The 36th DFC magazine issue presents the most important messages conveyed at the DFC 365 2021 Conference, which was organized on September 16 in Podgorica. Besides the messages from the Conference, the Magazine integrally presents the remarks of the U.S. Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke. Also, the next issue brings the summarized version of the recently published DFC study titled Russia’s Role in the Balkans: The Case of Montenegro, as well as legal acts and regulations and implications surrounding the announced population census in Montenegro.

After 36 issues and numerous most pressing topics addressed in DFC magazine, we decided to step outside the journalism framework and enter a new phase of studious research and analysis of events/phenomena marking the Montenegrin social and political reality. We decided to take this step forward after having realized that journalism space and timeframes confine us to carry out an important stage – the comprehensive research and analytical work, in order for the big political and strategic topics to be researched, analyzed, and prepared for the presentation to experts and the media. Therefore, read us in some new form.

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The Digital Forensic Center is organizing a conference titled DFC 365 2021. The DFC 365 conference is a great opportunity to look back at the achievements and summarize the results of the DFC’s work and its impact in the fight against disinformation and negative foreign influence in Montenegro in the previous year. The latest DFC study on Russian influence and soft power in Montenegro, which is the result of several months of research, will be exclusively presented at the conference. The goals, methods, collaborators, and effects of Russian soft power in Montenegro are analyzed, as well as how they are projected wider to the region. Through concrete examples, it is shown how the Russian presence harms not only the strategic course of Montenegro but also the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkan region. The conference will be held on September 16, 2021, at the Hilton Hotel in Podgorica. The conference starts at 10.00h and will last until 12.00h.

We bring you the new DFC Magazine issue in the light of the newest developments that marked the Montenegrin social and political scene, particularly shaken by the anointment of the Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral Joanikije. Read in what way President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Savo Kentera perceived the overall events surrounding the protest and anointment in Cetinje, as well as his comment on the three-year-long work of the Digital Forensic Center. Moreover, the 35th issue brings an overview of the events in Afghanistan that occurred due to the U.S. and NATO forces’ withdrawal; find out how the Taliban have used the advantages of the digital world in order to strengthen their power in the country.

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The Digital Forensic Center responsibly claims that not a single Molotov cocktail was thrown at the police prior to the press release from Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic’s Office and its posting on the Vijesti news portal at 6:16 a.m. Based on the information we received from our people that were present at several locations in Cetinje, that morning we stated that based on the facts, a Molotov cocktail was not thrown at the police. We still maintain it. By analyzing the video that was published tonight by the Vijesti news portal at 8: 44 p.m. and was sent to the DFC, we have concluded the following:

  1. The alleged Molotov cocktail that was the motive behind the police action was never thrown and it could not be seen on the video posted by Vijesti.
  2. Analysis of the video showed that the clash between police and protesters had already broken out and that the Molotov cocktail from the video cannot be linked with the press release from the Prime Minister’s Office published by Vijesti, which was followed by the reaction from the DFC. By the time the video was made, riots in Cetinje had already erupted and had been winding down, i.e., in the period between 9:15 and 9:30 am.
  3. The time when the video was made was determined based on the digital records of the surveillance cameras, the comparison of videos from different cameras, including the additional forensic analysis of the posted video.
  4. The first time that the police fired tear gas at protesters was at the Dvorski trg, while there were no clashes with protesters in other streets of Cetinje.
  5. The video in question was made in Decanska street, a side street in Cetinje where clashes between police and protesters broke out somewhat later, which can be seen in the video posted by Vijesti.
  6. During the interview with Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic, Vijesti TV also published a photo that was given to them by the Deputy Prime Minister, and that allegedly proves that the Molotov cocktail provoked the police action. The photo in question was taken at 9:14 a.m. which is 3h after the press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, clearly showing that the public was manipulated and fed with disinformation.
  7. Apart from our people in the field, the Molotov cocktail, which was thrown, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, was neither seen nor heard by the policy members that were present in the square and that we talked with, nor by citizens at the square and other reporters, including the TV Vijesti reporter who also said that she neither saw nor heard the alleged Molotov cocktail.

Finally, we want to stress that no special digital forensics is necessary to verify all that we said and that this is a classic example of disinformation that generated a great deal of panic among the Montenegrin public, especially in the Old Royal Capital. In addition, it is clear that there have been coordinated disinformation efforts of TV Vijesti and the Government. We are calling on the media outlet Vijesti to inform the public truthfully, as did its reporter Danijela Lasica that morning, and to forgo methods such as this because we will always publish, as we have done so far, only the verified facts.

