The amount of information we are exposed to is staggering: in 2022 we receive 5 times more information than in 1986. Given that our attention span has been reduced to approximately 8 seconds, we bring you in short form the most significant (dis)information in the period behind us.

You can read the 10th issue of DFC Disinfo Brief via THIS LINK or by clicking on the photo below.

Disinfo Brief is a new DFC publication that provides a monthly overview of the key disinformation, narratives, and propaganda developments that the DFC team researched and debunked to raise awareness of the issue and its extent.

You can read the sixth issue via THIS LINK or by clicking on the photo below.

Disinfo Brief is a new DFC publication that provides a monthly overview of the key disinformation, narratives, and propaganda developments that the DFC team researched and debunked to raise awareness of the issue and its extent.

You can read the sixth issue via THIS LINK or by clicking on the photo below.

The current global crisis after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the importance of Montenegro’s NATO membership but has shed additional light on internal weaknesses that reflect political, national, and social fragmentation and the continued influx of foreign malign influence. There is no doubt that the war in Ukraine has deepened the polarization in Montenegrin society, and the fact that forces committed to Vladimir Putin’s policies are in power (albeit in a technical mandate) further complicates the current political and security issues.

Given the possible negative implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also all the implications of the extensive campaign against Montenegro from Russia and its key partner in the region of Serbia over the past few years, the possibility of further complicating political, security, economic and social opportunity in Montenegro cannot be ignored

In order to prevent malign influence and negative scenarios that have recently been hinted at by key Russian proxies in Montenegro, an urgent reaction of all democratic structures of society is needed, which base their political activism on European and Euro-Atlantic values and which certainly make up the majority. This would include several urgent moves by the majority in parliament formed after a no-confidence vote in Zdravko Krivokapic’s government, which would help stabilize the situation and create the preconditions for an institutional solution to Montenegro’s problems

The study Shadows of Ukraine over Montenegro offers an insight into the dynamics of Russian aggression against Ukraine, but also the implications for the Western Balkans region, with a focus on Montenegro, with a set of specific recommendations.

The Study can be found by clicking on this LINK.

As Russian bombs and cruise missiles rocked cities across Ukraine early Thursday morning, another front, that has been prepared for a long time, opened. The Internet itself quickly became a battlefield, with propaganda and disinformation that, as a smokescreen, served to blur the boundaries of reality.

A series of suspicious videos and claims, which were also broadcast by certain Montenegrin and regional media, appeared on social networks and Russian state media. The propaganda barrage aimed to justify and lay the grounds for a decision on the already planned invasion, and on the other hand to trivialize allegations from the West about Russia’s intentions.

As part of this strategy, Russian television began to actively promote information suggesting that a huge humanitarian crisis was taking place in eastern Ukraine, that residents were under heavy shelling of Ukraine, which ultimately served as an excuse for Moscow to attack.

Russian propaganda was soon influenced by certain countries, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, and then the entire European Union, which announced that it would ban Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik, which is an unprecedented move against the Kremlin’s media machinery.

The sanctions also include the main propagandists – Margarita Simonyan and the creator of the Saint Petersburg Internet Research Agency, now the famous troll factory, Yevgeny Prigozhin. On the other hand, Facebook prevented the Russian state media from monetizing content on Facebook and Instagram. YouTube blocked the Russian state media RT in Ukraine and suspended its ability to monetize its content on that platform globally.

Unlike the European Union and social networks, which are trying to mitigate the effects of Russian propaganda, it is flourishing in Montenegro. Through certain portals, TV stations, networks such as Telegram, information, that is precisely and consistently harmonized with Moscow’s views, is being spread.

Narratives on portals

The Digital Forensic Center (DFC) analyzed the deceptive narratives that most often originally came from Sputnik or RT, and which were widely spread by the Montenegrin media.

  • • The main and basic postulate of these media reporting on Russian aggression is that the word aggression or war is not mentioned. Pro-Russian media and their actors prefer the terms special military operation or crisis in Ukraine – treatment consistent with Russian state media;
  • • Another narrative strongly present in the Russian and pro-Russian media in Montenegro is the portrayal of Ukraine as a communist creation. Citing Putin’s words, the media put forward the thesis that Ukraine was completely created by Bolshevik Communist Russia. It is stated that Lenin and his associates did it most sloppily in relation to Russia, as Vučić accuses his predecessors of sloppiness regarding the loss of Montenegro;
  • • Emphasizing their own military strength in order to demoralize Ukrainians, emphasizing their losses or weaknesses, in order to make them aware that any resistance is in vain;
  • • Denazification and the Nazis – another narrative of the Russian media that presents Ukraine as a Nazi state. Putin claims to denazify Ukraine, whose president Zelensky comes from a Jewish family, by the way, and won 73% of the vote, while the far-right Svoboda party won 2.15% of the vote in Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary elections;
  • • The next narrative is that Russia is not invading, but waging a defensive war against NATO on its border;
  • • Ukrainians commit genocide against the Donbas population – for the past few days, Russian state media have insisted that Putin ordered troops to engage in a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine to prevent what the Russian leader called genocide of the Russian-speaking population by authorities in Kyiv. The issue of genocide was also mentioned several times during Putin’s extraordinary meeting of the Security Council on January 21 in Moscow. The issue also appeared extensively in state media bulletins, prompting separatist authorities to demand military and economic aid from the Kremlin in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as legal recognition that ensued. By accusing the Ukrainian government of the deadliest crime against humanity, the Kremlin is not only trying to portray Kyiv as the worst villain but is also abusing a term clearly defined in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide;
  • • A narrative that often appears is the thesis that the West, with its expansion to the East, pushed Ukraine into conflict;
  • • Denial of Ukrainian identity, i.e. identification with Russian.

