POWER STICKER: A simple comms lesson from the last chapter of the Yugoslavian civil war



It’s always amazing where you can find inspiration but I never thought it would be the last stages of Yugoslavia’s civil war.

I found the lesson in ‘Shadowplay’ by Tim Marshall a memoir of his reporting for Sky News in the former Yugoslavia.

By 1997, Slobodan Milosevic remained impregnable as President of Serbia after presiding over four lost wars and tens of thousands of deaths.

A NATO bombing campaign helped avert bloodshed in Kosovo but only cemented his position as the traditional wagons of Serbian society circled in support against foreign aggression.

It became clear that where bombs failed something else was needed.

The book talks of how there was no Serbian Vaclav Havel or Nelson Mandela ready to press for power. But there was a grassroots Serbian called ‘Otpor’ meaning resistance in Serbian.

As the British and Americans informally met the group it became clear that what was needed was something that would burst the balloon of popular feeling that Milosevic would never be removed from power.

The answer was simple.

The resistance slogan ‘Gotov je’ or ‘He’s finished’ emerged as the simple message.

If that could be painted or stuck across Serbia it would chip away at the castle.

So, the British and Americans simply helped smuggle the tools to spread this slogan on walls and buildings and on t-shirts. A radio station was funded and other tools bought and smuggled into Serbia.

“Each time a sticker, poster or spray-painted ‘Gotov je’ was seen another grain of sand fell away from Milosevic’s sandcastle. Almost three million stickers were produced.”

As the tide was turned, attention could be turned on who could be swept to power by the popular campaign of street protest unimaginable before the ‘Gotov je’ campaign.

The lesson is this. For good communications, it is not always remote power that is the answer but listening to people on the ground.  Here, it was the subtle wit of a sticker that helped turn the impossible to the inevitable.

Tim Marshall’s ‘Shadowplay: The Inside Story of Europe’s Last War’ is available on amazon here and from bookshops. 

Picture credit: PetarM – Own work, CC BY 4.0.

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