The Serbs are a confusing people. They absolutely love their country, but they still find reasons to lambast anything and everything that comes out of it. Some may be loved in an ironic way, but there are a few brands that Serbia is incredibly proud of, no matter how many jokes they make about them.
More of a historic personality than a brand, the Serbs go wild for anything related to the great Serbian mind. Elon Musk’s forays into the future of transport technology has excited many within Serbia, but the fact that the South African’s company is named after Serbia’s favourite son may well be the main reason. Serbs of all gender, age and social status hold a big electronic place in their heart for Nikola Tesla, the ‘Electric Jesus’.
Tasty biscuits might be a million lightyears away from inventing the 20th century, but Serbs are no less proud of Plazma than they are of Nikola Tesla. The national biscuit is ubiquitous (ubiscuitous?) throughout the country, and no Serb will hop on a long-distance bus or train without the little red packet in tow. The biscuits are manufactured in Požarevac by a company called Bambi, but Plazma are far more famous than the flimsy deer its producer is named after.
A close runner-up to Plazma in the crispy snack race is Smoki, crunchy peanut bites that aren’t a million miles from Wotsits, a name that will enlarge the hearts of British readers. The name refers to the peanut cornmeal snack alone, but its popularity means that Serbs now say ‘smoki’ when referring to any puffed corn snack. In that way, they can be considered the Google of Serbian snacks.
The little car that did! The Yugo (officially called the Zastava Koral) isn’t exactly flying out of the factories today, but the name alone conjures up plenty of nostalgia for those who grew up in communist Yugoslavia. Production on the small car actually stopped in 2008, two decades after it became the only socialist car to break into the American market. The car was made in Kragujevac, Serbia’s fourth biggest city and unsurprisingly home to its automobile industry.
He may not be the force he was just a few years ago, but Serbs are still incredibly proud of the success of tennis superstar Novak Djoković. Serbia has produced a number of successful tennis players in recent years (Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović come to mind), but few have had the international scope of the Nole brand. Novak’s pride in his home nation went a long way to endearing him to the hearts of Serbs from Subotica to Vranje.
Dipping back into the snack market for a moment, no chocolate bar warms the cockles of the Serbs like Štark’s Najlepše Želje. The name loosely translates as ‘Best Wishes’, and the chocolate bar comes in a number of sizes and varieties. If you’re hankering after some chocolate in Serbia, eschew the Milka in favour of this home-produced marvel.
No longer Serbia’s little secret, EXIT Festival is now one of the most popular events on the festival calendar. Petrovaradin Fortress is as majestic a venue for a festival as you’re going to get, and the EXIT brand has spread far and wide across the entire continent. A separate EXIT event is held down in Montenegro. If you’ve heard of festivals in Europe, you’ve heard of EXIT.
You have to be pretty creative to win awards for the design of mass-produced water, but that is exactly the success that has come to creators of VodaVoda. The name simply means ‘water’ (well, ‘WaterWater’), and the water itself comes from Banja Vrucji in the northwest of the country. The shape of the bottle is what really impresses however.
It may well be an acquired taste for foreigners, but the Serbs seem to be able to guzzle down Gorki List by the bucketful. That is somewhat of an exaggeration, but the locals certainly take pride in the bitter herbal liqueur formerly produced in Subotica. Financial issues have seen the brand move production to Slovenia, but nobody is about to claim that it is a Slovenian drink.
One of the oldest companies in the region, carbonated drink superstars Knjaz Miloš was founded in 1811, a whopping 207 years ago. The current incarnation of the company was established in December 2000, but the fizzy water giants have been producing the goods an extremely long time. The product is even exported to the United States, and many older locals will be quick to make sure you are aware of that fact.
It is the brand that frustrates the Serbs more than any, but also the one that invokes the largest amount of pride. The Serbs are an idiosyncratic bunch, as quick to decry their nation as they are to sing its praises, but there is something about ‘Serbia’ that inspires love in the vast majority. The potential of the country may well prove to be its most valuable brand, although whether those in charge make the most of it remains to be seen.