Camp as a mockery of what is widely accepted is going through its most important stage of development. Let’s learn how the Serbs embraced this new yet effective societal concept.
It’s not been long since presidential elections in Serbia have started. The call for candidates was open on March 2. Candidates were given 10 days to collect at least 10 thousand support signatures, to turn them in to the state electoral committee (in Serbian: Republička izborna komisija – RIK), and then to have 20 days for campaigning, before April 2, 2017, when the people are expected to vote and elect the president of the country.
This was a common practice for decades now, but some unexpected turns are happening, threatening to change the face of modern democracy, hence history as well. What’s it going to be?
What is camp?
It is hard to collect any solid data online on the meaning of “camp” or to come up with any instance of a definition.
According to some sources, the origin of the term is from either Italian, French or English. While in the first two its original meaning refers to an entity sticking out of the rest, in English it could have been an acronym signifying a male prostitute (thus, Known-As-Male-Prostitute à kamp). What is for sure is, whatever its initial originating language was, the meaning was mostly concerned with art, as it evoked a certain artistic school or direction.
It later evolved into a term mostly referring to queer and gay community, as they were believed to over-emphasize certain aspects of their personalities, such as crossdressing or impersonating the other gender. It is important to bear in mind here that camp does not necessarily refer to gay community solely, but may rather be a characteristic of their lifestyle. If you think of the 80’s, the discos, the queer popularity (although it was not openly called that way), the neon pink and greens, the splash of purple and feathers, you are starting to get the picture of camp. But only starting, as it is just 1% of it.
Wikipedia defines camp the following way:
Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. Camp aesthetics disrupt many of modernism’s notions of what art is and what can be classified as high art by inverting aesthetic attributes such as beauty, value, and taste through an invitation of a different kind of apprehension and consumption.
Camp can also be a social practice. For many it is considered a style and performance identity for several types of entertainment including film, cabaret and pantomime. Where high art necessarily incorporates beauty and value, camp necessarily needs to be lively, audacious and dynamic. “Camp aesthetics delights in impertinence.” Camp opposes satisfaction and seeks to challenge.
We can conclude that camp is a specific aesthetic style, most often in entertainment industry, which regards phenomena appealing due to their bad taste and irony. Camp mocks the widely accepted phenomena by openly emphasizing their most prominent features, undermining their credibility thus causing complete banalisation and stereotypicalisation.
Who exemplifies camp?
Many names from popular culture are nowadays believed to have not only supported the trend, but also to have started it. Some of the names connected to camp are actresses such as Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, or Cher. At the time between 1940 and 1960, these and many other celebrities were seen as the stereotypical feminine figures, but actually emphasized on the pre-conceptual femininity thus mocking it.
EuroVison fans may have noticed that this renowned competition for the best song in Europe, staring from 2000, has brought ever more elements of camp, and to some may nowadays even resemble a festival of kitsch and the lack of style. Just an overview of the most salient camp performers at Eurovision would take us to a whole new direction, however the focus at the moment is not on camp influence on music but on politics in the Balkans.
Literature, film, music, popular culture – if you delve deeper into research, many more names emerge and you only get the gist of what camp actually was and is today.
A fast forward to present time – Vojislav Šešelj
Camp has been around for so long we, the general population, stopped perceiving it as something significant. So, camp had to find other ways to crawl into society.
As art was no longer enough, politics was the next stop – in 2003 Vojislav Šešelj, a Serbian politician holding PhD in law from University of Sarajevo since the young age of 23, an uncommon practice at the time – the youngest PhD holder in the history of this University, surrendered himself to the International Court of Justice on charges for crimes against humanity during the Yugoslavian Civil War in the 90’s, which led to the dissipation of the remnants of Yugoslavia. Knowing he was just a scapegoat, Šešelj accepted the game, deciding to show the insignificance of the Court and its judges, as well as to provide his people a decent entertainment show broadcast for a decade on the national television in Serbia and the region. With his attitude, his self-defence instead of a team of lawyers, his demands for translators to translate the charges from Croatian to Serbian, his accusation of the court’s taking sides, and many, many more, mr. Šešelj provided the broad TV audience with a story to be told and re-told for decades after he’s gone, while at the same time exemplifying the absurdness of the Court. After all, holding a PhD in law long before his executors knew what they wanted to do when they grew up, he knew how the legal system of the big corporations worked, and had decided to mock it first hand, at the supposed cradle of justice.
