American dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster declared “gaslighting” the word of the year for 2022, with the explanation that it reflects the current era of disinformation and other misleading media manipulation. The term comes from the title of the 1938 play Gaslight, written by Patrick Hamilton. A film of the same name was made six years later. Starring Ingrid Bergman, it tells the story of a man who drives his wife crazy to the point that she begins to doubt her own thoughts and mental stability
However, gaslighting doesn’t necessarily have to relate to deceiving media manipulation that causes people to doubt their own experience of reality. The perception of deception can be much more subtle with gaslighting, and only then is it harder to perceive the “desert of the real”, as Morpheus would say to Neo in The Matrix. When Russia claims to Serbia persistently and “fraternally” that it cares about Kosovo being part of Serbia, that’s gaslighting, just as it’s a form of gaslighting when the “collective West” (as Putin followers like to call it) claim to “care” a lot about Serbia’s European future.
The winning term in Oxford Languages selection for 2022 Word of the Year is “goblin mode”, a slang term referring to a type of behaviour that is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy. If that is the case, then the typical media consumer is operating in “goblin mode”. And those who understand the world of Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Rowling’s world of Harry Potter understand why goblin specifically! Serbian media consumers operating in “goblin mode” are rapacious when it comes to consuming ‘porno’ nationalism and obscure entertainment, and slovenly and passive when it comes to selfawareness, democracy, institutions (and belong to the section of the public sphere that Habermas dubbed manipulative, in contrast to the critical part of the public sphere). Goblin mode comes as a direct consequence of gaslighting.
Research conducted by Belgrade’s Demostat shows that the majority of Serbian citizens are under the influence of gaslighting and are in goblin mode.
It’s absurd, but most Pro-Vučić media outlets have been anti- Western for years, and the cult of Putin has been nurtured systemically. It is now political ballast for Vučić when he is called “little Putin”, whether realistically or sarcastically
Confusion, contradiction and hypocrisy are characteristics of Serbian public opinion. Contributing to this, alongside media manipulation, is anomie, i.e., the breakdown of moral standards causing a crisis of social values, as formulated long ago by architect of modern social science Émile Durkheim. And Demostat’s latest research, covering only the territory of Belgrade (December 2022), showed that citizens are simultaneously in favour of both democracy and autocracy; that they confuse actual neutrality and neutrality as a euphemism for a pro-Russian stance, with the majority emotionally supporting Putin’s Russia while rationally wanting to live more like Westerners. There is even an emergence of nihilism – cheering for Putin to drop atomic bombs. The zero point of a new identity has been in the making since the NATO aggression of 1999. Even Vučić has become imprisoned by his own propaganda and has to prepare the public to choose the EU, despite Serbia having purportedly already been on that path. It’s absurd, but most Pro-Vučić media outlets have been anti-Western for years, and the cult of Putin has been nurtured systemically. It is now political ballast for Vučić when he is called “little Putin”, whether realistically or sarcastically.
When the layers of hypocrisy are revealed, there are more Belgraders who are aware of the reality in Kosovo, while three-fifths of respondents in the capital don’t favour a new war with the Albanians. On the other hand, the majority of Belgraders believe that Serbia should maintain good relations with Russia even if that comes at the cost of giving up on EU integration. And Belgraders are slightly more pro-EU: across the rest of Serbia beyond Belgrade, there are even more Putin supporters and more authoritarians.
The ruling Serbian Progressive Party isn’t conceptually homogeneous, but Vučić also knows that it has a large section that’s more pro-Putin than the non-Progressive right (which isn’t extreme), and it’s questionable whether Vučić still has a controlling package of shares over the right… And which one.