Role that sports play in Serbian world of salami and politics

By Goran Mišić

“The national euphoria is not abating in Belgrade after the Serbian basketball team, under the leadership of Svetislav Pešić, became the vice-champion of the world in Manila, while, simultaneously, Novak Djokovic won the US Open in New York for the fourth time, i.e. his 24 Grand Slam and re-acclaimed the No 1 position of the ATP list.

For the first time in history, an Air Serbia plane was sent directly from Belgrade to the Philippines to pick up Bogdan Bogdanović and his friends, while Novak, as before, “had to manage on his own” for transportation and hurry to prepare for Spain and the Davis Cup matches.

But there is only one Nole!

Dodik’s unlearned lesson

One of the few politicians who did not celebrate the great sports results was the president of the Republic of Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the president of the ruling SNSD party, Milorad Dodik, who angrily left the friendly match between the basketball clubs Partizan and Turk Telekom in Banja Luka because some people chanted something that they apparently shouldn’t have – “Vučić is a fag**t”, a rather common occurrence in Serbia.

Because Vučić was insulted, Dodik recommended the President of Serbia stop financing Partizan and by doing so, demonstrated how and why he cannot come close to the marketing and similar abilities of the Serbian President, no matter how much he wanted.

Because the combination of sport and politics, with the economy excluded from this winning story, especially in small underdeveloped countries, such as the majority on the Balkan Peninsula, is the only true winning combination which Vučić has long known and practised as his daily political skill.

Which image is more predominant – the one with medals proudly being displayed around the necks of the best athletes in the world, or the one on where the president himself advertises cheap salami as proof that inflation is dropping? The ultimate decision lies with the marketing teams who accurately calculate how much of one and how much of the other bring pre-election points. And these pre-election scores are essential to sporting, economic or any other successes, considering that, in this country, everything is about politics.

A public discussion about whether cheaper salami is more important to the citizens than great sporting successes is therefore a complete failure, especially for Dodik who has not yet understood that fans, especially from the opposite camp, have the right to shout what they want, especially if they are opponents of the government. Namely, it is not difficult to prove that the cry “Vučić is a fag**t!” actually more promotes Vučić than those who call him that, well at least until they change their chant to “Vučić is a thief!”

A handful of bread, yoghurt and cheap salami

Of course, many people will not like comparing the winning of the highest sports awards and new victories of Serbia in football or volleyball, with the contents of the red plastic shopping basket that the president of Serbia presented live on television. But the propaganda effect of twenty or so food products with announced (as of Wednesday) lower prices was convincingly more impressive. If the prices of these groceries are really reduced, this would have a better effect on people than the state’s one-off financial aid when it comes to pre-New Year’s election clash, regardless of what elections are going to be called – Belgrade, local, parliamentary or provincial.

Vučić listened intently to economy experts from the government’s advertising teams and agencies and no matter how bizarre it may sound, filmed himself and several government ministers eating breakfast made with groceries which prices were reduced by 20%, that is a bit of bread, a yoghurt and cheap salami as a living example of how Serbia can eat well and affordably.

Now, what most people here eat anyway is exactly cheap salami and not good veal because veal is not only the most expensive in the Balkans, it is also rare to buy. Sometimes is sold as beef.  Again, marketing is important!

That’s why the promise of 20,000 dinars from the state budget as one-off financial aid for pensioners, which will be disbursed coincidentally right before the elections, along with an increase in pensions, which has been announced for a year now and which, you guessed it, is still lower than the inflation rate, is of great importance.

Experts who are not close to Vučić accurately assess how he bases each of his campaigns on a certain socioeconomic issue (growth, development, investments, wages, infrastructure) and how the galloping prices and living standard are obviously a big issue to him too. He sends out a message to people that he cares about it and signals that he is the one paying attention to their problems.

Whether he will be able to convince the voters that he is the only one who cares about the problems of people here will be evident once the new prices of cheap salami, bread, yoghurt and a few other groceries are revealed.

Nole aka Black Mamba

Almost everything has been said about the Serbian basketball players who went to the World Cup as absolute outsiders and returned with silver medals around their necks, and there will be more for new analyses. When Nikola Jokić, the NBA’s most valuable player, definitely gave up playing for the national team, everybody thought that the Serbian national team was doomed and that the dream of Serbia’s return to the top of the basketball world was over.

First of all, this was a team that didn’t have huge stars and the Germans were actually better. The Serbs narrowly missed out on gold even without Jokić and some other important players, but the expectation that Serbia should be in the basketball world what Croatia is in football in the Balkans was confirmed. Just ask Novak Djokovic for advice about how to do this. His marketing team has shown again and again what it means to be on top of their craft.

It was impossible not to notice it. When Novak made a comeback and took back the title from Daniil Medvedev at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, he wore a shirt with the number 24 and Kobe Bryant’s nickname – Black Mamba. Yes, they were friends, but Kobe is an American legend, just as Nole is a living legend of tennis and just as sports has long since become a lucrative business that cannot do without top marketing.

The role of sports in the Serbian world of cheap salami and politics and their intertwining is certainly huge. Maybe even bigger than anywhere else.

Hence, there is reason to believe that the winner of the next elections in Serbia will be the one who convinces the citizens that salami is cheaper for them than veal, which they cannot buy anyway. The following months will show how much of this are marketing and similar tricks and how much are real skills.

In order to wear the Black Mamba shirt, you must first play as the Black Mamba and be better than your rivals. This is why there is not much difference between sports and politics. Unless you get caught with your hands in a cookie jar! Now, that is unforgivable.”

(Al Jazeera Balkans, 13.09.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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