The Digital Forensic Center talks with journalist Tamara Skrozza about the media landscape in Serbia and tendentious and deceptive Serbia-based media reporting on the events in both Montenegro and the region. On this occasion, Skrozza says that the Serbian captured institutions have allowed the media outlets to do whatever they want, or rather, what they are told.

Skrozza also says that the media landscape in Serbia, which is characterized by tabloidization and sensationalism, is extremely unfavorable for journalists who are subjected to attacks. With a strong political influence on the judiciary, on one hand, and tense situation in the polarized society, on the other, no one can guarantee security and peace, Skrozza highlights. Therefore, she is not optimistic that Serbia will come out of media darkness anytime soon.

DFC: On the occasion of the adoption of the Resolution on Srebrenica, the Montenegro Media Institute has recently republished your article with the headline “Rezolucija i medijski ponor” (Resolution and media abyss). There, you described the Serbia-based media coverage as uncritical and biased, while the well-known methods of disqualifying political opponents were once again put into use. How can Montenegro and the region-based media, and citizens, as well, protect themselves from these kinds of contents and trends in media reporting coming from Serbia?

T. SKROZZA: If the media situation in Serbia was normal, the response would be simple: the media outlets and citizens in Montenegro, as well as in Serbia, could seek protection before the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM) or the Ministry of Culture and Information. However, being completely captured and hence, in the service of the ruling structures, these institutions do not offer protection – the media outlets, in reality, do whatever they want, or rather, what they are told. If someone who was directly affected by such practice appears before the Press Council, it can discuss the case and potentially conclude that the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics was breached. The Press Council, as a self-regulatory body, however, has no authority to impose sanctions.

An average citizen is likely to have a low level of media literacy

DFC: Numerous research findings have confirmed that the Serbian tabloids often spread fake news and disinformation, intentionally misleading the public. At the same time, those media outlets have a high readership in both Serbia and Montenegro. Can you explain to us how did it come to this, and why are people attracted by “yellow journalism”, or, better to ask, why does not an average citizen care about the truth?

T. SKROZZA: An average citizen, both in Montenegro and Serbia, is likely to have a low level of media literacy, while they reluctantly read, are preoccupied with everyday problems, and have neither time, patience, nor necessary knowledge to tell truth from lies, nor what manipulation and what the public interest is. These citizens, which I tend to believe were educated and created by the political elite members, are likely to accept as truth anything if wrapped in easily understandable language, juicy headlines, compelling photos, and at an affordable price. In fact, they represent an ideal electoral body that can be easily manipulated for not only daily political, but also national and state aspirations.

DFC: You participated in the creation of the documentary series “Junaci doba zlog” (Heroes of Evil Times) which strongly resonated in Serbia and the region. In one of the documentaries, you said that tabloids went even after you. In your opinion, how can an individual protect themselves from media persecution, if that is even possible? What is the most challenging thing in such a situation?

T. SKROZZA: They left me mostly unharmed, unlike many of my colleagues, but I still believe that I am not wrong when I say that no one can protect you in such a situation. The reactions of international organizations can be helpful, but with a strong political influence on the judiciary, and a tense situation in the polarized society, no one can guarantee you safety and peace. Private suits against tabloids usually result in small fines, while your reputation will be tarnished forever. No one can guarantee you that someone who believes the tabloids would not attack you in the street. Nor that your child would not be mocked. Nor that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren would not believe everything that they read about you online. Therefore, the biggest challenge is to protect your family from stress and fear, as well as your mental balance and physical health. And that is practically impossible.

Tabloidization emerged after the political changes in 2000

DFC: You were one of the expert consultants engaged in drawing up the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics. To what extent was the profession of journalism degraded by the domination of tabloid reporting, or did that happen much earlier? Where do the roots of this phenomenon lie?

T. SKROZZA: Tabloidization of the Serbian media scene emerged after the political changes in 2000, which, from that moment on, has directly affected all the political developments, including the assassination of Zoran Djindjic. The roots of this phenomenon lie in the political elite’s ambitions to (mis)use the media as a means of accomplishing their own interests, and their lack of understanding of the role and responsibilities that the media have, as well as their total indifference to the fate of our society. Therefore, tabloidization is not a product of the current government’s activities – the government inherited these tabloids from the previous state leaders. This process was, though, finalized by Aleksandar Vucic, to the point where not only the media, but also the whole system, society, and life have been tabloidized, to the point where literally everything is spanned and abused, where there are neither rules nor mercy and where no one can be entirely safe.