The epilogue of the story? In 2014 he was released from detention due to poor health condition and allowed to return to Serbia, where he continued his pursuit to become the president of the country.
In 2016, all charges against him were acquitted due to lack of evidence, and he remains one of the most prolific camp authors in modern political life of Serbia, together with being among the most charismatic politicians due to his uncompromising political views and criticism of modern political system.
Fast forward to present time 2 – Donald Trump in the US
One of the cases many of you would not even consider camp case is the Donald Trump presidential campaign in the US in 2016.
Having only Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the republican and democrat representatives, the public very quickly divided into two camps, each of which was a strong supporter of their preferred candidate. While some feared Mrs. Clinton would likely have caused the WW3 was she elected, others feared what the greatest country in the world would look like after Trump’s victory. The controversial businessman is famous for his lack of tact, to say the least, and disrespectful statements concerning women and society in general, but, hey, it seems like money is the deciding factor – with just a bit of a scandal here and there for the opposing team.
So, here we have it – the most unlikely candidate to run for president, in the history of the United States, had won the public with a “Make America great again” campaign slogan. As unlikely as it seemed for him to win the voters, he succeeded.
And, in the end, you simply have got to like the guy for his daringness to even fancy running for president, let alone winning the elections!
How is camp brought to its highest in presidential elections in Serbia in 2017?
During local elections in Serbia in 2016, a group of young people, disillusioned by the political scene, gathered to mock it – by inventing a group of citizens run by an imaginary leader. They deemed themselves “Samo jako,” and their chosen leader – Beli. Their performance was designed to last a day, simply to show what is bad about not only politics but society as well, and, having in mind they would not last any longer, they paid no attention to offending anyone, and have given themselves the utmost freedom in directing the performance and impersonating the stars of the show.
Beli earnestly wore a white suit, to represent purity and the lack of corruption, and rode a white horse, to mock the traditional idea of a prince on a white horse predetermined to save the day (although in fairy tales he saves the princess). His faithful companions unquestioningly nodded their heads to his every word.
Their procession went on in Mladenovac, Serbia, with Beli waving the scarce crowd, promising jobs and prosperity to all who vote him.
What started off as a joke then slowly turned into a serious game: Beli – Samo jako won over 20% in local elections, ranking second, with 13/55 seats in the local parliament, and caused all major media coverage of the story. Daily mail, Fox news, The big story, and Balkan insight, are just some of the foreign media houses that further spread the news of the unexpected success of this controversial assembly.
Encouraged by what at the time seemed an impossible feat – to act so foolish yet be taken seriously– Beli made a comment about the possibility of running for president next year. To make sure he fully qualifies for the position, he made a shot at going to the US to study – whatever – and made it clear his intention was to buy a diploma! Whoa, a slap in the face of political turmoil caused by the widespread belief many politicians had plagiarised their doctoral theses, further enhanced by the known fact the current president, Tomislav Nikolić, a.k.a. Toma Diploma, bought a diploma of a faculty he himself does not even know. Rumour has it has to do with some sort of management, but until we see it with our own eyes, no claim is in place.
Beli returned from the US, with a diploma under his belt, and with plenty of time to plan and organise his presidential campaign!
After numerous hindrances by the ruling party (or is it just the system that has nothing to do with the party?), Preletačević managed to turn in the necessary number of supporters’ signatures and be enlisted a presidential candidate in a country that once aspired to be what the US and EU together are today, but after its dissipation can only boast the past and tremble before the real world forces. Whoa, a new twist to the story! A slap in the face of the “real” politicians!
There is no need to even mention the level of popularity Ljubiša Preletačević Beli enjoys at the moment. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he is the top sensation the country hasn’t had in decades, and the media simply love him – no, adore him – as either their choice of preference or as a way to boost their own sales.
With just one week before the presidential elections, only time will tell if the show was in vain.
What makes Ljubiša Preletačević Beli the embodiment of camp in Serbian political scene?
1. His personality.
To start off, Ljubiša Preletačević Beli is impersonated by the 26-year old Luka Maksimović, a communication student who only hopes to pass his exams in time. Unless, of course, he wins the elections, in which case he would not even have to graduate, as he will buy the diploma. No, waith, hasn’t he already bought one? And, who is HE? Where is the line between the imaginary personality and the real person?
