As a white South African, I know how negative perceptions of a place and its people are perpetuated through media stereotypes; how often do the hitmen and warlords and drug dealers and psychotics and gangsters in Hollywood movies and video games and tv shows speak with Serbian (or South African) accents? Often, that’s how often. I’m attuned to this vilification. There are reasons for it of course (admittedly some of which stem from what the country once was.) More than history, though, the fact is that Serbs have very little power or voice in the real world, and more importantly, they don’t have the financial clout to force or even influence a change. (when was the last time you saw a Chinese movie villain?) The truth is that media messages and perceptions have almost zero relation to the country and its people in the real world of 2018.
But there’s a plan to change this. Six months ago, I was invited to join Prime Minister Brnabic‘s cabinet at the request of the Prime Minister herself, to work with my incredibly talented colleague Ana Ilic, her senior advisor on Creative & Digital Industries. We were challenged with putting in place interventions that might begin shifting the needle on Serbia’s soft power and global reputation, using Serbia’s Creative and Digital Industries as our platform and tool. We called it: Creative Serbia.
The Creative Industries are already a significant contributor to the Serbian economy, employing over 100,000 Serbians, almost 70% of whom are 25-44 years old, and many of whom are women. Serbian creatives design furniture and software, fashion and music, gastronomy and film, VR and AR, theatre and dance and fine art and video games at an internationally competitive standard. Correctly supported, these creatives offer opportunities: to create even more jobs, to boost small businesses, promote tourism, improve our soft power standing, limit brain drain from the country, and influence how the country is perceived at home and abroad. Our project, now rolling out under the Creative Serbia banner, is to strategically and methodically focus conversations around Serbian creativity, innovation, ingenuity and resilience across a range of global, regional and domestic platforms. By placing Serbian inventiveness and playfulness front and centre, we will slowly change the narrative around what Serbia is and what it stands for.
So one day, when I ask: What do you know of Serbia?, I hope your answers will be entirely different.