Satirist’s presidential campaign draws support from young Serbians disillusioned with politics

By Katarina Subasic, AFP

MLADENOVAC, Serbia — He campaigns in a Borat-style white suit, sports a samurai-style ponytail and hipster beard, touts a manifesto studded with lunatic pledges and uses a made-up name that mocks politics as the circus of greed. But in his jokey bid to become Serbia’s next president, Luka Maksimovic, a 25-year-old satirist, has caused many not just to laugh but also reflect on their nation’s troubled political scene and generational gap. Some opinion polls even place the young showman second for Sunday’s vote, ahead of a string of veteran politicians. Maksimovic, a media and communication student, chose the name of Ljubisa Preletacevic — nicknamed “Beli” (White) — as the fictitious moniker for his candidate. Preletacevic punningly means someone who effortlessly switches loyalty — a jab at the notorious fickleness of Serbian politics. His key electoral pledge is naked self-interest: “To steal for myself, but also to give something to the people.” Serbian Borat? His campaign video — viewed more than 750,000 times in its first week — shows him dressed in white, riding a white horse and hailing fans while standing in an outdated open-top Mercedes, a posture reminiscent of Borat, the outrageous figure created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. “We will get 16 wages, we will build three-story houses, there will be no war,” sing tight-trousered performers. On a recent campaign appearance in Mladenovac, Maksimovic’s home town outside Belgrade, “Beli” was mobbed. “Mr. President, I just want to shake your hand and say hello,” a thrilled man in his 50s told the beaming candidate. “We came from Belgrade just to meet you,” a middle-aged woman shouted from her car. Preletacevic went over to shake hands. “Hit it hard!” he declared, using his movement’s slogan. Center-right Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is the frontrunner in Sunday’s vote and may win by a clear majority in the first round, surveys show. But, driven by deep-seated scorn at mainstream politics and curiosity at his tongue-in-cheek stance, many voters seem to be giving “Beli” a favorable look. Some opinion polls place him second, ahead of former ombudsman Sasa Jankovic and ex-foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, deemed Vucic’s most serious challengers. Maksimovic’s foray into politics began as a joke, when he and a bunch of friends made a video mocking Serbia’s politicians for corruption and greed.

Last year, he led a group of fellow pranksters to a surprise success in a local election, coming second after Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party.

Ten months later, they took on the biggest prize of all: the presidency.

To Maksimovic’s surprise, their support boomed. “All the attention we are getting is a slap to the authorities and the opposition,” he told AFP. “They should ask themselves what they have brought this country to when a fictitious character can run for presidency and people want to vote for him. That shows something is wrong.” As his popularity has soared, both the ruling coalition and opposition have expressed cautious sympathy for him.