DFC: Can we say that Serbia is, except for honest and brave examples, individuals and media outlets, currently at some kind of state of media darkness reigned by sensationalism, aggression, hate speech…? Do these trends portray a new and unavoidable media reality, or, are you rather optimistic that the independent media outlet and critical thinking can be strengthened?

T. SKROZZA: Serbia has been living in these circumstances for several years now; that several journalists, media outlets, and experts have for a long time been warning us about. Our media reality is, therefore, far from being nascent. For years now, we can barely breathe under the political, economic, legal, and security pressures, but no one sees our struggles. Quite the opposite. We are from time to time told off by the representatives of the international communities that we are constantly complaining and that we should speak with the ruling regime, put in more effort, and create good news. It is a rather bizarre situation where journalists can only continue to give their maximum, stay safe and sound, do their job with integrity, and hope for some turn of events. There is no place for optimism.

Developing media literacy is of key importance in the fight against disinformation and fake news, and the democratic development of our society, it was concluded at the DFC workshop 21st Century Skills – Media Literacy and Critical Thinking. Everyone agreed that a stronger contribution of state authorities, and the media community is needed to prevent the creating and spreading of disinformation.

Considering the fact that political, social, and cultural life in Montenegro is being strongly influenced by media, the DFC organized two workshops on August 7 and 10 aimed at developing critical thinking and gathered more than 100 young people on that occasion.

The workshop showed that the young people are aware of the fact that Montenegro has become a fertile ground for promoting disinformation campaigns, which is mainly facilitated by the political situation which resulted in the strong polarization of society and media.

The workshop consisted of both theoretical and practical parts. During the theoretical part, the participants could learn about the findings and methods on how the modern age led us to the new reality where social networks and media create and spread narratives and information that directly threaten the stability and progress of not only Montenegrin but also of the societies around the world.

The concrete examples allowed the workshop participants to learn that disinformation creation might be founded on political interests, and frequently on money itself and gain insight into the background of such operations and campaigns.

Particular attention was dedicated to social media (Facebook and Twitter especially), where the young most frequently encounter disinformation and fake news. They discussed bots and trolls, different ways to identify bot networks, check the photo authenticity and origin and other things.

In the practical part, the participants could develop skills to look up for information in a more efficient and rapid manner and check the authenticity of different contents.

The workshop was interactive and the students were constantly exchanging opinions and views among themselves and with the lecturers. Encouraging is the fact, apart from the high number of participants, that all the attendees demonstrated a high level of awareness about the problem and readiness to learn how to become more resilient to everyday information manipulation.

The following pages of the 34th DFC Magazine issue bring more about almost everything that for a month (or longer) shaped our daily and political reality and, therefore, our everyday life. Read about the follow-up on the DFC analysis on the attempt to merge Montenegro into the Serbian world and about the dismissals and appointments of acting directors in the Montenegrin schools, which were perceived by some as reformation and by others as degradation of schools. Besides, we bring an interview with journalist Tamara Skrozza, who talked for the DFC Magazine about the downfall of the media in Serbia and highlighted that she was not optimistic about the situation getting better any time soon.

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Open meddling of Serbia in internal affairs of Montenegro, parliamentary majority crisis, and further perspective of Montenegro were the topics discussed in the DFC Magazine by dr. Zlatko Vujovic, President of the Governing Board of the Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) and assistant professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Montenegro.

Vujovic believes that Serbia’s aggressive politics toward Montenegro and other regional countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, and Croatia to a lesser extent) may be stopped only by direct assistance and active participation of the Western partners. According to him, the EU and the United States should recall the fact that the political parties of President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic (SNS) and President of the Parliament of Serbia Ivica Dacic (SPS) have been created from the same parties that caused the hostilities in the Western Balkans during the nineties of the previous century.

DFC: On June 17, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Resolution on Srebrenica. Reactions from both Serbia and the Republic of Srpska followed, supported by the narrative that Montenegro is meddling in the internal affairs of another country. According to you, is Montenegro meddling in the internal affairs of other countries? To what extent does such a narrative affect the damaged relations between Montenegro and Serbia?  

Z. VUJOVIC: The problem of one’s attitude toward committed genocide, which has been undoubtedly proven in the proceedings held before an international court, cannot be treated as an internal affair of any country. It is particularly unclear why Serbia believes that something that happened in another country – Bosnia and Herzegovina – is its internal affair. It seems as if they are wrong in both cases. I am happy that the Montenegrin Parliament adopted the Resolution, clearly labeling and condemning the committed genocide in Srebrenica, but also highlighting that no nation is to be held accountable for the genocide and emphasizing that the guilt is individual. It seemed encouraging that the firm majority of votes of both the government and the opposition adopted such a resolution, but the fact that half of the parliamentary majority negates the genocide in Srebrenica left a bitter taste.

