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August 10, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 253
A Challenging Task for Sir Tim Bell

Serbia's Face-lifting

by Milos Vasic with Tihomir Loza in England, Sonja Seizova in Greece, Dragoslav Grujic, "Vreme" Archive

Marketing experts from the Belgrade branch of "Saachi & Saachi" told Vreme that it is a good choice, but also an expensive one. "Lowe Bell" is one of the strongest companies in the field, specializing in the kind of work that Serbia and Yugoslavia need. Financial Times described the job as a "challenging task"- which is a typically English reserved statement.

On 26 July, Lowe Bell issued a joined statement from the London Club and the Yugoslav delegation. The statement said that both parties were pleased with the beginning of negotiations. It also quoted one of our delegates, Vuk Ognjatovic, and some bankers, saying that the following companies have been hired as consultants: "NatWest" for financial matters, "Allen & Overy" for legal questions, "Lowe Bell" for public relations.

The current image of Yugoslavia in the world can be illustrated with the example of an American TV commentator who, following the basketball match between the USA and Yugoslavia, said that "it not a disgrace to be second in the world" and added that "it would have been better for them if they won a silver medal for something else..."

"In politics, the product to be advertised is the party program, its carrier is a person and the consumer is the voter", so says the first rule of political marketing. Then come the channels of communication: carriers of information and the media. As Svetozar Markovic noted more than one hundred years ago, personality is often more important than the program, so even the best political program will fail if it is being promoted by the wrong people. Or indeed their wives, not to mention Hillary Clinton (or Jacky Kennedy-Onazis), that is wives of statesmen who hold a powerful position and tend to have a potentially important role. At the moment, dr. Mira Markovic plays an important and risky political role in Serbia, irritating far more voters than anyone from the authorities is willing to admit.

There are two basic approaches to building a personal image: a politician can sell himself either as a constructive and positive personality- or as a "tough guy" who holds things under control and is therefore respected by others. In diplomacy, it is the strong and not the weak who are negotiated with. In the Balkans, Milosevic and Tudjman chose the "tough guy" approach, while Gligorov, Izetbegovic and Kucan went for the "soft" option.

In the long run, Kucan, Gligorov and Izetbegovic chose the better option. Slovenia's exit from Yugoslavia has been accompanied by marketing moves the quality of which - professionals agree- was at top level. Media exploitation of the ten day long, artificial war was even better than in the case of the famous Romanian revolution; top experts and journalists were hired to construct the image of Slovenia as a brave little country which is winning the war against a bigger and stronger enemy; during the 10 days in question, the press-centre in Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana functioned to perfection.

Gligorov had a slightly harder time, but showed a talent for understanding the rules of modern political marketing: he hired a Belgrade marketing agency and won the elections, although one of his main competitors, Petar Gosev, had another Belgrade marketing agency working for him, but without success.

Mainly due to the disadvantageous situation on the ground, Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian government developed an efficient network for media support. A large number of non-governmental organizations, some of which were created since the beginning of the war in Bosnia were and still are a powerful source of media and other support; people with considerable experience and connections in the States, such as Mohammed Sacirbej, his father and Ejup Ganic, established important links with the international press. Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina understood the need for professional help early in the conflict and thus hired the famous American PR company based in Washington Rudder Finn Global Public Affairs.

In creating his own image and the image of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic relied mostly on local talent, such as Borka Vucic from Cyprus whom Milosevic met during his stay in the States, and who dragged him around the whole of the United States in the attempt to turn him into a world class businessman, or for example the high-strung poets who competed with one another in praising the "leader" ("...young orator with sun in his hair"; Radoslav Zlatanovic; etc.).

Mrs. Vucic remained a faithful ally: she explained how one ought to buy friends, "it is the right of every government to help other parties and movements around the world... The success of those parties also improves our own chances of establishing good business links with the countries in question". This is how she explained the publication of the book by Mira Markovic abroad: "Mrs. Markovic paid us the above mentioned amount (some US$ 350,000) because, as you very well know, she is also a very respectable businesswoman" (quotation from "Nezavisne Novine").

Even when things started getting serious, during the unfortunate Dubrovnik and Vukovar offensives, Milosevic kept the same team of outside propagandists of questionable competence. The world community was swamped with pictures of rotting dead bodies of questionable ethnic origin, stories of "genocide", Serbian suffering, and other propaganda rubbish that nobody believed. As time went on, more and more shady characters appeared as representatives of Yugoslav national interests. Later, when the bloodshed in Bosnia began and Karadzic's own spokesmen started informing the world of the "truth about the Serbs", things got worse. Daniel Schiffer, a "philosopher, humanist, and Serbian son in law" with expensive taste, was soon joined by "Senator" John Kennedy (although Senate does not exist in Britain) and the future son in law of the Karadjordjevic Royal Family, Omer Zametica with his interesting connections in London; there were also some French "geo-politicians" and a large number of Russian communist and neo-nazi free lance artists, ranging from general Filatov who ate roast lamb with Bozidar Vucurevic and Spomenka Deretic, through Eduard Limonov, to the long forgotten Jaroslav Jastrebov, professional hunger striker who was welcomed both by Vuk Draskovic and the state nationalist media as the future of Mother Russia. The attempt by Rajko Djuric, a columnist of the weekly magazine "NIN", to turn Jastrebov into the "conscience of the Russians towards the Serbian people" proved to be in vain since all we ever got to hear from him were promises of an "Orthodox bloc" and "Russian volunteers". Helen Delic-Bentley, representative of Maryland in the American Congress, once Milosevic's public relations trump card, "reconsidered" her sympathies for the Serbian president as early as in 1993, in an interview given to the undersigned journalist.

Experts for political marketing claim that any attempt to improve the public image of Serbia or Yugoslavia is likely to be a complex, long and expensive exercise. Former Governor of the National Bank of Yugoslavia, Dragoslav Avramovic is skeptical: "Every piece of advice they will hear and pay dearly, they could have got from young and successful men who are currently employed by the National Bank of Yugoslavia". Mr. Avramovic estimates that the services of "NatWest" alone are likely to cost at least $ 1,000,000 a year. Also, if young and successful experts from the National Bank could perform the role given to "NatWest", it is likely that one of the marketing agencies in Belgrade could undertake the public relations task given to "Lowe Bell Financial". However, nobody wants to hear the bitter truth from one's compatriots.

It is certain that any serious attempt to improve the image of Serbia and Yugoslavia will be long and expensive. Marketing experts remind that such operations last for years and require deep cooperation with the state leadership. Such cooperation means "interaction": the hired agency will demand information about all relevant details and might ask for certain changes to be made. This mainly concerns the security of investment and profit although experienced agencies emphasize that the good image of a country depends on its internal climate and the existence among the population of a consensus about acceptable political and social goals.

In other words, it is impossible to make a good product out of rotten material. There is no doubt that Milosevic is aware of this even without the advice of English experts. He only has to adapt his country to the demands of the industrial civilization, which will not be an easy task.

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