Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Western Balkans: EU blindspot on Russian propaganda

  • The Avala broadcasting tower, which overlooks Belgrade (Photo: Aktron/Wikimedia Commons)

The shut-down of Serbia’s Tanjug news agency is helping Russia to promote anti-EU feeling in the Western Balkans.

The agency stopped work at the end of November, letting go 180 staff.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Dodik on Sputnik, which launched a Serbian language service in February (Photo: rs.sputniknews.com)

It closed, in part, due to International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands. The IMF, under its Serbia bailout, said the government had to privatise Tanjug, but it couldn’t find a buyer.

Tanjug earned a reputation for independent journalism not least in 1989 by its reporting on the Romanian revolution.

Its passing leaves Sputnik, a Russian state news agency, free to become a leading source of online news in Serbia, Republika Srpska (the Serb part of Bosnia), and in Kosovar Serb enclaves.

Sputnik launched its Serbian-language service in February.

“It’s relatively small. But it's just a baby … and it's growing fast. I see more and more of their pieces every day. In the absence of Tanjug, it will grow even faster,” Dejan Anastasijevic, an award-winning former Tanjug correspondent in Brussels, told EUobserver.

One recent Sputnik story, entitled Not Russian Propaganda: The Balkans are Unstable by Intention, said the West is fomenting instability in the region as a pretext for intervention.

A second article said Kosovar Albanians are planning pogroms, with Western blessing, against Kosovar Serbs.

A third one “exposed” a “secret plan” by the West to topple Miroslav Dodik, the Republika Srpska leader. It said the plan is to unify Bosnia under Muslim rule after Christmas.

Dangerous context

The stories come in a dangerous context.

On Monday (7 December), unknown gunmen shot at a private home and a memorial site in the Serb village of Gorazdevac in Kosovo. On Tuesday, gunmen shot a store in the Serb village of Srbobran.

In Bosnia, Dodik is calling a referendum on secession, just 20 years after the war.

Violent protests in Kosovo are trying to stop an EU accord on better relations with Serbia. Protests in Montenegro are trying to stop Nato accession.

Serbian authorities don’t see Russian propaganda as a threat, however.

One contact told EUobserver the country’s EU path is irreversible. “We’ll open the first chapters [of EU entry talks] in December. That’s the main goal. After Serbia opens the chapters, it won’t, one day, turn around. You don’t go backward in the EU accession process,” he said.

“Russia keeps telling us that it has nothing against us joining the EU. Nato is the no-go topic,” he added.

He said Sputnik has no influence because most people get news from TV. He noted that CNN, a US broadcaster, launched a Serbian-language service, N1, last year. Al Jazeera, owned by Qatar, also has a Balkans service.

“Sputnik sometimes has strong interviews and original topics," the Serb source said. "But you know who’s behind it. It’s quite lame. I don’t think it shapes public opinion.”

EU blindspot

The EU foreign service, in summer, created a new media cell, called StratCom East, to counter Russian propaganda.

But its mandate, for now, primarily covers EU countries and former Soviet states, such as Moldova and Ukraine.

It works with a handful of Balkans reporters and bloggers, who send alerts on fake stories. Its weekly newsletter, which debunks Russian claims, also has some Balkans subscribers.

“We’re aware there’s a disinformation challenge in the Western Balkans too … but we’re not resourced to do more than just follow the issue [in the region],” an EU source said.

The EU Commission, in its last enlargement report, endorsed Serbia’s media privatisation process.

But it said Serbia made “no progress” on protecting media from state bullying, shady business interests, and, in some cases, from “threats and violence” against journalists.

Anastasijevic, the former Tanjug correspondent, said N1 is also at risk, potentially creating more space for Russian media.

“The CNN spin-off has already been targeted by [Serb PM Aleksandar] Vucic as a tool of Serbian enemies, and may soon be shut down or neutered,” he said.

Stakeholder

Kremlin lies: EU's response to disinformation

Russia's disinformation campaigns have become a homeland security issue inside the EU. Pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns are not only targeted at Ukraine or the Baltic states.

Analysis

Bosnia's EU application masks turmoil

The former Yugoslavia republic said it will formally apply to the EU next Monday. But the country still faces a number of underlying problems that make accession an unrealistic possibility in the short term.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives