Morality and Law
Serbia and Russia: Why Do We Know So Little About Each Other?

In May of this year, the inimitable Djordje Marjanović, a great performer of Serbian and Yugoslav, Soviet and Russian pop music, died. The coronavirus had cost us another genial artist; in the case of George, fans stretching from the Danube and Serbia’s Mt. Avala, to the Urals and the Pacific Ocean were overcome with grief. From now on we will not hear Little Girl or, as the title of this song was known in Russian - “Night in Belgrade” (“Nochnim Belgradom”), nor we will hear other popular songs by the legendary king of the pop hits.

Serbia and Russia have lost a singer which we loved and who united us with his art. He knew how and could find the points of contact between two peoples and transmit emotion across thousands of kilometres. This suggests that we have one soul - brotherly and Slavic. But now there are practically no people like George, especially in Russia. Apart from the great Aleksandrov choir, the popular masses in Serbia and the Balkan region are only familiar with Vladimir Putin. In Serbia and in Republika Srpska, the Russian president has enormous popularity. Politicians and other public figures, including artists, singers, athletes, ballerinas, representatives of other arts, are not known to the Serbian public.

In any case, this is the responsibility of Russia, if we keep in mind that in the framework of bureaucratic cultural cooperation, some TV stations show Russian TV series and films in Serbia. This is absolutely not enough, neither quantitatively nor thematically; often it isn’t enough in terms of the quality of these films and series. The impression is that some of the best examples of Russian contemporary culture are being hidden from Serbia. Serbs are absolutely not aware of the modern, dynamic and delightful Russia. They do not feel its pulse and spirit. Stereotypes about Russians are often reduced to some kind of combination of Cossacks and social realist aesthetics.

Serbians are not only unaware of what kind of Russian songs and singers are popular today, they have never even heard of them; the Serbs don’t follow their work or appreciate it. In practice, the same can be said about Russian writers, except those who are pro-Western and are critics of the authorities in Moscow and Minsk. Serbian media speaks very little about Russian achievements in any area, about great intentions and projects, or especially about the nuances of Russian internal and external politics. Most of all, nothing at all.

So, instead of Russia, a huge space is opened up for the influence of Western soft power. Even in Moscow it is not easy to resist such power, and the Serbs are no better. Our citizens know the history of World War II much better than the history of the Great Patriotic War; they generally don’t know the difference between these two concepts. Nobody explained this to them. Serbs know that the Russians freed Berlin, they were told about it by their grandmothers and grandfathers, and this took root in the collective consciousness. But, a few more decades will pass, and this will not matter to anyone else. No one will tell about it. We will only know that the brave American soldiers defended Europe from Nazism. This is just one example, and there are many of them.

On the other hand, a similar situation exists in Russia. The Russian public has heard about Kosovo and knows that somewhere, in the Balkans, lives a friendly people - the Serbs, and that during the last few years they have been led by a leader who speaks Russian fluently and with pleasure – Aleksandar Vučić. But, apart from these few facts, Russian society is deeply unaware of the politics, rich culture or sports of our country. The exceptions are Novak Djokovic, a world phenomenon, Miloš Biković and Emir Kusturica, who managed to create their own brands in Russia, with the help of Russia.

All this is absolutely not enough. Who today in Russia sings about “Night Belgrade”, while millions of people listened to this song with admiration? Who in Serbia supports the women's national figure skating team, as it is one of the most famous Russian world brands? Few in Serbia know the names of these fragile, unrivalled girls, but many know both the height and weight as well as the number of points scored by American basketball players, who use steroids.

In order for our peoples to really get closer, they must be more deeply informed about each other. The cares, problems, joy and successes of the Russians should, to a certain extent, be Serbian. And vice versa. When a fire breaks out in some building in Moscow, or when Russia launches a rocket into space, this should immediately be known to the Serbian public from direct connections of correspondents. Once, big Yugoslavia had dozens of correspondents in the USSR, and it was possible to imagine that. Today - no.

The Serbian community will learn about what is happening in the world practically exclusively through the Western TV stations and agencies with which the Serbian media have established cooperation; it is from them that they receive information.

Therefore, one cannot expect that the Serbian community will learn about what is really happening in Russia, especially in the modern, crumbling world, if nothing bad happens. When it does, Serbs will be notified about it immediately through well-filtered information, comments and photographs.

Receiving information about Russia and the world through Western media centres and their local transmissions - in Russia there is only one Internet media portal in the Serbian language – the Serbs only know that the authorities arrest and beat the brave oppositionists fighting for the freedom of the Russian people against the dictator Putin. The filtered picture for the citizens in the West is also transmitted to Serbia. Serbs and Serbia cannot change this and cannot be more Russian than the Russians themselves. This must be done by the Russians. Only they will decide whether they are ready to fight and how Russia will be presented in the Serbian media. Serbia and the Serbian people will support them, in any case.

It is a pity, of course, that today people like George, Emir, Milos and Novak are no longer joined by people with names like Natasha, Alyosha or Sergei ... There must be not be hundreds, but thousands of those who bring Russia closer to Serbia and Serbia to Russia. We need people who are hardworking, talented and educated, who will work 24 hours a day, restoring in the media the balance of the notion about Russia, formed in Serbia and in Balkans.

Morality and Law
Russia and Serbia: From Historical Memory to Future Relations
Oleg Barabanov
The phrase “Be realistic, demand the impossible” is well-known. Russia and Serbia now face approximately the same task in order to preserve their partnership in the future, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.