Novak Djokovic Smoothes Serbia's EU Accession

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/07/2011 12:01:00 AM
Before beginning, I must tell you of perhaps the worst marketing gambit of modern times. In November 2009, Adidas decided to make Andy Murray its top tennis endorsee when it already had Novak Djokovic under contract. While it's understandable that getting the Great Hope of British tennis on board was a coup of sorts given that it's one of the largest markets for sporting goods and has been starved for a Wimbledon champion for ages, let's just say Murray has not delivered the goods since then. Djokovic soon left Adidas and endorsed Sergio Tacchini. Owning precisely zero spotswear from the latter and loads from the former, it behoves me how Djokovic has become next to unbeatable this year while picking up the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles. Meanwhile, Murray has won no grand slams.

Anyway, to the story. Serbia has produced world-class athletes over the years. Think of Red Star Belgrade winning the European Cup (Champions League) in 1991. Or, how Ana Ivanovic became the world's top-ranked tennis player a few years ago. To be sure, the events in the former Yugoslavia after the Cold War's demise are still prominent in the world's consciousness to this day since they happened not so long ago. Since then Serbian leadership has been keen on repairing its international image. Among its more important medium-term objectives has been joining the European Union alike its neighbours. As I've long documented [1, 2, 3], this process of integration was contingent on handing over the big three war criminals to the UN tribunal. With Slobodan Milosevic. Radovan Karazdic and Ratko Mladic being handed over to meet their fates, this chapter is rapidly closing and is helping Serbia's process of accession, one hopes.

However, while IR junkies may know who these not-so-fine folks are and what's become of them, the wider public may not. How does one improve Serbia's public image, then, to the wider European and world publics? The answer is the world's No. 1 tennis player, Novak Djokovic. After thoroughly dismantling Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final--what more Adidas boy Andy Murray?--Serbia has in part sought to capitalize on his sporting achievements. There was Serbian President Boris Tadic cheering "Nole" in London SW19. Celebrations pictured above in Belgrade are indicative of his popularity. But, in reality, how does Djokovic's achievements fit with convincing bureaucrats of Serbia's EU worthiness? The FT's beyondbrics serves up this take:
The former Yugoslav republic has struggled to overcome image problems since the wars of the 1990s – in which neighbours and much of the world saw Serbia as the aggressor. “Novak really did a great thing for our country”, said Boris Tadic, the country’s pro-western president, joking that he could hand over his duties to Djokovic without much worry. Blic, a Belgrade newspaper, proclaimed that politicians should follow Djokovic’s example of diligence and dedication, particularly as Serbia embarks on the long, hard road of EU accession.

The arrest in May of Ratko Mladic, a fugitive Bosnian Serb former army commander (and a big part of Serbia’s international image problem), has made EU candidacy probable by the end of this year, and accession talks with Brussels likely to open not long after.

But the EU monitoring apparatus – the thousands of bureaucrats overseeing Croatia’s reform progress for the last six years – will now focus most of its attention on Serbia. With that in mind, the state should work harder on promotion, rather than rely on a successful individual like Djokovic, said Milka Forcan, a marketing specialist and former executive at Delta Holding, the country’s largest private sector company.

“Novak with his results has already influenced a better image of Serbia, and his position as world Number One and winning the Wimbledon championship is going to underline that,” Forcan said. “The state [also] has to work in an organised and planned way on constant promotion of the country.”

Djokovic has done more to improve his country’s image than “all of our diplomacy”, a former ambassador to France said. The Serbian ambassador to the UN said the tennis win prompted friendly comments among diplomats, but this made no difference with regard to other countries’ political stances toward Serbia.
Take note, Adidas--domestic concerns are keen on the commercial opportunities offered by the charismatic, grass-eating tennis player:
The Serbian Chamber of Commerce last December recognised the tennis star’s PR potential, naming him, as an individual, the “Best Serbian Brand”. Djokovic has appeared in television advertising for Telekom Srbija, the state-run phone company, and Idea supermarkets, a Croatian-owned chain. A Croatian public relations executive commented after the Wimbledon final: “This is finally one positive global story about Serbia, instead of Ratko Mladic.
Moreover, Serbia has to deliver more in European fora than in tennis courts according to diplomats working on the front line of Serbia's accession process:
Fantastic success by Novak Djokovic might help Serbian foreign policy but only if it continues fulfilling all undertaken obligations and working diligently on change of laws at least as much as the famous tennis player has been working to make his dream come true. This is actually the message by politicians from the EU and world media editors who yesterday spoke for ‘Blic’.

‘We support and are happy about Djokovic’s success. For a country it is very good to have so successful people and we believe this shall improve the image of Serbia. However, it is not to be expected that the individual success of a tennis player is going to have any influence on the process of association because it depends on Serbia and obligations it has to fulfill’, ‘Blic’ was told at the cabinet of Stefan Fuehle, the EU Enlargement Commissioner...

Jelko Kacin, the rapporteur for Serbia at the European Parliament has the similar opinion. ‘The victory is huge and I congratulate Djokovic. The most important message of that victory is directed to Serbia: only diligent work can bring progress and success. Serbia and its politicians have to understand that only Serbia can take itself into the EU’, Kacin says.
It almost makes me want to buy Sergio Tacchini's gear instead of Adi Dassler's (even if the former not having a website in AD 2011 complicates matters). At any rate, Serbia has a new hero who not only provides the country with a highly positive image but also wipes the slate clean for a new generation of Serbs. And nearly no one would doubt that Serbia is indeed *in* Europe.