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New formula for bridging indecency

My blog have been without a single post for quite a while. The reason for that is neither a laziness of the author nor the lack of ideas but her majesty “the end of an academic year”…

However, during mine period of intellectual grinding and polishing, Serbia has remained an inexhaustible source of unique solutions for current (as well as past and future) political issues. Namely, perfect marketing solutions for wrapping empty political phrase into redundant circuits followed by pompous acting and popular music. Some things are more resistant to change than the other ones –unfortunately.

Izvor Blic

Izvor: daily Blic

Continuing the glorious Serbian tradition of glibness, THE public relations advisory team added in the president’s speech a few spices to make the campaign ‘tastier’. “There are people in Serbia who are indecently rich…” revealed the President one day. In the same time he urged the judiciary to investigate all violations of the laws in the past 20 years, BUT / there’s always one or two “but” that spoil the fun/ he stressed that this does not mean that all rich people earned money in an illegal manner. The following day, the President added an explanation of the term: “The term indecent wealth is something that our people often use when persons have great wealth which is not a result of their work, and when it (the wealth –my comment) is manifested arrogantly, when such persons only think about themselves and their pleasure and not about social responsibility.” However, caring for “decency” of Serbian tycoons (and not mentioning their names), the President even suggested a nice, clean solution: “BUT let those people whose wealth I called indecent build a bridge which we’ll metaphorically call ‘the bridge of Serbian tycoons’. This will be the way to buy their legitimacy because people will feel that they (tycoons – my comment) have something paid back.”

Hm, this already seems hard to swallow or I am imagining …BUT wait, there’s even more of it! Media have its share of responsibility in this job of whitewashing the faces of indecent wealthy men (Serbia as a faithful admirer of patriarchal traditions and values made an effort and managed ‘to save’ women not only of indecent enrichment but of high ranking positions and well paid jobs as well…). As President explained, by reporting about the benevolence of companies, media have to, on a case-by-case basis, evaluate whether their motives are purely philanthropic participation in activities, or just promoting their own virtues!!!

So, what did the President tell us? There are some people who are “indecently rich”© –and that’s bad as well illegitimate, BUT they can buy their legitimacy by building the tycoons’ bridge or through some other CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities. So, if I understood it well, the President suggests some kind of an indulgence practice for Serbian tycoons! Build the bridge my son and all your sins will be forgiven! Even more, by doing that your wealth will become legitimate in the eyes of not-so-smart-and- willing-to-notice Serbian citizens who will think that you paid all your debts to the society. Nice way to put it, BUT

Izvor: B92

First of all, CSR activities (regardless of how many times have been (ab)used)  are not a substitute for tax on extra profit nor for legal measures as a consequence of suspicious business activities. Second of all, both big concepts that a PR speech advisor decided to use in the president’s speech (CSR and legitimacy) have strong ethical/moral dimension while such a dimension is missing in ‘the concept of  Serbian tycoons’. Third, it seems that Mr President’s speech advisor/s make/s the mistake because of which first year students of political science can fail on an exam: use the word LEGITIMICY while actually speak about LEGALITY! By building the bridge, these “indecently rich”© men will manage to cross on “the other side” where all their businesses will become legal and the hand of law and/or Verica Barac (not even with words) can’t rich them anymore. Forth of all, “the bridge of Serbian tycoons” as a metaphor (although seeming depleted in meaning) denotes exactly my third remark: the bridge symbolizes connection, crossing difficulty, transition from one kind to another or in this particular case from indecency to decent, respectful position in the society!

So, what can we say about ethical and legal aspect of “indecently rich”© businesses in Serbia nowadays?  Serbian tycoons began to earn money during the nineties and the period when Serbia was under economic sanctions and international blockade. After 2000 changes those people haven’t been touched and even found ways to pursue their activities and increase their wealth during the period of transition and privatization. Some of the most powerful tycoons bought the companies in attractive locations for few pence: for example the selling of the former CK (Central Committee) building for small money and then its reselling for several tens of millions, sugar factories sold for three Euros, port of Belgrade etc.  Some of Serbian clever businessman have bought old factories and buildings and then changed the purpose of land on which those buildings were located, and made huge profits by doing that. According to the web site of Privatization agency of Republic of Serbia, until now 140 enterprises are sold by tender and 1724 are privatized by auction.  Journalists from the Insajder serial (TVB92) have calculated that city of Belgrade through suspicious privatization lost land worth more than two billion euros. With that money the city could build 15 bridges, reconstruct 600 hospitals, or build 900 schools (for more about privatization in Serbia take a look on “Insajder”’s serial about privatization and here). What did you say, Mr President, how many bridges do one have to build in order to become decent?

So, why do Serbia have “indecently rich”© people? As already mentioned Verica Barać explained there are no legal solutions and where such solutions exist, political will is the one that missing.  That means that Serbia still needs the rule of law and have to find THE WILL to fight corruption and “indecent wealth” on one side and extreme poverty on the other side. But that cannot be achieved by buying and selling indulgences or building the bridges through suspicious concessions. Those are not, my dear PR speech advisor, LEGAL NOR LEGITIMIATE paths for reaching decency and purity of wealth.  “The bridge of Serbian tycoons”© -one or two of them- cannot compensate all transitional injustices.  And it is said that those words were spoken by the President whose party (and he as well) is claiming to be social democrats. It is even sadder, that the President’s party is in governmental coalition with another party whose members are claiming as well to be social democrats and who were in power during the 90’s when those “indecently rich”© men “earned” their first money. I think I missed the moment when we learned about the social democratic forgiveness of sins by buying indulgence. Does anyone have notes from that class?

And in the end, Robert A. Dahl, the American political theorist, used the metaphor of a reservoir to explain what legitimacy is: as long as the reservoir stays at a certain level, stability can be maintained; as soon as the amount of fluids (or some other substance) falls below the required level, stability becomes endangered. What do you think my dear PR speech advisor/writer, what is the level of fluid in the reservoir in Serbia?

About Sladjana Lazic

I am a PhD student of Political Science manly focused on dealing with the past and nationalism, but with great interest in new media and changes of journalistic practices (and media) triggered with the expansion of Internet and ICTs


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