The president of Serbia and two of his loyal government minions have hit on the brilliant idea of making an Instagram video. What they have created could almost be a classic Monty Python sketch.
First, we see two of Aleksandar Vučić’s ministers – ironically the most stuck-up ones, known for living the good life – head off to a grocery store to buy breakfast items. Looking like two well-dressed elephants, the finance minister, Siniša Mali, and the trade minister, Tomislav Momirović, choose bread, mayo, yoghurt and as their main sandwich ingredient, some discounted baloney sausage meat, without which the whole operation would be pointless.
Later on, we see Vučić and his two stooges eating the cheapest and most unhealthy breakfast ever and pretending to love it – in the hope that it will, in turn, make Serbia’s working class love them.
The whole idiotic spectacle – created to advertise government-mandated price cuts of basic items in order to ease a cost of living crisis – instantly became a joke on social media, but the cringeworthiness and hypocrisy seems not to be bothering Vučić or his other co-stars. They knew exactly what they were doing.
It was the latest attempt by our omnipotent president – who is also our prime minister, chief media editor, supreme judge, sommelier, football expert, you name it – to persuade poor people they are not really that poor. And if they do for some reason think themselves poor, then don’t worry, because he is one of them anyway.
A few days before the video went viral, Vučić himself announced discounts on a number of products during a press conference that was broadcast live on our main television channels, taking them out of a basket one by one. “Apple – delicious,” says Vučić in pidgin English, reading from a juice label to the millions of people watching the programme. Again, this was pure Monty Python.
But this should not surprise anyone. The whole concept of the president’s regime is of one large propaganda sketch show that has lasted now for over a decade. His modus operandi is to control the narrative through the mainstream media and a series of parallel institutions, NGOs and watchdog organisations that seem to exist only to further his interests.
Crime bosses have become the biggest patriots, while investigative journalists have been accused of serving criminals. Opposition politicians are to blame for the country doing badly – even if they were teenagers during the previous administration. War criminals are the new elite, while human rights activists are enemies of the people.
Serbia’s president, whose associates are well known for targeting individuals, takes any opportunity to talk about the many plots to kill him. In recent years there have – allegedly – been at least 100 attempts to murder the president, he says. But no court case has ever been brought.
Inflation in Serbia has been among the highest in Europe, while the housing crisis has been made worse by refugees and other newcomers from Russia and Ukraine.
Basic foods – eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables – have risen in price by more than 25%, pushing many people to the verge of poverty. Prices in megastores in Serbia and Germany are almost identical, while some things are even cheaper in the most powerful European country. The paradox is that the average German salary is almost €4,000, while in Serbia it is €600. Even official state statistics say that the income of every fifth Serbian citizen is below the poverty risk threshold.
Our country is one of the poorest in Europe. It is actually bottom when it comes to inequality. To buy an apartment of about 40 sq metres costs around 11 years’ average salary. At the same time, real estate is flourishing, on the back of dirty money.
So with his “baloney PR”, Vučić decided to do what he does best: sit on his political PR exercise bike, which allows him to make a big show of how fast he’s pedalling, but without actually going anywhere.
He is now on a mission to persuade the poor they are not really poor. But in that Instagram video it is notable that Vučić was the only one who did not take a single bite of that lousy sandwich. Talking to his remaining supporters, it seems they also noticed that small but telling detail.