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10 Aug 17

Assembling the Serbs, IKEA-Style

Dejan Anastasijevic

When Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wrote a bizarre article promoting a new IKEA furniture superstore, his praise for ‘hard-working’ Scandinavians revealed his disdain for ‘lazy’ Serbs.

Vucic visits newly open IKEA store on Thursday. Photo: Beta

Every time a deadline for this blog approaches, I try hard to find a topic other than Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic – and fail. Everything in Serbia revolves around him; he is our sun, our moon, and our stars.

Take the last few weeks: as an oppressive heat wave aptly named Lucifer sat heavy over Serbia and much of southern Europe, most living things reduced their activities to the minimum, seeking some cool and shady place to crawl into – most, but not Vucic, who seems to be in turbo mode, always finding new ways to get into the spotlight.

Last month, he surprised everybody by writing an op-ed piece in for a Belgrade newspaper, declaring his intent to start an internal debate on how to solve Kosovo issue once and for all.

A week later, he announced that he’s working on a platform to “ensure the survival of the Serbian nation”, aimed at helping ethnic Serbs in neighbouring countries.

Last time Serbia interfered to help fellow Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo was during Slobodan Milosevic’s rule in the 1990s, causing three wars that Serbia eventually lost.

It didn’t end well for the people Serbia aimed to protect, either – most them ended up as refugees.

At the time, Vucic was an ardent proponent of the Greater Serbia concept. Now he says, the new platform will be “benign”. The neighbors are understandably twitchy, but let’s wait and see how it turns out.

And this week, Vucic wrote another op-ed, on the occasion of the opening of the first IKEA store in Belgrade.

For some reason, he decided to publish it in a sleazy tabloid called Alo, which is owned by one of his cronies. A day earlier, the same newspaper had a cover story claiming (without any evidence) that a famous Croatian pop singer had sex with a sheep.

The president’s latest piece contains no reference to zoophilia, but is nevertheless an interesting read.

In short, it’s unabashed praise of the Swedish furniture manufacturer’s transformative power. “IKEA does not exist where there is no desire to think and work in a new, different way… IKEA changes the way you think. Every individual and the entire society,” Vucic wrote in the article.

But Vucic’s accolades to IKEA and its founder, Ingvar Kamprad (who, much like Vucic, was a right-wing hardliner in his youth) are less interesting than his opinion on the Serbian people, which is surprisingly unflattering. 

The Serbs, he claims in the article, have “obsolete and outdated” mentality, are prone to “collective laziness and incompatibility”, and have a “philosophy of life that has always been repeated to us that we should wait for someone else to do everything for us”.

It’s not the first time that Vucic has revealed his disdain for the lazy, cheating Serbs, and his admiration for hard-working, responsible Scandinavians; he has touched upon this issue in many earlier speeches.

It’s strange enough for a sitting head of state to advertise a foreign corporation (former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev did this, but he was retired by then). Public scolding of one’s own nation is something entirely different – if Vucic was Scandinavian, his article would trigger accusations of cultural racism, and the accusers would be right.

The thesis that the Serbs (and other Balkan people), are intrinsically lazy, dishonest and prone to cheating is, apart from being racist, completely false.

In Vucic’s Serbia, people work long hours for minimum wage, and still can’t make ends meet. In some factories, they are forced to wear adult diapers, since taking a bathroom break is a job-terminating offence.

The average income is among the lowest in the region, and the best and the brightest are leaving the country in droves.

Jobs are scarce, except for the members of Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party, which has its own employment agency (they’ll get you a job, but there are strings attached).

Labelling the whole nation as a bunch of freeloaders adds insult to injury.

Dusko Radovic, the late, great Serbian poet, once sarcastically said: “Give me a good kid, and I’ll show you how terrific a dad I could be.”

Similarly, Vucic obviously thinks that he deserves better subjects. Wouldn’t Serbia be just wonderful if the locals could somehow be replaced by Scandinavians? Possibly, but I doubt that they would tolerate Vucic as their leader.

And wouldn’t it be even better if the whole nation, faulty as it is, could be disassembled, repaired, packed into a flat box, and delivered to the president along with a multilingual manual?

It seems that Vucic expects IKEA to do exactly that, but I’m afraid it will turn out that some parts are missing.

People are not furniture, and you can't just take the useful parts to make a nice sofa and grind everything else into sawdust. This is what unites the old Vucic, the advocate of a Greater Serbia, with the new Vucic, the reformist. But the end result will be a disappointment, and I'm afraid the manual won't help.

Talk about it!

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