Political Propaganda on TV Prva: Superminister Vučić’s Sisyphean Day

Introducing the television show “A Day with the Prime Minister” on TV Prva, about the “average working day” of Serbian premier Aleksandar Vučić, in which the country’s superman leader solves all of Serbia’s problems. 

Serbia has achieved yet another unbelievable feat: it’s thought up the newest TV format — something between a reality show, a TV sales pitch, a movie trailer, and an educational documentary program. This worldwide breakthrough was made by TV Prva’s ten-minute show, “A Day with the Prime Minister,” broadcast on Saturday and Sunday immediately before the channel’s main news program at 6 o’clock (at the same time as the popular quiz show “The Puzzle” on RTS).

Unlike “The Puzzle,” this pompously announced “exclusive” show has only one contestant: it follows one day (a working day, as if there was any other kind) in the life of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić.

There are meetings — “one, two, three… twelve” counts a journalist. A series of meetings is filmed, and like DVD extras, a series of remarks from a famous actor:

“Weber made the distinction between people who live in politics and people who live for politics, and it’s normal to live both in it and for it in the modern age, but it’s important that you live for it,” said the Prime Minister of his dedication to his job.

It is indeed a masterful explanation of his motivation, like the woman on the TV shopping network who explains that she bought the sneakers she is advertising because she “had to run around a horse.”

If it’s true, as a journalist insisted, that “A Day with the Prime Minister” on TV Prva is about a “usual working day,” one has to wonder whether TV Prva, using national channels, is trying to say that the Prime Minister really solves every problem in Serbia every single day.

On the day when their cameras happened to end up in the Serbian government building, the Prime Minister solved the problems of drought, migrants, procurement of helicopters, the “tension” between Air Serbia and the Belgrade Airport, the national lottery, and trucks that can’t cross administrative boundaries to Kosovo. He also hosted two foreign ambassadors and had a few more meetings and a government session.

And those are only the pre-scheduled meetings. We aren’t counting the random encounters in the hallway.

Minister, entertain the guests until the boss arrives

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However, we did learn a few interesting things from the show “A Day with the Prime Minister.”

First, that one day with the prime minister lasts, in fact, two days: on Saturday, “A Day with the Prime Minister” premieres, and on Sunday, “A Day with the Prime Minister” is on again.

Second, we were convinced (whereas up to now we had only speculated) that the ministers in the Serbian government are completely dependent and unable to finish any task if they haven’t seen Aleksandar Vučić that day.

So in fact, Economy Minister Željko Sertić solves economic problems, and Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Aleksandar Vulin implements them (we’ve always wondered what the secret of his success was) when he doesn’t know what to do with the wave of refugees who are crossing Serbia.

When the Prime Minister isn’t in the room, a minister — as we saw with the example of Minister Sertić and his meeting with the presidents of the chambers of commerce of Serbia and Kosovo — can only casually chat with others in the room while they wait for the Prime Minister to return.

In some instances, the presence of our competent minister is not required (especially when filming for TV), but Vučić best deals with the transport problem of relations between Air Serbia and the Belgrade Airport without the Minister of Transport, Zorana Mihajlović.

The senior ministers, like Ivica Dačić, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, don’t try to interfere with Vučić doing his job — Dačić doesn’t even go to meetings with foreign ambassadors. He’s so relaxed that he arrives late to a government session. However, the Prime Minister mildly reproaches him because when will the ministers hear what they did today, if they don’t see Vučić? But he doesn’t have time for ministers who are late because there is much work to be done.

Since even for a journalist of TV Prva it was impossible to not notice that the Prime Minister, as the people would say, is leaping up out of the iron and the oven, this phenomenon was explained for the camera by the head of the prime minister’s cabinet, Ivica Kojić:

“The Prime Minister is the captain of a team in which he must exert control over each individual sector.”

“How many, how many planes do you need?”

More ambitious lower-ranking officials, judging by the show “A Day with the Prime Minister,” have realized this great political truth — that the most important thing is to see Vučić at least once a day, so they try to eye him in passing, in the hallway, as did Smederevo mayor Jasna Avramović.

During the opening ceremony of something, Vučić, almost in a whisper, asks the director of the airport, “How much are you going to pay us…?” and the director responds, “As much as is needed.”

These are, it seems, the most fruitful moments in the life of a Serbian politician, when you can surprise Vučić with the good news that some factory will employ “even more” workers than was envisioned. Some jobs were lost and we didn’t notice, but it’s OK, we’ve found them. And even better if you have the opportunity to call Vučić “boss.” Because only political illiterates could think that the mayors of Smederevo are in charge of their own constituents.

For this, adviser to the prime minister Aleksa Jokić praised Mayor Avramović:

“The woman is very active, Smederevo is a city that is quickly developing, and help is needed to speed up the procedures with foreign investors.”

Following the prime minister’s visit to the Belgrade Airport, we witnessed the truism that the best business is done in a whisper. During the opening ceremony of something, Vučić, almost in a whisper, asks the director of the airport, “How much are you going to pay us…?” and the director responds, “As much as is needed.”

That’s how you speak with the prime minister:

“How much money did the Belgrade Airport make last year?”

“As much as You need.”

There’s that precise and transparent calculation. Otherwise, you may have noticed, the Prime Minister addresses the director of transport with the informal “you,” and the director addresses the Prime Minister with the formal “You,” and it’s all normal.

Editorializing the Backstage Program

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Why was this necessary for TV Prva? Although we saw all sorts of interesting things, “A Day with the Prime Minister” can by no means be called an educational program in the public interest — nothing was filmed that the agency should rush to record and report to the world. A much more informative program would have been “A Day with a Pensioner.”

We don’t doubt that this show will even more watched than the reality show “The Maldives,” but we didn’t see any advertising before, during, or immediately after the show. Commercial reasons can thus be excluded too.

It is pure political propaganda, and it’s prohibited outside of election campaigns. It’s true that upcoming elections are being discussed, but campaigning hasn’t officially started. State agencies can advertise in electronic media, but the law on advertising expressly prohibits using any image of any politician or government official.

No, this isn’t paid political advertising, and that makes it even more dangerous. TV Prva hasn’t broken any law because this mess can always be classified as an informative program, but it’s not. And it’s not a commercial. So we can only guess as to who is involved, for what, and for how much.

“A Day with the Prime Minister” ends with a scene in which the Prime Minister, for the first time by himself but with a briefcase in hand, wearily walks down the hallway of the Serbian government building. “The prime minister is going home for a bit because at night he has to have dinner with foreign diplomats,” a journalist explains.

“Poor thing,” say the viewers, surely through tears, in front of their small screens, who are ready to secretly foot the bill for that diplomatic dinner and everything else that the Prime Minister proposes.

This piece was originally written by Zoran B. Nikolić and published on Cenzolovka, who generously gave Balkanist permission to translate and republish it. 


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