Changing the image of Serbia in France is a very important, but difficult task, because the echoes of the propaganda that once existed are still being felt.
This is what French-Serbian humanitarian Arno Gujon (Arnaud Gouillon) told Serbia’s public broadcaster RTS.
He stressed that it was most important to explain to the French that what they have been listening to for years about Serbia and the situation in Kosovo – has been false, and added that his humanitarian organization has been trying to change that for the past 14 years.
“We are succeeding in this, the best proof for this is that we have managed to gather over 12,000 donors around our humanitarian organization, that is to say, 12,000 families, a few dozen people who show solidarity with the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, not only with their words, but also with their deeds, their donation,” Gouillon is quoted as saying.
Asked how difficult it is to change this picture in France, he said it was not easy because Kosovo and the Balkans are no longer a current topic in France, where some others are more current.
“The second reason that those who created a fake picture of Serbia in the 1999 are in most cases still present in the media and now they are not really willing to portray a different picture, to sincerely say, ‘we made a mistake, we lied, what we have been showing you on TV for years, it was fake, it was a part of the propaganda’,” Gouillon explained.
Speaking for RTS Dnevnik, he pointed out that censorship that existed on the issue of Serbia in 1999 no longer exists, but that propaganda is still there, “and it is sometimes hard to reach the big media precisely because of these echoes.”
“What has been difficult for us is to explain is that what we have been hearing for years about Serbia, the Serbs, the situation in Kosovo and Metohija was false, that it was not the truth, and we have been trying for 14 years to change that,” said Gouillon, who this year’s received of the Charter for Humanitarian Work and Special Merits in Changing the Image of Serbia Abroad, which is given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Still, he emphasized that the organization is succeeding in changing that picture, and that they have had several articles published in Le Figaro magazine.
“One must not despair, only with hard work, perseverance can we change things,” Gouillon stressed.
He said that in the film “Kosovo, a Christianity in danger,” made by French journalists, has been shown in France.
“They came to visit KiM (Kosovo and Metohija) with us, they did not know much about this situation, and then what they found astonished them. They could not imagine that there are ghettos at the beginning of the 21st century in the center of Europe, those villages isolated from everything,” Gouillon said of Serb enclaves in Kosovo.
He added that they made a 52-minute documentary that was shown four times on French television.
“Without politics, without big words, they made a testimony about the life of ordinary people that we often do not think about when we talk about KiM. This documentary tells about these people, how the monks live in (Serbian monastery) Visoki Decani, how the people live in Velika Hoca, and that caused interested in a part of the French public, and after the documentary many of them contacted us to become our donors. This is our goal, to turn the desire for truth into concrete actions,” Gouillon said.
Speaking about the humanitarian work, Gujon said that a poultry farm – the sixth in all – is currently being built in Kosovo and Metohija.
“A month ago, we opened a pig farm, we are now building this farm with the goal of allowing soup kitchens not to depend on external donations in food, and to enable people from these enclaves to live from their work, rather than from humanitarian aid,” said Gouillon.
He also emphasized that the organization is working on a large project to take 42 children from enclaves in Kosovo on vacation. These children will see the sea for the fist time, he said, and added that the project has been ongoing for seven years now.
“It’s a really great project, I cannot wait to go with these children, to show them the magic of swimming, for them to discover the sea. To them it’s more than the sea, it’s about leaving their villages, their enclaves, it’s the discovery of freedom, they can socialize in this way, it is very important for their development,” Gouillon concluded.