As a political figure, Ljubiša Preletačević Beli is the genuine sleazy politician, and even more perfect than those whom he is trying to laugh at. He does everything his predecessors do, but unlike them he is at least sincere. Hence, he openly states his intention to steal, but also leave for the others to steal as well; he promises jobs in non-existent factories; he promises the unity of the entire Balkans – as likely to happen as an imaginary character running for president; he does pushups à la Rocky Balboa; he waves the crowds; he rides a white horse; e buys his voters with pizza capricciosa instead of sandwiches; he has no campaign nor marketing experts nor funds to finance his campaign, yet his popularity is growing on a daily basis. Could he go even further and truly WIN the elections?
2. His name.
In Serbian, “preletač” is the one who often switches sides for personal short-term gain, especially in politics. Hence, Preletačević – to further emphasize the Serbian origin through the IĆ suffix typical of some Slavic last names. Such choice of his last name additionally mocks one of the most famous “preletač” in the modern history of Serbian political scene: Maja Gojković, ex major of Novi Sad, who switched more political parties than there actually were. But that is a whole another story now…
Beli – the White one, the nickname of Ljubiša Preletačević. The symbolism of purity and the lack of corruption could not be more evident.
Why Ljubiša? This one I cannot be quite sure of, but what comes to my mind is even the possibility of the Greek word root –phil, meaning having an affinity for or a strong attraction to, as defined by Merriam-Webster online dictionary of English. Hence, translated to Serbian names tradition: Ljubiša – the one who likes something – in this case, switching sides.
Could it be any more obvious?
3. His clothes and physical appearance.
Although there are claims Ljubiša Preletačević Beli wears a white suit to remind the crowds of the late president of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, or even Gandalf, the myth behind this is busted by Preletačević himself: he got his first white suit from his aunt, after his uncle died. The late man enjoyed wearing white suits himself, and since his nephew could fit the suits, it would have been such a waste to toss them.
Another key explanation for the white suits is a simple as white evoking innocence, purity, and the lack of corruption.
He’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s young, he’s physically fit and strong, he went for a man bun with an undercut. He’s blue-eyed and always smiling, even when he’s not. He’s charismatic, he’s honest, he’s innovative; he’s a fresh blood in a rotten political pool and a long awaited comedian to fully display the social bottoms we have long reached but are reluctant to admit it.
What about his rough wool socks sticking out of his white loafers? That is the story we have still not had the chance to hear about. There is still one week left before the big day – plenty of time to learn more about this young man.
4. Foreign languages
Politicians in Serbia are fluent in as many as four or five foreign languages: English, German, French, Russian, maybe even Italian. Even the president Nikolić had a glorious moment of correcting an interpreter at an official event.
A fact that many are not able to accept is as simple as this: not everyone can achieve full professional fluency in foreign languages. Admitting it makes you no less human. After all, people do go to school to become translators and interpreters, so hiring them to do their job, a job they get a special training for, is likely to make your words understood better.
No politician in Serbia will admit speaking Tarzan English. The netizens will prove it – by either posting excellent videos, or by publishing transcriptions, i.e. Serbian renditions of how to pronounce English words.
On the other hand, Ljubiša Preletačević Beli mentioned once he speaks English and French, if I am not mistaken. We have not had the chance to hear that either, but I’d say the result could be just as hilarious as everything else he does.
5. His aides.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli’s most closest aide, Prilepak, is the embodiment of a perfect political follower any politician would just dream of – the one who will unquestioningly nods his head to whatever the great leader says. Could he mock the establishment more openly and get away with it?
However, besides himself and Prilepak, the remaining 10 people in Beli’s team are serious people who have both the knowledge and skill to succeed in politics. Besides, they had had the courage to take up a job not many are willing to take today. Will it be enough?
