GB Gets to Know: Vesna de Vinca
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Interviewed by Global Beauties Co-Owner Andre Sleigh
I have always maintained that one of the highlights of attending any pageant is the people that you meet and the new friends that you make. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend Miss World in Sanya. I met many wonderful new friends from all around the world and it started on a high when I crossed paths with Vesna de Vinca. Having just arrived at the hotel and trying to deal with the confusion of checking in at a Chinese hotel, Vesna was trying to exchange money with as much difficulty as I was experiencing with my mission at the front desk. We started chatting and little did I know at the time that I had just met one of the most interesting and inspiring characters in the industry.
For the last 22 years, Vesna de Vinca has been running the Miss Serbia Pageant. She also runs the Miss Montenegro Pageant and is responsible for Serbia and Montenegro's entrants to Miss World, Miss Universe and several other pageants. But that is just the tip of the iceberg for this accomplished woman. The list is almost endless - she holds a PHD in Communications, a masters degree in economics, she is an author, television presenter and director, philanthropist, owns a production company, acts as a judge for the European Independent Film Festival, started projects like "Serbia - Land of the Lilacs" and has interviewed many celebrities and influential people such as Nelson Mandela and Gina Lollobrigida. And that's just to name a few.
Global Beauties (GB): Vesna, thank you for agreeing to chat to us. I met you at Miss World last year and I was just stunned by what I learned about you and the work you have been doing. Could you tell our readers a bit more about yourself?
Vesna de Vinca (VDV): Although I have a PhD, I would say that I have a Bohemian personality. (Laughs) Some of my dearest friends, who are artists, writers and poets, have described me as 'a laughing tear' or a 'samurai girl', which is really the greatest compliment to me.
For a living, I am a television journalist, director, event and film producer. I research interesting topics and personalities and create exclusive events. Traveling is a religion for me and I travel all around the globe in service of the mission of good journalism.
From 1990 onwards, I have produced a number of documentaries, including 'America and the Balkans' and 'America and Yugoslavia'. For 'Top Encounters', I have done more than forty exclusive documentaries and interviews with some 'untouchable' figures. I am a firm believer that success requires a particular way of thinking and I have strived to decode the thoughts of Nelson Mandela, Arthur C. Clark, Muammar el Gaddafi, Simon Wiesenthal, Yasser Arafat, Gina Lollobrigida, Elizabeth Murdoch, Paco Rabanne and Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau.
Since 2004, I have managed my own production company called De Vinca Productions and it was in 2006 that I joined the ÉCU - The European Independent Film Festival in Paris, led by the Oscar Award winner Scott Hillier as a permanent jury member.
Of course, I am also a fashion and beauty producer and the owner of the Miss Serbia and Miss Montenegro, which have the licenses for the world's largest beauty pageants, since 1996.
I keep myself busy with creating life concepts for 'new humanism' and special architecture and design concepts. I am also a member of MENSA Serbia and The Order of Saint Lazarus Knights.
I live and work on the river boat “De Vinča”, in the confluence of the two rivers, the Sava and the Danube, in Belgrade, because I enjoy uncertainty.
GB: I am just in awe of all your achievements and it's such an honor for me to be able to learn more about your work. My next question touches on a more sensitive topic. We all know about the war that ravaged Serbia in the 90s. How did that affect you as a person and the way you see life? Could you share with us what Serbia is like now (through your eyes) as opposed to those turbulent times?
VDV: War is the most terrible thing that happens to mankind. I want to share that I was the first female war reporter during this tragic time when the war began in Yugoslavia in the 90s. At the same time, we had sanctions that lasted for a decade. Serbia was in a special 'prison', so to speak. The bombing of Serbia by the NATO Pact, in 1999, was the peak of the tragedy. Actually, my people were hostages of foreign and domestic politics. After only a few days in the shelters, we went out into the streets and bridges and sang with families, while the NATO planes bombed us. Then we exclaimed: "God - forgive them, they do not know what they are doing!" These were tragic scenes, almost unreal in a sense... like movie scenes at times. I will never forget that.
After that tragic experience, I got a thyroid disease and realized that I could die if I continued to deal, as a journalist, with this topic of war and misfortune. So I decided to escape by going into the field of beauty and fashion, because like Dostoyevsky said, "Beauty will save the world!" At the same time I realized that through beauty I can continue my mission. I became the owner of all the licenses for major beauty competitions, starting with Miss World and Miss Universe, for the countries of Serbia and Montenegro.
The lesson? I saved my soul! I saved my life, my energy. I survived. I am a positive person. I socialize with the topic of beauty and in everything I can find good. That is my goal. That is a my secret to having loads of energy to continue my work.
GB: You are a respected journalist and a celebrity in your country. You even met Nelson Mandela, interviewed him and wrote a book about him. As a South African, I am (of course) curious to know more about that. Please tell us your thoughts about the great man and what it was like to meet him in person.
VDV: In 2004, President Mandela stopped communicating with journalists. He openly declared on TV, "Do not call me, I'll call you!" From the moment he came out of jail after 27 years of imprisonment in 1990 until 2004, he gave about 10,000 interviews. I managed to meet him in 2009, after which I wrote an article for Hello! Magazine. It was a unique Christmas and unforgettable breakfast with a saint, although he did not like to be called so. It was his last meeting with journalists. Our conversation was not a long one, but it was so inspirational that I wrote a book that has now been translated into English and has the title 'Nelson Mandela's Code'. My book is a special biography of Nelson Mandela, which attempts to uncover and decode his way of thinking and his philosophies about life to discover "Mandela's Code". Later this year, the International Foundation for Sustainable Peace and Development is organizing a large gathering, marking 100 years since the birth of Mandela. I am proud that my book will be presented at this special occasion.
