consequences. Creating intolerance and hatred cannot lead to a happier society or better inter-ethnic relations in the long run.
In order to implement this strategic communication, political process engineers in Serbia – led by President Vucic – believe that control of the private and state media is necessary. From 2012 to date, the level of media freedom in Serbia has decreased dramatically, while the transformation of the media into a propaganda machine that does dirty marketing work for the government is intensifying. Sprint Insight research data shows that this machinery is creating terrifying social engineering when it comes to citizens’ outlooks.
On the one hand, the machinery manages to keep the rating of the ruling party stable, despite President Vucic’s unpopular realistic stance on the necessity of finding a solution to Kosovo’s final status. On the other hand, it fails to break through the emotional wall that protects citizens’ beliefs that Kosovo’s independence should never be recognized. Survey results show that respondents are against any solution which includes independence and 75% of respondents would understand the recognition of Kosovo as a betrayal.
Therefore, the way President Vucic approached the Kosovo issue has led to the captivity of not only our media, but also of the state, society and institutions.
Is the price of Vucic’s Kosovo politics too high? It obviously isn’t for the foreigners because they continue to pat him on the back and openly support him. It is also not too high for our citizens, as Vucic’s ratings show – which have been quite stable for years.
It seems that the equilibrium of support skillfully built by Aleksandar Vucic can only be disturbed by the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Democracy in Serbia has already capitulated to President Vucic, it remains to be seen whether the Kosovo negotiating team will do the same. Or else, the President will leave two lost myths – the Kosovan and the democratic – as his legacy.
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