SNS and SPS restoring to factory settings

DFC: Besides severe reactions sparked off by the Resolution adoption, the Serbian officials and political activists always comment on and negatively criticize the work of the Montenegrin Government, explaining that they are only “protecting” Serbs in Montenegro. Does this serve to divert attention from Serbia’s internal issues or is the goal much bigger?  

Z. VUJOVIC: With years passing by, representatives of Vucic’s and Dacic’s parties have been restoring to factory settings from the nineties. It seems as if many international leaders have forgotten that the very ruling coalition – truth to be told, then known under the name of the Serbian Radical Party, that the SNS and the SPS came from – was responsible for the hostilities in the region. Both Dacic, then appointed as the spokesperson of the SPS, and Vucic, the then Minister of Information in the Federal Government, were the ones who justified the Serbian military and paramilitary interventions in different battlefields. Back then, Vucic was also dealing with Kosovo, only to justify war crimes over Albanians, which have eventually provoked NATO intervention. Now, the idea of Greater Serbia has been swapped for the idea of the Serbian world. Vulin, the Minister of Police and the former Minister of Defense, is publicly and unreservedly calling Aleksandar Vucic not only the President of Serbia but also the President of all Serbs; therefore, it is not surprising that Belgrade wants to destabilize the region. Whenever there is a crisis in Belgrade, such an approach is leading to sparking a fire in one of the hotspots of the region, with Belgrade-based propaganda doing its part of the job. Numerous regional actors are the target, as well as a small portion of opposition forces in Serbia.

Serbia will still have an enormous influence on Montenegro

DFC: Reactions of the Montenegrin officials to the Serbian political elite’s criticism have been until recently neither timely nor adequate. Now, the reaction obviously exists. Do you believe that the Montenegrin government has enough authority to stop the continuous meddling of Serbia in the internal affairs of Montenegro?

Z. VUJOVIC: I am afraid that neither the Montenegrin government nor all forces of both the government and the opposition have the power to stop the open meddling of Serbia in the internal affairs of Montenegro. The resources put at disposal of the Serbian government, open media space in Montenegro, and the unwillingness of the Western partners to respond to such behavior so far indicate that Serbia will continue to exercise enormous influence on the political events in Montenegro. Moreover, this is not the problem of Montenegro alone. Serbia is using Serbs’ communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on Kosovo, as well as in Montenegro to destabilize these countries. It has tried to do a similar thing in Croatia and North Macedonia but with less success. Those three countries have become the hostages of the Serbian official politics, which is trying to use them as bargaining chips in its Kosovo issue. Likewise, Serbian politics in the Western Balkans is almost completely serving the interests of Russia. Serbian communities in the region, together with the Serbian Orthodox Church are becoming the tools of Russian politics toward the Western Balkans. Fragile institutions are tended to be undermined, as well as the shattered citizens’ trust in them. Sophisticated campaigns on social media are deepening already existing divisions, which incites conflicts among different national communities. Some types of frozen conflicts or their modified versions are tended to be reborn. When Serbia is not able to significantly advance on the European negotiating path, due to its strong ties with Russian and Chinese interests and its unwillingness to reach a consensus on Kosovo, it is trying to slow down or stop other countries on that path. The goal is to continue to portray Serbia as a leader in the Western Balkans. Such foreign policy of Serbia cannot be rectified without a stronger intervention of the United States above all, followed by the changed attitude of the EU and its key member states respectively. The Western Balkans cannot be stabilized if Serbia continues to implement such aggressive political intervention, i.e. meddling in the electoral and political processes in some neighboring countries.

West to help the constitution of the new parliamentary majority

DFC: Besides criticism that has been coming from the region, a strong reaction about the government’s work is coming from the Democratic front’s address. Their irrevocable stance, stated at the parliamentary majority meeting, is that the current Government is not working in the interests of the ZBCG coalition and that the government reshuffle is necessary. In what way do you see the future of the parliamentary majority?

