Rejection of Serbian Media

The reality television genre, Volcic identifies, is founded upon staged social experiments that produce spectacles from representations of gender, class and race. In the Balkans, a fourth staple is added to the formula – ethno-national identity – in order to re-inflect the former three elements, but scholars such as Wilson (2005) are critical of how this medium reproduces stereotypes of race, gender, religious identity etc. instead of exploring them more thoroughly for the “post-socialist, neoliberal Balkan media environment” (Volcic 2012: 2). My analysis has taken the route of observing the ways that Serbian reality television reinforces a version of national identity, the prerequisite values that inform this perception of national identity, and how various audiences consume these media messages.

“Pink TV was one of the main promoters of the pop star Ceca… As Grujic observes, the nationalist portrayal of Ceca as both ‘mother of the Serbs’ and as hyper-sexualised Madonna/pop star ‘was not supposed to challenge patriarchal discourse but, on the contrary reinforce it’ (2009: 217). Her version of Serbian femininity, in other words, celebrates the link between patriarchy and national patriotism” (Volcic 2012: 2). Ceca is one of Serbia’s most popular female singers and has held that title since the 90s. It is not a coincidence that her popularity soared at the same time that Milosevic’s regime was at its strongest point. Her portrayal across the Balkan media can be rooted to her complex ties with the television station. “The relationship between gender and nationalism as been a recurring theme in Serbia’s aggressively commercial Pink TV station since it was started in the 1990s as a kind of commercial propaganda arm of the Milosevic regime… During this period, Pink TV helped to legitimate, normalise and institutionalise Serbian mainstream patriarchal nationalistic culture – a culture in which parliamentary war criminals and gangsters were widely celebrated as role models, and their female counterparts came to stand for a nationalistic symbol of Serbian femininity (Kronja 2001, 2006; Tarlac 2003)… [Ceca] became the wife of paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan” (Volcic 2012: 2).

Essentially, Ceca’s image became idealised and endorsed through Serbia’s government as well as other branches of Pink TV, all of whom tactically used the standard to project views on the appropriate feminine performance and how it could be used to strengthen national patriotism amongst audiences. Ceca’s reignited these controversial messages each time she made an appearance on or became associated with various commercial and reality television. “Critics disparage Pink TV as nationalistic entertainment television with a Serbian sensibility, whose iconography represents a cultural threat to democracy, multiculturalism, the public sphere and gender equality” (Tarlac 2003, cited in Volcic 2012: 3).

Investigating the ways that particular groups view these media texts is paramount in that it illustrates the varying degrees to which Serbian audiences are willing to interact with Serbian-approved messages, as notions of corruption within certain television and radio networks are widely known of, just difficult to prove and put a stop to. What we discovered in our focus groups with the students of the University of Belgrade is that most of them are around Serbian media to an extent, but what they actively choose to tune into is predominantly foreign media. Their preferences are heavily influences by America, though they are sensibly critical of much of it. They are also aware of the cultural differences in American and British media and share strong opinions on them. What I found especially interesting was one part of our discussion:

Natalija: I found that I like the UK programmes more than the US versions. They can be any show like, for example, The Voice – I like the UK version because it looks more original and, I don’t know, looks more interesting to me –


Ilija: Original shows – they copied it

What I am perceiving in this discussion is that Serbian students are just as aware of America’s stereotypically artificial and exaggerated media than we Brits are. But what goes completely unmentioned is Serbia’s version of The Voice, in which Ceca is a judge to the contestants. Though it would be irresponsible to consider the students’ opinions as representative of all Serbs within that age range, it could be posited that those young people who are active within the media industry in Serbia, or seeking to do so professionally, are critical to the point of rejecting terrestrial television in their country, and thus rejecting certain value systems conveyed through an awareness of them. They choose instead to connect with the value systems of American comedy shows, British music, and Spanish movies, despite being geographically disconnected and underrepresented.


Grujic, M. (2009) ‘Community and the Popular: Women, Nation, and Turbo-Folk in Post-Yugoslav Serbia’. PhD thesis, Central European University, Budapest

Kronja, I. (2001) Smrtonosnisjaj [Light of Death]. Belgrade: Tehnokratia

Kronja, I. (2006) Politics as Porn: The Pornographic Representation of Women in Serbian Tabloids and Its Role in Politics. In: Moranjak-Bamburac N, Jusic T and Isanovic A (eds) Stereotyping: Representation of Women in Print Media in South East Europe. Sarajevo: MediaCentar, 187–216.