6. His “wife.”
The wife of Tomislav Nikolić, the current president, is called Dragica. Ljubiša chose Draginja Preletačević. According to what he said in an interview to Kurir, they have not yet tied the knot, but he does intend to do so once he’s elected. To further mock Mrs. Nikolić, Mrs. Preletačević will also run a foundation, and the couple was spotted out and about during a barbecue restaurant opening. Or was it on the shot of Preletačević’s latest music video…
7. His social media accounts and fan pages.
In the digital age, if you do not exist on social media, it is the same as if you do not exist at all. Thus, the busy businessmen and stars hire professionals to run their social media fan pages and personal profiles. But Beli does it himself. With his aides, of course. And responds to what people write to him. He interacts with his followers, and is not ashamed to say he has no funds to hire a professional to do it, so he is forced to do it himself. Until, of course, he is corrupt enough to be able to afford it.
8. His political manifesto.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli’s website is actually a webpage where they publish their actual and real work they do – this is where you can actually learn all about this interesting assembly of the most unbelievable modern age politicians. The rest of their political manifesto can only be guessed by what Beli openly says wherever he goes, but it surely must be as entertaining as the rest of the show.
9. Attitudes about Kosovo
Nenad Čanak, the journalists say, would be the first to accept formal independence of Kosovo. When asked about his intention on the Kosovo situation, in case he is elected, Ljubiša Preletačević Beli would be the first to agree on the unification of all countries from Hungary down to Greece, together with Serbia in the middle. But, when asked on the likelihood of such federation, his response is not surprising at all: it is as likely as an imaginary character running for president.
10. His treatment of others.
While other candidates seem to be constantly competing with each other on who can promise more and who is better or worse, who made the people more miserable and who can help them magically recover by solely supporting him, one important aspect that nobody is paying attention to is how Mr. Preletačević refers to his opponents. To him, they are all great fellas, good boys, interesting people. Never has he said one single bad word about any one of them.
11. His lack of organised campaign.
With the “the poor strike back” slogan of the campaign, it is actually mind blowing how the entire campaign is run with absolutely no funds at all, however the popularity of this fella is getting better and better. Hence, the authorities, having been used to their investment into buying people (literally, buying them for a sandwich of a sack of flour), cannot grasp how can it be – demanding him to deliver the expenses list for everything he does.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli, 26, owns a Golf 2 – aged 31, thus older than he himself.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli had no venue, thus used his father’s café in Mladenovac as his headquarters, and that is where he regularly meets his supporters.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli does his social networks “campaign” with his associates, without any strategy or plan of activities, thus no need to pay anyone to do it himself. After all, who can do it better than him – the master of communication.
Ljubiša Preletačević beli is not a friend of the commoners, unlike Luka – whose cousins and friends are into music and film industry, thus it is thanks to them that he can now boast the video of his Sarmu prob’o nisi offician anthem – Samo jako.
Ljubiša Preletačević Beli – DOES NOT RUN A CAMPAIGN. He is not investing anything, yet the bets are quite high. Is he up to the challenge? Can this government admit their defeat and give him carte blanche in case the elections results turn out to be the greatest surprise?
12. Being a foreign mercenary
The complicated political situation in the Balkans has put Serbia in a rather complicated and ungrateful position of being on the see-saw between Russia – the traditional political friend – and the US / NATO, as a way to protect itself in the long run. The old-school politicians try covering up their preferences by pretending to choose neutrality, while Preletačević twists the game to new heights – by publicly saying he’d choose the side of the party which offers most money. He even suggested the amount – 750 million euros! Open, blunt, and harsh – and so, so faithful to himself.
13. His followers – Belovi botovi – botićoze
Unlike, well, ALL politicians in Serbia after late president Tito, Beli does not have to “buy” his followers. The current government gained notoriety for buying their voters in the last presidential elections, with the amount as short lived as a blink of an eye or a breath! What did they do? They rummaged the country and gave sandwiches to those who accept voting for the current president, Tomislav Nikolić, or his political party, SNS (“Srpska napredna stranka” in Serbian, the “Progress Party” in English). Preletačević’s bots now made fun of it by further supporting the idea that Beli gave them pizza capricciosa, and went a step further by naming themselves “botićoze!”
In fact, one of the reasons why Beli’s campaign succeeded with no funds is because his supporters invested all their creativity into mocking his opponents. For example, the prime minister Vučić is 6th on the voting list, while Beli is the 5th. It’s relatively easy to turn a 6 into a 5 with just a swipe of a paint brush and some white paint, which is what they do. And to make it even more humiliating, not only repainting the number, but adding an E after Vučić’s intials, AV, to turn it into AVE, and adding BELI below the hail, to put the final nail into a deadman’s coffin: AVE BELI 5.
