Tarnished Nationalism. Rehabilitating Serbia’s Reputation on the World Stage
Keywords:Reputation, Serbia, Nationalism, Balkans
Reputation management is a concern not just for individuals and organizations, but for nation states. Rehabilitating a tarnished reputation is part of the attempt by national entrepreneurs to create images that build “soft power;” a form of cultural authority. This is a concern especially for smaller nations that lack “hard power” through the dominance of their economy or military. We investigate how governmental actors and leading societal institutions attempt to rehabilitate a country’s image. In doing so, we present the case of contemporary Serbia, which acquired a negative international reputation resulting from not just the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, but also from long legacies of racialization via discourses of Orientalism and “Balkanism” in Western perceptions of Southeastern Europe. Unlike its neighbor, Croatia, Serbia is not a European Union member and lacks a seacoast with which to attract tourists. As a result, it must gain positive international attention in other ways. Through the examples of promoting sports successes (in basketball and tennis), “pinkwashing” or highlighting symbolic LGBT integration (while perhaps lacking day-to-day integration), becoming a popular nightlife destination, welcoming refugees as a stop on the “Balkan route,” and, most recently, deploying efforts at Covid-19 “vaccine diplomacy,” we consider the challenges to Serbia’s attempt to rehabilitate its difficult reputation. Not only is the country’s international standing a matter of profound concern to its inhabitants — having economic, political, and symbolic impacts — but Serbia is an archetypal case to understand the perception of “problematic” nations on the world stage.
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