Tarlac, G. (2003) Vojaski in Politicni Turbo-Folk [Militaristic and Political Turbo-Folk]. Mladina 12(1). Available at: folk/

Volcic, Z. (2012) ‘Commercial and Sexualised Nationalism on Serbian Reality TV’. International Journal of Cultural Studies

Wilson, N. (2005) ‘Excessive Performances of the Same: Beauty As the Beast of Reality TV’. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 15(2): 207–229

Rejection of Serbian Media


“since the European Union is not just an institutional organisation, but also a community of values, it remains a question whether historically established norms and values in Serbia can potentially be in conflict with direct and indirect expectations, demands and values of the EU” (Ristic 2007: 185).


Identity takes on various definitions depending on the context it is concerned with. On an individual basis, identity refers to unique characteristics and behaviours. In a wider sense, though, it must encapsulate the norms, values and customs of a collective group of people in a way that represents each of them fairly and equally, as well as provide a social order against which to regulate the interactions occurring within this collective group. In a sense, there is nothing hindering the performance of personal identity until it runs over the borders of personal space, in which it becomes disciplined by wider society. Nassehi recognises that we automatically become self-disciplining citizens when we consider our identity in terms of national state and in comparison to other nations. In this context, identity and national state become intertwined and a homogenous national identity is formed and performed. “A nation state and identity hence determine each other: collective identity gets its full affirmation and confirmation, within a national state that is defined by territory, borders and a nation/society, and vice versa” (Ristic 2007: 186).

The construction of a national identity transparently serves as a regulatory tool to guide a society towards progression. “Nassehi sees both the nation and the national identity as two major inventions of Europe’s modernity” (Ristic 2007: 186). It has been debated that these social concepts have not been made available to adopt like particular attitudes, but implemented as pervasive discourses that contradict concepts of individuality. Furthermore, it incites discrimination between borderlands and prosecution of minorities. However, the inability to subscribe to any national identity prohibits membership to that nation or society, thus rendering a person an outsider and a minority to be persecuted. This cycle illustrates one of the biggest factors contributing to the wars that undulate European history, and also juxtaposes the expected outcomes of producing a national identity in the first place.


‘Europeanness’ as a characteristic of identity is problematic as its connotations vary rapidly between places, political standpoints, generations, economic backgrounds etc. However, Ristic proposes that there may be universal values of Europeanness, which are “reflected in the simultaneous existence of a consciousness of common tradition and culture” (Lepsius 2004: 4 cited in Ristic 2007: 188).

“The importance of the national state and the identification of citizens with their national state, and further with a region they border with, and finally with Europe can be seen as crucial European values, from which we can drive the principles of self-determination, voluntariness, religious tolerance, openness, political pluralism and federalism, free trade and an awareness of common identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures” (Europäische Identität heute und morgen, Council of Europe documents,

This understanding contests that ‘Europeanness’ is linked to abstract values as opposed to ethnic, socio-cultural, historical, geographical or institutional values etc. that differ between every national state. Ristic proposes that these values are actually postnational.


Serbia’s inability to fill the space where a national identity ought to be solidifies its reputation as the “unfinished state of an belated nation” (Ristic 2007: 193). “National identities are often determined not only from inside, but also from outside” (Ristic 2007: 188-189). In her book, “Imagining the Balkans”, Marija Todorova explored the reduction of Balkan culture and stereotypicalisation of images in the Western media that portrayed the Balkans as a wild and barbarous society. While this may or may not have been intentional, and though was only a dominant ideology in the West in the 1990s, it has an impact on the self-perception of those living in the Balkans as they become aware of the lens through which they are being viewed by the rest of the world. In doing similar research, Vespa Goldsworthy coined the term ‘imperialism of imagination’, which has been used in the personification of Serbia as the unruly child in relation to the parent that is the rest of Europe. This is an image widely circulated in the discussion of Serbia’s progression, but only from the Western perspective.

