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29 Aug 17

President Vucic is No Idiot but Something Else Entirely

Dejan Anastasijevic

There is another word entirely that best describes Serbia’s head of state, following his bizarre conversation with a child from Rijeka.

Aleksandar Vucic talking to Tino, a 7-year-old child from the Croatian coastal city of Rijeka.

I made a bad mistake last week: I called Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic an idiot. It was a wrong thing to do, and I sincerely apologize.

Let me explain what happened. Last Thursday, Vucic hosted a group of Croatian children attending a summer camp in Serbia. He focused on a seven-year-old boy named Tino from the Adriatic port of Rijeka. You can read a detailed report of what Vucic said here, but this is the important. 

“Let me tell you something, on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and beyond, Belgrade is more beautiful than any other city,” he said.

“It’s two times bigger than Zagreb; almost three Zagrebs can dwell in one Belgrade, while five Sarajevos can dwell in one Belgrade… You should love Belgrade at least as much as Rijeka,” he said.

Vucic also scolded Tino for cheering for his local football club – also called Rijeka  - and advised him to pick Belgrade-based Red Star or Partizan instead.

“You have to find some better club to support,” he told the boy.

Although I’m mostly desensitized when it comes to Serbian politics, I was outraged. What kind of an adult, I asked myself, publicly chastises a kid – and a guest – for loving his native town, and cheering for a small club?

One word sprang to my mind: an idiot.  So I posted it on my Facebook profile, along with a quote from Vucic.

But then my rage subdued, and I started thinking. As someone who works with words, and in the public sphere, I should be extra careful which words I use. Did I choose the right one?

I turned to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – one of my favorites – and looked it up. Here is what I found.

  1.   dated, now offensive:  a person affected with extreme mental retardation.

Obviously, the Serbian President does not fit this definition. By calling him an idiot, I not only insulted him, but all the people who suffer from this particular disability. Once again, I’m sorry.

But wait, there’s another meaning:

  1. :  a foolish, ignorant, or stupid person.

Wrong again. Vucic, whom I met several times, is definitely no fool, nor stupid, or he couldn’t have become the most powerful man in Serbia in just a few years. He’s also not ignorant, as can be determined by his masterful display of the knowledge of relative sizes of Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Rijeka.

Now on the brink of desperation, I turned to etymology. There must be something in the origin of “idiot” that could justify my use of that word. Here is what I found:

“The Greek adjective idios means ‘one’s own’ or ‘private’. The derivative noun idiōtēs means ‘private person.’ A Greek idiōtēs was a person who was not in the public eye, who held no public office. From this came the sense ‘common man,’ and later ‘ignorant person’—a natural extension, for the common people of ancient Greece were not, in general, particularly learned.”

Now, this is completely opposite of everything Vucic is. There is nothing private about him: he boasts of working 20 hours a day, never goes on vacations, and [according to his associates] hardly even uses a toilet. Far from holding no public office, he has captured almost entire public space.

 According to Crta – a political watchdog – during this year’s elections he hit the cover pages of 60 percent of all printed media in Serbia, almost always in a favourable light. His omnipresence goes on and on, even in the sports news. Just last week, after a decisive match, the manager of Red Star dedicated victory to – who else – Vucic. “He is the source of our strength. This is his victory as much as ours,” the manager Zvezdan Terzic said.

So let me state once again for the record: I was wrong. President Vucic is not an idiot. The word doesn’t fit him at all.

There is another word bubbling up in my mind that probably describes him more accurately, but I’m afraid I can’t use it here. It’s a part of a human anatomy referred to by Clint Eastwood’s character in one of Dirty Harry movies, in relation to personal opinions.

We all have one. And they all stink.

Talk about it!

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