When it comes to the creation and dissemination of worldviews, Russia in Serbia is faced with some shortcomings, or rather, with the so-called two-tier intellectual system that does this job. Russia lacks a significant pro-Russian intellectual elite in Serbia, which influences the formation of cultural policy in a broader sense, and, first of all, at the university level, writes Siniša Atlagić, Head of the Centre for Russian Studies at the University of Belgrade.
Today, there are practically no academic, professional or everyday political discussions about contemporary Russian-Serbian relations, despite the countries’ three long and intricate centuries of shared political history. As someone engaged with political communication at the University of Belgrade, particularly with political propaganda, I’d note that the most significant result of Russian-Serbian relations, for the Russian side, is merely the fact that the majority of Serbs have a positive attitude toward Russia and Russians, and that this perception has prevailed throughout the entire course of their bilateral relations. However, as was noted by the organisers of the conference, titled “Russia in the Balkans: Looking into the Future,” “our bilateral cooperation should not focus only on the past, on historical memory and related topics. It should look into the future, determine the prospects for Russian-Serbian relations in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres, as well as the general goals of Russia’s policy in the Balkan region”. From the point of view of political communication, such a position among the conference organisers can be interpreted as an intention to professionally transform the process of attracting people (at the level of relationships) into the effect of providing support (at the behavioural level). In other words, the question arises of how to increase the results of Russian influence on the political and broader social sphere in Serbia, which is relatively weak in spite of support in terms of public opinion .
It seems that the current positive perception of Russia in Serbia is, firstly, due to the consequences of political socialisation and the formation of a significant part of the population of Serbia in the second half of the twentieth century, based primarily on the joint anti-fascist struggle of the USSR and Yugoslavia, similar post-war models of society and systems of education, and traditional cultural and historical ties between Russia and the Serbian people, which again attracted attention during the collapse of Yugoslavia. Secondly, this idea can be presented as a clear result of the positioning of the political elites of Serbia and Russia at the international level toward the sins of the West in relation to Serbia from the beginning of the process of the disintegration of Yugoslavia to the present day. Only then can we talk about the purposeful, direct promotion of Russia on its own path after 2000s. This point of view, of course, should be viewed not only in light of the pragmatic approach of the Russian political elite to the country’s foreign policy and to its economic relations with foreign countries, but also in the light of its determination to avoid the mistakes of the USSR. Modern Russia, of course, does not intend to create an alternative to Western values and “sell” to the world a new “big idea” similar to the socialist one. Likewise, modern Serbia would not be a good platform for such an idea. The modern Russian worldview, which is suitable for the Serbian people, is not an alternative idea, ideologically diametrically opposed to the Western values, it is a kind of adjustment in international politics, thanks to which the Serbs would receive compensation for the loss of the former unified state, because they invested in the former Yugoslavia more than any other nation, and would restore self-esteem and regional political power.
Today, the Serbian people see elements of the aforementioned approach (in relation to the Russian political leadership) in the unresolved Serbian issue in the Balkans, and this fits into the traditional view of Russia as the protector of the Serbs. The attitude of the Russian Federation towards UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on the status of Kosovo and Metohija and the British proposal for the UN Resolution on Srebrenica is an example of Russia’s political activity, which supports its positive image in Serbia and among Serbs in the Balkans. In addition to the above, in this approach, Russia grasps the fact that Serbia is a country that has the most powerful human, economic, cultural and integration potential among the countries of the Western Balkans, and that its European future is uncertain.
However, how is it possible to convey this strategic vision to every Serb and “fertilise” it every day, without waiting for great historical events in which Serbian-Russian unity may again come to the fore? In this regard, Russia is facing serious problems. In the absence of broader opportunities for the development of this topic, here are several missing or insufficiently-expressed elements in foreign diplomatic activity:
— when it comes to the creation and dissemination of worldviews, Russia in Serbia is faced with some shortcomings, or rather, with the so-called two-tier intellectual system that does this job. First of all, Russia lacks a significant pro-Russian intellectual elite in Serbia, which influences the formation of cultural policy in a broader sense, and, first of all, at the university level. Second, we see the underdevelopment of the intelligent information system, consisting of the media and teachers who disseminate this worldview. Working on student exchanges or other forms of higher education (such as opening branches of Russian universities or research centres) is critical because it is a way to create a pro-Russian intellectual core that could influence public opinion and political decisions in the long term.
— lack of pro-Russian television programmes as the most trustworthy and most frequently used media in Serbia. The effect of the work of numerous pro-Russian websites, primarily of a political nature, is such that they strengthen the sentiments of those who use the Internet and already support Russia. Research, however, shows that most Serbs receive information through television.
— the role of television is especially important for the promotion of modern Russian mass culture, which is almost completely unknown to the citizens of Serbia and the Western Balkans.
— to use Orthodoxy as the strongest identity connection in promoting common values, as a reference point.
— to centralise and more intensively coordinate the active work and financing of educational and scientific centres in Serbia which work with Russia.
— to strengthen the active work of the official representatives of Russia in regions (the so-called “direct links with the people”).
— special attention should be paid to humanitarian activities in the Western Balkans, such the Russian Humanitarian Mission (RHM). This activity can have a strong propaganda effect if it is supported by the media, and in the case of Russia it represents a comparatively significant advantage in terms of soft power promotion, due to the widespread support of public opinion.