Serbian national identity as seen from within, Ristic posits, sits on one of either two opposing standpoints. The first sees Serbia as a Western European country, and this relates to liberal values and urbanised Western culture. This understanding “does not see the nation in the foreground, but the citizen” (Ristic 2007: 190). The second sees Serbia as a European only in geography and stays close to its traditional and historically non-European attitudes, which could be considered closer to Russia’s and much more disdainful of Western liberalism. This standpoint “sets collectivism before individual responsibility and underlines the orthodox/Slavic heritage” (Ristic 2007: 190). Ristic argues that this dichotomy of opinions towards an established national identity in Serbia is evident in the country’s institutions and in wider society and, ergo, hinders any progression the nation may make. Ristic explains that the closest thing Serbia has to a pillar of national identity is the Serbian orthodox church. While the ideologies and beliefs from the church have long been shaping and representing the mindset of Serbian society over the centuries, it became less representative in the 20th Century when it clashed with Western liberal values that Serbia adopted out of a crisis for financial and social improvement. The church is only steadily regaining its high esteem now and only in the parts of Serbia that can afford retraditionalism because they have not subscribed to this modern sense of Europeanness.

Historically, Serbia has swung back and forth between Western and Russian values in an effort to secure financial stability and opportunities for growth. Having never succeeded either way and being constantly shifted from one polar end to another, the country is split in two without a clear vision for progression without extremely radical changes to political regimes. “Serbia’s history was marked by discontinuity and… [it] still disables Serbia[‘s ability] to find an identificational common denominator” (Ristic 2007: 193). Until the country can find unity inside its own borders, and demonstrate an openness to cooperate with European values, it will not reach membership within the EU and will continue oscillating between Eastern and Western value systems and risking further separations between borders and territories.


The Convergence of Cultures and Creating Distance Between the Young and the Old



Serbia was once in an in-between state, in which it demonstrated a brotherhood type of unity amongst its many ethnic backgrounds and even some elements of market policies. It embodied a balance of values from the West and the East, until Balkanisation separated Yugoslavia into smaller, feuding countries. However, studies have gone into observing how much similarity and difference there is within these individualised states considering how new technology has led to an information/knowledge driven global community wherein values, and thus cultures, are converging into one another across continents. Prasnikar et al suggest that the clusters of countries once known as Yugoslavia have recently come to share the same values by following the same trends and patterns that the Internet age incites. They suggest that the Balkans may only remain separated in today’s age by lingering historical enmity and politics, but not by values or morals. The younger generations of the Balkans are the living examples of this as they live through the remnants of the war understanding only others’ previous experiences and memories of the era. “If societies are changing, we can expect to find evidence of those changes among young people first. Young people’s reactions to social change are a great barometer and announce the future social flows” (2006: 154).

Prasnikar et al stipulate that communist revolutions usually all take on the same paths and, consequently, produce similar outcomes. “The issues on the agenda of most post-communist governments were stabilisation, privatisation and liberalisation and other structural reforms… The results were that the expectations of a ‘better life in capitalism’ were not met” (2006:155). The only ones to prosper seem to be the nouveau riche, who overtake numerous companies during the inevitable collapses of economic systems, and the young people living in the socialist dream who educate themselves and travel to the West to use their business knowledge and mobilise up the financial and social strata. In doing so, they consume and disseminate products of Western values.

Young people from every continent are plugging into virtual communities, sharing and consuming each other’s experiences and values and becoming citizens of the world. Globalisation and technology is allowing their cultures to steadily converge into one much larger experience. Prasnikar et al identify the shift in young people from a materialistic and career-oriented lifestyle towards one that seeks out affective relationships and enjoyment of the intangible qualities of life. They note that the value systems operating today are much more fluid and thus difficult to directly pinpoint, however they are more concerned with individual expression, creativity and hedonism as opposed to any loyalty to institutions or social conventions. “Young people often respond with a mixture of seen pessimism and inner personal optimism, which is a paradox of this generation… However, they want to be independent, free of fear, but not haughty” (2006: 156). Prasnikar et al describe this as the stepping out of dionysic values in the post-communist transition period.


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They argue that this is also encouraged by the converging cultures found in the formal education system and the greater access younger generations have to this. Older generations will have had a shared experience of education within their country, and so culture and identity was founded and stable within these institutions. However, advancements and in communication and relationships between certain countries means that formal education has come a long way in the advent of new technology and has contributed to the shaping of a new economic system, new value system and new lifestyle for the young people of today.

The Convergence of Cultures and Creating Distance Between the Young and the Old