Jovana Durdevic – Serbia
Creating a mindset that is not based on hate
Two decades ago, Jovana Durdevic was just a tiny child, unaware of the catastrophes in the world around her though her mother had been riding a bicycle during the bombing of the city where she was born. Jovana’s home is now in Belgrade, one of the oldest and largest of the world’s capital cities. Though the ethnic conflicts are complex, and historically explosive, Jovana believes the majority of people in her country strongly opposed the tyrannical and violent policies that led to the regional wars during the 1990s. “People forget that ordinary people with their families, dreams, and hopes are usually not the ones who handle the ropes of history,” she says, adding that they are often the victims of their own governments. She is devoting her life to probing the forces that make people forget our common humanity and the prevention of subsequent misunderstandings and demonizing.
In 2009, Jovana’s high grades earned her a Scholarship for Student Excellence through 2016 from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development of The Republic of Serbia. She entered the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade, emphasizing political science and journalism as her major fields of study. She’d been active in AIESEC—an international global student platform with a mission to create leaders. AIESEC experiences taught her “the importance of teamwork and team management, presentation skills, commitment, flexibility, and delegating.” Of special merit was the experience of a multicultural environment. Jovana says, “That experience was the first time I was able to feel a truly international spirit and global cooperation, which was a life-changing enlightenment for me on a personal and professional level.”
In September of 2013, she participated in a six-week volunteer internship in Prague, in the Czech Republic, called the EDISON project, organized by AIESEC CZU. It was there that an event took place that would prove significant. One of the students shouted at her, and Jovana couldn’t understand why.
This was her first time being independent in a foreign country, knowing no one. She contributed by conducting classes to Czech students, often doing presentations on Serbia. During one session, an angry boy aggressively slammed his books down, shouting at her. In another of her classes, the same boy refused to participate, made an offensive comment, and left the classroom. Stunned, she enlisted the help of a colleague in the project who was from Albania. They learned that the boy was originally from Kosovo, so her colleague spoke with the boy in his native language. Jovana then understood. “I knew that if a mirrored situation happened in a Serbian school with an intern from Kosovo or Albania, the reactions of the audience would not be much different.” Although Jovana and her colleague couldn’t change the minds of everyone, they made progress, and “even that one boy who offended me, seeing our good relations, could not keep the same mindset.” This demonstrated to her the importance of teaching children and young people, starting at a local level, that diversity is not a threat.
Jovana says, “Children are currently growing up and learning about the world through prejudice and a reality fabricated by propaganda.” She believes that solutions lie in part in education that teaches about different cultures and provides opportunities to interact with them. She adds that such a foundation would lead to better interpersonal and media communication, which is essential to international cooperation.
In March of 2015, Jovana volunteered for two months assisting a journalist, broadcasting on a TV program called Studio B. She also joined the School of Web Journalism, offered by the Journalists’ Association of Serbia. In the fall she worked as a copywriter and PR manager for Enovativ, a startup marketing and advertising company. Subsequently, she was chosen to be the PR team coordinator for the Faculty of Political Sciences. Her key responsibilities were organizing the PR Days seminar and an exhibit in the Radio Television of Serbia Gallery, which proved to be a challenge.
The seminar went well, but then the main sponsor dropped them, and Jovana worried that her team members would lose their motivation. At that point she says, “I could not be more thankful for all the skills AIESEC provided me,” meaning her team-management abilities. She advised them that “rough seas make the best sailors.” They employed a new fundraising strategy, and solved problems with “maximum professionalism.” Their exhibit highlighted the role of propaganda in shaping history and was successfully displayed at Radio Television of Serbia’s Gallery for two months.
Jovana’s team at the university took part in the Challenging Extremism program, which is sponsored by the US State Department. They researched the extent of Serbian manipulation of public opinion through the media. “On almost a daily basis, Serbians have headlines that are pumped with extremism, especially toward surrounding countries like Croatia or Albania,” she says. She immediately thought of the angry boy from Kosovo. “I believe that in the heart of every conflict stand three things – misunderstanding, miscommunication, and a lack of knowledge.”
She says that changing the state of mind of hostile ethnic groups would require a “confrontation with the media who spread fear and national hate daily.” The global fear of terrorism is understandable, so the biggest challenge “is to distinguish rational from irrational fear and media manipulation from real facts, especially in regions where fear spreads rapidly.”
After graduating from the Faculty of Political Sciences, Jovana is continuing at the university, working on her master’s degree in marketing management and public relations. An ideal career for her would combine her journalism, web, and PR skills to create sites or programs that would enable consumers to get the news “without sensationalism and media manipulation.”
Serbia is still a land of rich heritage, beautiful mountains, medieval castles, and the blue Danube River. “With all its good and bad, I would not prefer to live anywhere else. Challenging as Serbia sounds, it always leaves so much material to work on to improve and create a mindset of a world that is not based on hate.”