Culture Wars Throw Pop Singer Onto The Political Stage

Alleged plans to appoint Serbian pop-folk singer Zorica Brunclik as the country's new Minister of Culture could mark the start ofMilosevic's all-out war on the arts. Or it could be just another attempt to win over lazy voters and swamp the opposition ahea

Culture Wars Throw Pop Singer Onto The Political Stage

Alleged plans to appoint Serbian pop-folk singer Zorica Brunclik as the country's new Minister of Culture could mark the start ofMilosevic's all-out war on the arts. Or it could be just another attempt to win over lazy voters and swamp the opposition ahea

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Few in Belgrade can believe it, but according to the local independent media, the next Serbian minister of culture will be a pop singer better known for her flame-red hair and her silver sequins than her cultural qualities.


Zorica Brunclik, one of the best known exponents of Serbia's populist folk music style, has been widely tipped to take over the ministry from regime loyalist Zeljko Simic.


Brunclik has declined to confirm or deny the report, and says that the decision was for others to make. Simic professed disinterest when quizzed on the rumour by Radio B-92 and the BETA news agency last week. Meanwhile cultural observers roll their eyes in disbelief and say the appointment would bring Serbian society to new depths of primitivism.


Film director Srdjan Karanovic, one of a generation of Serbian artists silenced or marginalised by war, sanctions and strident nationalism and populist entertainment since 1990, quipped that at first he had been shocked at the news, but later had wondered whether Brunclik really had been in charge of Serbian culture all along.


Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's message with this act, is to prove that his ambition to turn the entire country into one giant collective farm lives on. But there is method to this particular madness. Chief among Brunclik's qualifications for the job is her ownership of a Yugoslav Left (JUL) party membership card. The JUL, partner in coalition with Milosevic's ruling Socialists, is led by his influential wife Mira Markovic.


And modern Serbian folk music, thickly backed by accordions and heavy with nationalist sentiment, is still the most popular musical form in the country (see the RTS Records web page RealAudio file taken from Brunclik's last album). Zorica Brunclik is very popular among the masses, and her involvement in government may stir a few idle voters to back the ruling coalition parties in forthcoming elections.


But the more likely result will be to further devalue the vote and turn it into a carnival.


More than a hundred political parties, many led by men with more teeth than actual party members, will clog up the election process. Jokers who turned out for the last presidential elections, including one man nicknamed Tarzan from the town of Nis, will probably stand again. And Milosevic's grip on the mainstream media will ensure that the coalition's profile will remain high while the fragmented opposition parties will be lost in the mass of fringe candidates.


Thus it looks like the supposed Brunclik appointment could be a coded announcement that the election campaign is under way. Milosevic aims to fight and win 'free and fair' elections - whether at local, republic or federal level, he has yet to decide - so as to bury the calls for his ouster in the wake of Serbia's defeat in the war with NATO over Kosovo.


State radio and TV have not mentioned the Brunclik speculation, raising the possibility that the story has been floated by the government to test public opinion. Milosevic needs to know how deep disaffection runs. The Belgrade weekly Nin recently published a survey that said 57 percent of country wanted Slobodan Milosevic to resign, and that 43 percent supported mass public protests calling for his ouster.


But crucially, this hostility does not automatically translate into votes for one of Milosevic's likely election competitors. According to Nin's poll, up to 68 percent believe that none of the present opposition leaders are capable of leading the country out of the current crisis. The stage is being set for Milosevic to win the day, almost by default.


The respected Belgrade political weekly Vreme summed up the situation with a joke to mark the sixth anniversary of the founding of Markovic's JUL party, claiming that on the night it was formed the six party founders decided to pick a example on which to model their new movement. Efficiency was their watchword, but which organisation was the most efficiently run? The Mafia, said one. And so it was that the JUL got its model, the weekly quipped.


Small wonder that opposition Alliance for Changes already says that their participation in the vote is out of the question, though the Serbian Renewal Movement says it may join in subject to the government agreeing a few points in advance.


And small wonder that the comments of top sociologist Vladimir Goati have won wide publicity. He argues that the oppositions participation in such elections in such circumstances would be "an act of pure masochism".


Vlado Mares is a journalist based in Belgrade.


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