He came out of nowhere, emerging into the presidential polls a jester dressed head to toe in white, blindsiding the Serbian political scene with what he says is some "serious fooling around."

He is Luka Maksimovic, a 24-year-old student of political science who goes by the alias Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli. The name of the assumed personality mocks his rivals, standard political practices and, even, himself.

The first part of the mock surname, Preletacevic, alludes to someone "flying from party to party" in order to remain a part of the ruling establishment. The last part - Beli - means "white."

And he's definitely in white, from a kitschy jacket to moccasins with thick woolly socks, into which he stuffs his silky pants. 

The look stands in shrieking relief to the dark suits and self-important expressions worn by the majority of politicians.  

Maksimovic wears it because he is “untainted, with clean hands” on the Serbian political scene. “Also, while it shows my virtue, it is also striking and makes me stand out,” he adds with a smirk.

Just a self-made caricature of an unsuccessfully urbanized Serbian peasant? Recent surveys put him behind only one other politician, all-powerful Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, two weeks ahead of the April 2 polls.

Vucic, who controls all lever of power in Serbia, wants to make a sideways jump from his current office into the president's suite, where he would enjoy a five-year term. 

Though the president, under the law, carries far less authority, Vucic would keep power in his hands, informally, thanks to his control of the dominant Progressive Party (SNS).

He currently polls at 53 per cent. Beli is second, with 11.

Maksimovic's campaign slogan is a hard-to-translate slang phrase, “Samo jako.” Beli’s team translates it as “Only Strongly.”

Maksimovic emerged in local polls a year ago, fronting a group called “Sarmu Probao Nisi” (You Haven’t Eaten Cabbage Rolls), a line from a Serbian turbo-folk song. 

The phrase is the lament of a woman who cooked a cabbage rolls lunch – something that requires hours of preparation - for a man who walked out.

Riding his satiric approach, the group became the strongest in opposition to the SNS in Mladenovac, Maksimovic's poverty-stricken home town, 50 kilometres south of Belgrade.

He makes no secret of the fact that he's just a figurehead for a group of real politicians.

"Unlike me, our councilmen are serious and are doing an excellent job," Maksimovic said, self-deprecatingly. "It will be the same in the presidential elections - I am just a tool creating opportunity for more competent people."

Nonetheless, the attention he receives is incredible. People stop him to talk or take selfies. His face was on most dailies at least once during the previous week. His Twitter and Facebook pages are overheating.

Though mud-slinging is the usual weapon in Balkan campaigns, none of Beli's rivals have bothered to attack him, beyond pointing out how he lacks seriousness.

“They fear me and do not know how to approach me. They’re scared as they see support snowballing behind me. After all, they have nothing to pin on me," he said.

The most severe scalding came from the incumbent, Tomislav Nikolic, who will not seek re-election after losing a humiliating wrangling match for leadership over the SNS with Vucic, his former protege.

"He is not amusing as a candidate, because in serious countries he could not even run. He may be OK elsewhere, where you buy a ticket to see him," Nikolic told the Tanjug agency last week.

Maksimovic says people like Nikolic are part of the problem.

“Serbia is at rock bottom, if it elected a president like Nikolic and if now it considers a made-up personality - even if this invented character is not bad - we urgently need to start changing something and that is what I want to do."

But one subject is off limits for jokes: talking about Serbia's once-again deteriorating relations with neighbouring former Yugoslav republics. He becomes dead serious and says that he does not want to be a part of another Balkan generation to fight a war.

“Politicians, ours and theirs, keep on reheating same old stories of wars and injustice. We need to focus on the future. We, the young people, need to finally refuse the burden of ‘who’s to blame’ that the old guys want to lay on us," he said.

"It does not mean forgetting, but we need to finally look forward. See the Germans? Have they forgotten? No. But are they dwelling on history. No, they reformed and are ploughing ahead," Maksimovic said.

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