Additionally, the official representatives of the Sarmu prob’o nisi movement publicly said they produce no promotional material, only about 1000 relatively simple badges. No pens, no notebooks, no commercials, no buying media space, no official commercials (rumour has it that 1 second of a political video on national television costs about 250 euros, the minimum wage being about 120 euros – per month, yes), no billboards. Yet, social media are covered with photo manipulations of Beli, thus his followers are more than willingly producing immense amounts of promotional material for him and instead of him, for free! No politician has had that after Tito too.
14. His official videos
The Beli Samo jako team released three videos only, amounting to about 7 minutes total of promotional videos. The trilogy goes as follows: Beli se budi (Beli awakens) with over 409 thousand views in 23 days, Beli je predskazan (Beli is predestined) with over 191 thousand views in 12 days, and Beli je pobednik (Beli is the winner) with 465 thousand views in 48 hours, but the video’s just been blocked due to copyright infingement, with an additional Samo jako anthem with 965 thousand views in a week, which adds the entire videos length to about 10 minutes.
People search and browse for these videos, and their enormous popularity is enough an omen for what people expect to see on April 2.
These 4 videos are the only ones officially directed and made for the campaign. And also did not cost a penny, as Beli a.k.a. Luka has surrounded himself with the right people, which, in this case, means he has directors and visual artists and dancers as his cousins or friends, hence no need to pay for their services.
Unlike these, the other 10 candidates’ video are highly intrusive and appear as paid and promoted content on almost everything. Even if you want to watch a Beli video, you have to risk a popup video and view it for at least 5 seconds before you can skip it and move to your desired video.
Not to go into detail with analysing the content of the video, what is sure is they are a diametrical opposition to the seriousness of the other candidates, and the people’s reactions to them are hilarious. What’s more, they are breaking all records in popularity and the number of views.
15. His presidential program
Presidential candidates in Serbia seem to forget the president cannot really do much, hence the regime media started criticising Beli for not presenting his political program. His team faced the challenge by directing a statement by Ljubiša Preletačević Beli that was broadcast in live streaming via Facebook, and it could be nor louder nor clearer: Beli’s presidential program will be the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Plain and simple.
After all, he said openly, on national television, that he does not know how to run a country, but that is why he surrounded himself with people who do know it, who are smart and educated. That was another slap in the face to the ruling party, famous for claiming to be the best, the smartest, the only one to know what’s best for the people, but which somehow, or exactly due to it, chose only amoebas and gave them the top positions everywhere, so the supreme leader could fully shine in all his glory.
The latest coverage of the story goes to Huffington post themselves, as well as Independent, Fox news world and BBC news, and the Big Story once again! Also, the article by Reuters on the surprise of Beli’s (lack of) campaign is making us wonder: is it really the time for the political establishment to make room for the newcomers sick and tired of being fooled at? Can the naïve yet strong performance staged out by Beli and Samo jako gain more than the significant 20% in the presidential elections and Serbia hence demonstrate how far we’ve gone and how low we are in morale and political will?
Could it happen that the ruling political parties still take the 30% of the votes, dividing them among themselves, with Beli taking all the rest? After all, that is how the currently ruling party won in the last elections – only about 30% of the people voted, 50% of which supported the ruling party. If you do the math, it means that only about 15% of the entire eligible voting population supported one option, enabling victory for them with the help of those who decided they are sick and tired of ALL options and did not vote at all, leaving one of the most important decisions of their lives to the sold souls and political opportunists.
It is great Beli appeared now. Now, when the general population is in a political coma the awakening of which seems rather painful, so many choose to remain comatose until there’s no better option to die a slow, painful death.
The odds are on Beli’s side. Betting offices still estimate 55% for the current prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, with only 3% for Ljubiša Preletačević Beli. But, what do they know? They always bet on one of the options which in the end NEVER wins.
If nothing else, Beli deserves a vote for being such a daredevil and for slapping the politics right in its face, staging a stunning performance that nobody can stay indifferent to. Only time will tell how far he’s going to get. Are you going to help him or jump into the abyss of oblivion, as many before you have? You’ve got nothing left to lose – only your future.