Milosevic's Winning Campaign

Five weeks ahead of federal elections in Yugoslavia, the ruling party seems to be well ahead of the opposition in the propaganda campaign.

Milosevic's Winning Campaign

Five weeks ahead of federal elections in Yugoslavia, the ruling party seems to be well ahead of the opposition in the propaganda campaign.

Slobodan Milosevic is predicting victory in the federal and local elections scheduled for September 24, and the success of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) gives him reason to be relaxed.


The Belgrade weekly Blic News claims that the Yugoslav president personally expressed his optimism at a recent dinner with the SPS leadership.


Milosevic's assessment was shared by Gorica Gajevic, head of the Central Electoral Headquarters and the SPS Secretary General, at a closed meeting August 15 with party officials to discuss the vote.


But independent analysts in Belgrade also agree that the SPS has reason to be confident - and not only because, with the seizure this spring of Studio B and other electronic media it has an overriding control of the electronic media.


"The SPS has a fantastic campaign, and the opposition has failed to respond to a single one of their moves," says Dragan Djilas director of Ovation Advertising. Another marketing expert lauds the regime's "textbook example of discipline in communicating with the public."


The Socialists' strategy is to present the elections as a "referendum on the defence of freedom," according to marketing expert Voja Zanetic. The idea is that the people should "clearly show that they do not want to vote for the servants of the new world order" - otherwise known as the opposition.


With a large team of propaganda specialists, the SPS's central election headquarters has based the campaign on seven points: freedom, independence, the ending of the UN and NATO missions in Kosovo, the survival of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, reconstruction, development and improvement living standards, and social security.


The main target is the conservative consciousness of impoverished Serbs, who are still undecided and remain afraid that things might even get worse.


"The authorities are sending messages to the voters that are based on a poor man's demagoguery, as opposed to the mainly market-oriented opposition," says Stjepan Gredelj, a researcher of public opinion at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory.


The ruling party is focusing on what it has identified as a large number of undecided voters, as many as 40 per cent largely under 30. Gajevic, the party elections official, claims that "a large percentage of them are turning to the SPS thanks to an offensive campaign by the Office for the Reconstruction and Development and the Health Ministry."


The reconstruction effort has played a central role in the regime propaganda since the end of the NATO bombing campaign, and this has if anything only increased in advance of the elections.


Milutin Mrkonjic, the head of the Office for the Reconstruction and Development, who has a charming appeal to ordinary folk, is playing a major role in the Socialists' campaign. Milosevic's Radio-Television Serbia follows his every step, such as when he pays a surprise midnight visit to construction sites to encourage workers or publicly criticises heads of construction companies for failing to meet deadlines. An ambitious campaign of building flats for the young people, which are then sold at a half the market value, has also been launched.


Another star in the campaign is Federal Information Minister Goran Matic, who occasionally holds a press conferences to inform the public about arrests of "new terrorists and spy groups." The aim is to raise fear among the citizens of assassinations of political personalities or other unrest.


The SPS source says that as the election campaign reaches its climax, the party will decide whether the headline role will be taken by either Mrkonjic or Matic, depending on the mood of the voters.


"If Mrkonjic's construction messages appeal to the undecided, then he will have a main say. If the polls show a plunge in the ratings, Matic will take over, to frighten the voters so as few of them as possible cast their votes," he explained.


Polls confirm that SPO leader Vuk Draskovic has dealt the biggest blow to the opposition by refusing to take part in the elections in alliance with the DOS. The regime's task has been aided by the fierce propaganda war being fought between the SPO of Vuk Draskovic's SPO and the DOS over which is the real opposition.


This has left the opposition without a coherent message, increasing the number of undecided voters.


Nenad Canak, the leader of Vojvodina Social Democrats, which is a member of the DOS, supports the joint opposition candidate for president, Vojislav Kostunica. But he also says that Kostunica does not represent the future of Serbia.


Draskovic, on the other hand, has accused Kostunica of being "the same as Milosevic" and claims that Zoran Djindjic, the president of the Democratic Party, a member of the DOS and Draskovic's long-time rival, of holding daily secret meetings with Milosevic.


The opposition has already lost the propaganda war because it entrusted the task to "inadequately trained people, whose engagement boils down to a choice of a tie or hair style of candidates," says marketing expert Zanetic.


This has left the authorities with plenty of dry powder to protect their flank. According to one party member present at the recent SPS election strategy meeting, who requested anonymity, party official Gajevic called for activists and SPS-controlled media to step up attacks on Kostunica, who has identified as Milosevic's most dangerous challenger.


Gajevic further informed the heads of the SPS local headquarters that a "limited campaign" will be waged against Vojislav Mihailovic, presidential candidate of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Meantime, the SPS leadership has agreed a pact of non-aggression with the Serbian Radical Party of ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj.


"They are opponents, but not enemies as well," Gajevic said, according to this activist.


In a uniformly pessimistic expert assessments of the opposition's campaign, one assessment gives them feeble hope. Svetlana Djuric Logar, a psychologist at the Strategic Marketing and Media Research Institute, asserts that in such extreme conditions as those in Serbia, the campaign has almost no impact, on the voters' choice.


Djuric Logar claims that neither side has anything new to offer and that the opposition will get the votes that it used to get before, just like the authorities, while the undecided voters will make a decision in the last moment, on the basis of randomly collected information.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular contributor for IWPR.


Serbia, Kosovo
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