The chasm between Serbia and Slovakia

By Miša Brkić

“We represented Serbia in the best, true light”… “We left a good impression”… “We showed a good face, we did not disgrace ourselves”… “We made a huge step forward”… “We move forward with our heads held high”…

Sounds victorious, doesn’t it? Serbia is a leader, a champion.


These quotes are taken from the address of the coach of the Serbian national football team after the team was eliminated from the European Championship, where they did not have a single victory. They were also one of the weakest teams in this European competition.

An author who goes by “Tarzanija” on social media wrote a humorous and cynical comment: “We received two and a half times fewer goals than Albania, we conceded three times fewer goals than Croatia and yet 66.6 percent of the teams in our Group didn’t beat us. Champions without a doubt!”

The number of similar comments in the public space is increasing geometrically. Many point to the glaring disparity between the coach’s statements and reality, and his drastic embellishment of the truth.

Critics are united in condemning the failure of the national football team, regardless of political affiliations; both the government and opposition, as well as “neutral voters,” are critical of the coach.

Is it possible that the head of the coaching team is “blind to the truth,” or has a perception problem, or is making a fool of the nation, or is participating in collective self-deception, or is just “playing dumb”?

It seems he suffers from a dangerous infection of reality denial, which has long infected the country’s political life, and then spread to the entire society, including sports (specifically, football).

The football coach is not an original creative thinker; he has simply mastered and adopted the political craft (“Resava School”) from state officials whose statements, for example, about economic leadership, are out of touch with reality. There is no longer any difference between EURO24 and EXPO27 (“everything is sport” and the line between coach and government minister has become blurred).

“Serbia is a bright spot in Europe”… “We are working toward success”… “We never used to win, now we are winning”… “Serbia is the European champion”… “We are a leading country”…

These quotes are taken from a television appearance by the Serbian Minister of Finance, on the same day the national football team coach addressed the public. The minister is merely the “loudest voice” of the Serbian political establishment, whose numerous members (of higher, middle, and lower ranks) have been striving to embellish reality for years.

But alas, no one listened to him. The embellishment continued even more intensely and passionately, and the chasm between deception and reality gaped wider. Theories about being a leader, a champion, a golden age… became increasingly intrusive and “went through the forest” while real life “went along the road.”

It is not just about perfect political marketing, but also about psychological methods of mass management and designing human souls. The government, defending itself against critical thinking and political opponents, has built conscious, mature defence mechanisms by embellishing the economic and social reality and making it more bearable.

A perfect example of such practice could be the announcement from the Ministry of Finance on June 26th titled: “Our economic results show that we are a bright spot in Europe.”

In it, the minister’s statements are quoted, saying that all countries have problems with sources of growth, except for Serbia, “which is successfully managing this” and which will “be the centre of the world by 2027,” and that by then “we want to complete the projects we have started – hospitals, schools…” and that “never before in the economy have we won this big” because in the first quarter of this year we have achieved “the best results in Europe.”

When a Serbian citizen hears praises about a serious approach and huge investments in schools and hospitals, they might think that education and healthcare are flourishing. But in reality, in schools, students are shooting and parents are beating teachers, and in healthcare, citizens are being treated in buses.

About ten years ago, the owner of a tabloid spoke out, apologizing to the citizens of Serbia for having participated in embellishing the truth and calling on journalists (of regime-controlled media) to “start telling the people the truth.”

In the aforementioned statement, the minister stated that the “best result in Europe” is a consequence of responsible economic policy management, noting that in 2012, Serbia’s GDP was only 33 billion euros, unemployment was 25.9%, average wages were 330 euros, pensions were 202 euros, and the minimum wage was 15,700 dinars. “When you line up all the economic indicators, Serbia is a bright spot in Europe,” the minister said.

Undoubtedly, there have been improvements in Serbia since 2012, but it’s important not to go overboard with intrusive embellishment. It’s enough to compare Serbia with, for example, Slovakia to really see these champion-like falsehoods. Why Slovakia? Because it is the country that was the most similar to Serbia and doesn’t stand out as a particular European leader.

In 2012, Slovakia had a GDP of 73.6 billion euros, and in 2023, 122.2 billion. Serbia had a GDP of 33.7 billion euros in 2012, and last year, 69.5 billion. In 2012, Serbia’s GDP was 46% of Slovakia’s, and in 2023, it was slightly above half of Slovakia’s (57%).

Unemployment in Slovakia was 15% in 2012, and 8.8% in 2023. In Serbia, unemployment was 25.9% in 2012 and 9.4% last year.

The average salary in Slovakia was 805 euros in 2012 and 1,473 euros last year. In Serbia, it was 330 euros in 2012 and 736 euros last year. In 2012, the average Serbian salary was 41% of the average Slovak salary, and in 2023, it reached 50%.

The average pension in Slovakia was 376 euros in 2012 and 637 euros last year. The average pension in Serbia was 202 euros in 2012 and 391 euros in 2023. In 2012, the average Serbian pension was 54% of Slovakia’s, and in 2023, 61% of Slovakia’s.

This is the economic reality without embellishment.

By the way, the Slovak national football team has advanced to the second round of the competition, while the Serbian one returned home, entirely irrelevant, just like it was irrelevant that a Croatian plane transported them back home. Our misfortune is at home and has nothing to do with the Croatian flag on the plane.

(Danas, 01.07.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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