Z. VUJOVIC: The Democratic Front has willfully chosen to become an instrument of Belgrade’s and Moscow’s politics. Therefore, their moves are to be analyzed from that angle. They have always been in accordance with President Vucic’s strategy, after all. Such Government has no future, and its functioning is pointless unless a coherent parliamentary majority is formed, which would support it. The word reshuffle can be frequently heard, as well as a new government or elections. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of creating a new hybrid majority that would make space for a particular executive power with a mandate to fulfill the conditions to close the accession negotiations. It would not have to mean that a new great coalition will be formed, and I would not rule out the possibility of forming some new or extended version of the technocratic government either, which will constitute of different parliamentary majority; different from today’s one for sure. I believe that now is the time for our Western partners – the United States, the EU, and Germany first of all – to help form a new parliamentary majority with over 3/5 or possibly 2/3 of seats in the Parliament, which would meet the conditions for the EU membership but also be awarded the membership, i.e. the closure of the negotiations. Montenegro needs success; the EU accession politics also needs success. An optimistic message needs to be sent to the Western Balkans. Montenegro and the EU can help each other. It would be the greatest defeat of the Serbian-Russian efforts aimed at destabilizing the region, and the award to the Montenegrin political parties both the government and the opposition for putting national interests before the parties’. I believe that the idea will be approved if it is endorsed by the EU, the United States, and Germany. Everything could happen during this parliament’s mandate.

Are the elections a way out of the crisis?

DFC: If a concrete agreement is not reached, new elections are a way out from the parliamentary crisis. What would that mean for political parties and who would benefit the most from the new elections?

Z. VUJOVIC: If elections were held, after all, their results would largely depend on the timeframe, which would influence the level of Serbia’s interference in the election process in Montenegro. Only by simultaneously holding parliamentary elections in Montenegro and presidential, municipal (in Belgrade) or possibly early parliamentary elections in Serbia, a sort of guarantee for lowered interference of Serbia in the Montenegrin elections would be provided. Vucic would then have to prioritize the Serbian elections, and he would not be able to mobilize resources as he did during the last parliamentary or local elections in Montenegro. The best option for Montenegro would be to improve electoral conditions through consensus, reform the electoral legislation, and, then, hold the elections at all levels in one day. That would make space and time for the next government to focus on real, social, and economic problems, while undisturbed by constant electoral processes at some of the levels.

The 33rd DFC Magazine issue brings an interview with Dr. Zlatko Vujovic, President of the Governing Board of the Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI). Disrupted diplomatic relations between Montenegro and Serbia, parliamentary majority crisis, and further perspective of Montenegro were the topics discussed by Vujovic. The new Magazine issue analyzes the unhidden attacks coming from Serbia on the address of Montenegro, that have been particularly intensified after the adoption of the Resolution on Srebrenica on June 17. We have also covered some of the main messages from this year’s NATO Summit held in Brussels on June 14, as well as the DFC Public opinion survey showing that the citizens of Montenegro trust media partially.

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Late last night the Parliament of Montenegro adopted the Draft Budget Law for the year 2021 ending the provisional financing that had been in force since the Government formation. This document, important as it is, has remained in the shadow of two important events for Montenegro – the adoption of the Resolution on Srebrenica and the dismissal of Minister of Justice Vladimir Leposavic for denying the genocide in Srebrenica.

The Parliament of Montenegro adopted the Draft Resolution on Srebrenica last night. As much as 55 MPs voted in favor of the Resolution, 19 voted against it, and 7 abstained. The Bosniak Party MP Ervin Ibrahimovic, who proposed the Resolution, says that the purpose of the Resolution is to bring about reconciliation among all nations in both Montenegro and the region and that by adopting this document, Montenegro proves to be the center of democracy in the region. The Mothers of Srebrenica association greeted the decision.

However, the adoption of the Draft Resolution on Srebrenica triggered a new wave of disinformation and narratives coming from numerous Serbia-based media, and pro-Serbian media in Montenegro as well. They started a campaign in an attempt to portray the Srebrenica Resolution as an act declaring the Serbian nation as genocidal. President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic and the MPs that voted in favor of the Resolution, including Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic were under the media firestorm.

Apart from the media, identical disinformation and narratives were spread by the politicians from both Serbia and Montenegro. Particularly vocal were the member of the main board of the Serbian Progressive Party Vladimir Djukanovic and the leader of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj. They requested that Prime Minister and the Government members be banned from entry into Serbia. President Aleksandar Vucic also commented on the last night’s events in the Parliament. In his opinion, the decisions passed by the Parliament of Montenegro are against Serbia’s interest, and he said that in the following days, he would decide how to act in response to them.

The MPs from the Democratic Front, who voted against the Resolution, believe that by adopting this document, the Serbs have been declared as genocidal.

The facts, however, clearly show this not to be the truth. The Resolution text clearly states the following: Any attempt to attribute responsibility or blame for the genocide, the crimes against humanity, and other crimes to Serbian, Bosniak, Croatian, or any other nation shall be condemned since only an individual can be held accountable, while no nation can be declared as genocidal or criminal.