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When things get rowdy – the case of Serbia

October 16, 2010

In the past few days Serbia has been getting a lot of bad publicity. First, on October 10th the Belgrade gay pride march was met with heavy protests that turned into violent riots in which protesters fought the police and vandalized the center of the city. Two days later Serbia hit the headlines again – in Genoa the Euro Championship qualifying match between Serbia and Italy was suspended after just 6 minutes due to Serbia fan violence. Football hooligans have caused an international incident that might not only cost Serbia its Euro 2012 qualification, but could also have greater and more damaging effects on its international reputation.

From a public diplomacy perspective, the case of Serbia shows there are multiple voices communicating the image of a country. Just like governments engage in communication with foreign public so do independent actors such as tourists and artists – or even football hooligans. The activities of non-governmental actors can be in accord with official public diplomacy efforts and strengthen a positive image the country is trying to convey or, as this example shows, undermine it. The efforts of Serbian government to demonstrate the democratic values of modern Serbia by supporting the gay pride march were contrasted with images of rioters and violence at home and abroad. While hooligan violence can’t be described as public diplomacy it can nevertheless influence the perception of a country. The negative message it conveys can be associated with it and damage its image in the international community.

This poses an interesting question – to what extent can governments control the message they are trying to communicate to foreign public when actions carried out by other actors are in conflict with the desired image?

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