Why Vucic is Driving Me to Drink

February 16, 2017
Serbian premier Aleksandar Vucic gave a rude and bad-tempered performance in a TV interview about his presidential bid, offering insults and lies instead of any positive vision for the future.
Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian Prime Minister. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Beta

I pity my poor colleagues who work for daily newspapers or wire services and had to watch Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic live on television on Tuesday night, and then write reports on his 90-minute rant.

Having a more flexible deadline, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to read their reports and fortify myself with a glass of Cabernet before turning on the recorded version, so I could focus on his style.  

I’m not going to dwell on the hard news aspects of the story, because you probably already know about them. Instead, I’ll try to pinpoint some of his psychological traits and explain why, despite his many faults, he will most likely win the presidential elections.

Watching our PM’s public appearances is a stressful affair. He rants and rambles. He spills obvious lies.  He keeps hurling insults at his opponents, the audience, and at any poor soul, friend or foe, which happens to be within range at the time.

In other words, if you could put him in the same room with Donald Trump, he could make the other guy look almost decent.

Tuesday night was not different. He rudely deflected even the most obvious questions as if they were personal insults (“Will there be early parliamentary vote in April?” “I’ve got so much more important stuff to do to even think about that.”). 

He bragged about his working habits (“I get up at 5.30 every morning and work 20 hours a day. When do you wake up?”).  He rambled about his new glasses (“I know they make me look ugly, but I see much better now”).

And despite the fact that Serbia’s opposition was never weaker and fragmented, he described himself as a lone fighter against a united and powerful front of traitors and crooks, financed by Serbia’s worst enemies.

Just look at the show’s statistics (provided by the Novi Sad School of Journalism): out of 52 questions asked by the presenter, a meek lady whose primary role was to serve as a punchbag for his verbal assaults, Vucic allowed only seven without interrupting her and changing the subject; instead, he posed 27 questions to her.

He complained 29 times about the alleged bias of the presenter, or the editorial policy of the television station, which is state-owned and religiously pro-government. He spoke for 75 minutes overall – she got less than 10.

This kind of behaviour triggers a number of unpleasant feelings in the audience. First, there’s puzzlement (“Does he really think we’re that stupid to believe in what he just said?”); then, anger (“Yep. He thinks we’re all morons”); then, frustration (“How the hell this guy came to be our leader?”), and finally, panic (“We’re all doomed!”).

Underlying is all this is an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment, like watching a drunken family member urinating all over the table during dinner.

I’m sure that even the PM’s most ardent supporters experienced at least some of these feelings during the Tuesday show. After all, the majority of Serbian voters are not morons, and dislike being treated as such.

Also, unlike previous campaigns by Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), this one is predominantly negative. Judging by pro-government media, everyone wants a piece of Serbia: Kosovo Albanians, Croats, Bosniaks, NATO, George Soros, the mafia…and everyone who dares criticise Vucic is their paid agent and traitor.

Every morning, a new conspiracy is revealed, and then promptly replaced by a new one the very next day. The rumour is that Vucic personally picks the tabloid headlines each night.

This is strange, because the three previous SNS campaigns were mostly positive, filled with promises of prosperity and stability, and Vucic won every time, despite failing to deliver on most of the issues.

Even Slobodan Milosevic, who led Serbia through 13 years of war and misery, always promised voters a better life – and kept on winning. The only exception was his year 2000 presidential campaign, which was negative, and in many ways similar to the one Vucic is running now. He lost that one.

Vucic, of course, is not Milosevic, although the ghost of the late strongman often lingers above his shoulder. Also, in the year 2000, Serbia had a small, but vocal network of independent media, and a unified opposition front, supported politically and financially by the West.

Neither of these elements is present now, and that is why Vucic is likely to win again, despite his general obnoxiousness. Until the opposition gets its act together, we’ll just have to bear with him. I’m afraid I’ll need a lot more Cabernet before this is over. In fact, I think I’ll start building a cellar.