GB: You also know Mandla, his grandson, who is continuing his legacy and is working closely with Miss World's Beauty With A Purpose charity. Please share some of your impressions about him with us.
VDV: I met Mandela's grandson, Mandla, two years ago in Washington and again this year in Sanya, China at Miss World. He is Mandela's successor and is determined to lead the tribe and the Mandela family with courage and dignity . I immediately noticed that he has a great heart and as much warmth as his grandfather had. Like President Mandela, Mandla is a very tall man and when I see him, I remember Nelson, who even at over 90 years old when I met him, stood tall. They have the same wide smile. With his beautiful wife, Mandla supports and assists great humanitarian missions led by Julia Morley, owner of Miss World.. He understand and supports the unique concept 'Beauty with Purpose' and we are all so immensely grateful for his support.
GB: Many people do not know how much time and effort goes into organizing a national pageant. You run two (Serbia and Montenegro) pageants and do it with so much passion. What are some of the challenges you face as the national director of beauty pageants?
VDV: The biggest challenge is that we always work with a lack of sponsorship and every year we hope that it will be better and we will be able to realize our humanitarian and cultural missions more easily. However, this does not happen. But our mission gives us special energy, and we succeed in making the impossible possible by maintaining quality, fulfilling our mission and paying the licenses with smiles on our faces!
GB: I was surprised to learn about all the scholarships you have awarded over the years and I think our readers should know about them too. Could you share more about the work you have been doing with our readers?
VDV: My personal greatest contribution is that I have managed to create scholarships for four years of study for literally all the finalists in my competitions during the last 13 years! Thanks to Megatrend University and R&B College, we have until now given 354 scholarships! There is beauty organization like us that has given more scholarships! So every girl who enters the final of Miss Serbia gets a valuable gift – an education! This is very important because Serbia is quite impoverished and scholarships give strength and determination to the girls to maintain their education and personal development. So we will affect their fate, because many of them would not be able to study because they come from less fortunate families. We give them a chance and we off them hope. And to TV viewers we point out that education is the basis of long-term beauty. Popularizing education is also one of our main missions. Inner beauty is what we can maintain and it helps us develop our outside. Inner beauty is actually a type of culture and it can be enriched by education. Giving scholarships is my greatest pride! And I will continue doing this for as long as I can.
GB: Do you think there is still a place for pageants in our modern society and what keeps you motivated to continue running Miss Serbia and Miss Montenegro?
VDV: Of course! I believe there is huge potential to increase the popularity of beauty competitions. Firstly, their popularity is growing in Asia, Africa, and Latin America while it continues to be popular in the US. Sadly, it's currently stagnating or declining in Europe, especially in the UK, which is absurd because the world's most successful and influential organisation, Miss World, was born in London. It is only through the concept of Beauty With A Purpose that these competitions can maintain their relevance and attract more and more viewers. This is a model that I practice but I manage to keep an eye out for marketing opportunities that provide us with the budget to continue.
GB: If you can share one piece of valuable advice with other national directors, something that you have learned on this journey, what would it be?
VDV: The media is the most important key to the success of our mission in beauty. PR is the essence of progress in this "business" but it must be based on real achievements.
GB: Global Beauties: What about young women dreaming to become a beauty queen - what advice would you give them?
VDV: Beauty is at the heart of creation. It is one of the definitions of this elusive phenomenon. Is there a law of beauty? Yes, there is a special law of beauty. I believe it is the following: Do not get used to beauty! If you get used to it, you stop seeing it, and that's the beginning of our spiritual end!
The Greek philosopher Plato said that beauty is just an idea that enters into some people's minds. It stays for a while and then it goes out. How and why beauty enters, how beauty is perceived, and how to keep beauty are themes I touch on in my book "Mystery of Beauty“.
Beauty is undoubtedly a God given gift. In order for it to survive and develop in the long run, beauty should not be treated as a private value, for then it will crop up and disappear. Being a beauty queen is first and foremost a responsibility. But the wonderful news is that if your beauty and actions is channeled towards good values, humanism, creativity, love and peace as concepts, your beauty will develop and grow!
GB: Do you have any exciting plans for your future or the future of your contests that you can share with our readers?
VDV: First I want to finish book about beauty, "Mystery of beauty“, which will be a blend of philosophical and practical knowledge about beauty, for example how it is achieved and how to maintain it. I owe it to everyone. I am also preparing a secret TV 'MIM' project. Then I want to continue my fashion, beauty and humanitarian projects.
So far I have produced many international fashion shows, which promote Serbian culture and art in the world through high fashion. As organizer of the project 'Serbia- Land of Lilacs' with HRH Prince Aleksandar Pavle Karađorđević, I have planted 8,000 lilac trees so far. The idea behind this project is the celebration of love. It honors King Uroš I Nemanjić, who planted the whole lilac valley for his future wife, Helen of Anjou, in the 13th century. The goal of the project is to make the lilac flower internationally known as the national symbol of Serbia. We also want to make Serbia the lilac valley of Europe and the world. The project is supported by the royal families of Bourbon, Orléans, Liechtenstein, Karađorđević and The Order of the Saint Lazarus Knights. I will continue to work tirelessly on all these projects and, of course, my pageants.
GB: Vesna, the work you have doing is absolutely incredible and we could not be any prouder to share this with the world. Congratulations on the wonderful things you are doing in Serbia and Montenegro. We salute you!