Narratives on TV

As on portals, similar narratives are being spread in shows on certain TV stations with national frequencies, which are broadcast in Montenegro. The journalists of TV Prva in Montenegro do not use the terms war or Russian invasion but use the terms military operation of the Russian Army and military intervention. A parallel is being drawn with Kosovo, which has been at the forefront of the media and social networks in the Western Balkans since the recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk and the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The situation is similar on TV Adria, where the defense of Donbas is being propagated through a special military operation. The hypocrisy of NATO and the European Union in the context of non-compliance with the principles of international law is often emphasized.

The TV Happy program continuously broadcasts official Russian narratives about the Ukrainian identity as an inauthentic and artificial creation which, as is the case with all newly formed nations, has a certain kind of intolerance in its psychology towards those from whom it gained independence. During the guest appearances on the program of that television, one could hear the views that Ukraine never existed as a state, but that it is actually Malorussia (Russian area) and that as such it is a part of the Russian civilizational heritage. The problem of such a Ukraine, which became especially evident after 2014, when Ukraine became a NATO fist, is that the Little Russians (Malorusi – as Ukrainians are called) want a rift within Russian civilization. Therefore, the Russian aggression on Ukraine is legitimized as a fight against insurgents and neo-Nazis who do not respect international agreements and who have been committing genocide against the Russian people in Ukraine for eight years. Their attitude towards Russians and Russian politics is also characterized as an attitude that is worse than the Shqiptar attitude towards Serbia.

The West, above all the United States and NATO, has been portrayed as a factor that has played an active role in provoking the conflict in Ukraine because its expansion towards the East has caused Russia’s unrest, which was a red line that could not be crossed. The events in Ukraine are being simplified, and the war is being reduced to the level of a crisis. It is also pointed out that NATO left Ukraine stranded and that it is not ready to clash with a country that is a nuclear power. Since January last year, the broadcasting of TV Happy in Montenegro has been limited due to chauvinistic and misogynistic content promoted to Montenegrin citizens, which this television has constantly placed. However, such content is still available on YouTube.

Fake news aimed at affirmation

As Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared for the invasion this week and recognized the two separatist-claimed parts of Ukraine as independent and sovereign states, dubious videos and claims, which were also broadcast by certain Montenegrin and regional media appeared on social media and Russian state media.

  • • Planned evacuation

A striking example of such hybrid media activity is the video of Denis Pushilin, who is formally at the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, who called for an emergency evacuation on his Telegram channel on February 18, citing sudden Ukrainian aggression. However, unlike most other networks, Telegram keeps the metadata of the files, and they reveal that the video was created two days earlier, on February 16, which suggests that an emergency evacuation was planned in advance.

With this move, they planned and implemented the refugee crisis, placed people in camps in Russia, in order for the Russian state media to record them and presented them as evidence of the refugee crisis, continuing to spread narratives about the alleged genocide of Donbas. Moscow then used this and other reasons as part of its justification for the planned invasion of Ukraine.

This fake news was shared on the IN4S portal and then spread through Telegram channels.

  • • Staged saboteurs

On February 18, the fake news was published on the IN4S portal that, on the territory of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, representatives of the People’s Militia prevented saboteurs from trying to break through and blow up chlorine containers in the vicinity of Horlivka.

As it turned out, this is another edited video. What is it really about?

On February 18, the Telegram channel of the press service of the People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic published a video in which it is claimed that it shows a sabotage operation aimed at chlorine tanks. The description of the video claims that the saboteurs planned to blow up the chlorine tank on the territory of the wastewater treatment plant near the town of Horlivka, and the video was allegedly taken from an action camera owned by one of the saboteurs.

As published on the Telegram, the video preserved all the metadata that clearly indicates two things – first, that the video itself was made on February 8, and not 18, as claimed, and second, that the audio in the recording was modified, i.e. that another audio channel is inserted in addition to the original. A search of the name of that audio file leads to a YouTube video of the same name, from a military training ground in Finland, which shows numerous explosions. It was the audio of one of those explosions that was incorporated into the video from the Telegram channel, to add to the intensity of the alleged fire exchange.

In an attempt to create a casus belli for the Russian invasion, the separatists published false allegations, using a fake video on the saboteurs, claims that were then propagated in the Russian and pro-Russian media.

  • Fake Twitter accounts spread the news of the death of a CNN reporter

On Wednesday, February 23, a fake tweet from an account falsely presented as CNN announced the first American victim of the Ukrainian crisis.

The tweet – from the unverified, now suspended @CNNUKR account states: Thoughts and prayers with the family of activist Bernie Gores, who passed away this morning after a mine planted by Russian-backed separatists exploded.

The announcement was quite similar to another fake CNN tweet published in August when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. In that case, the unverified and suspended account of @CNNAfghan said in a tweet from August 16, 2021: The journalist of #CNN ‘Bernie Gores’ was executed in #Kabul by #Taliban soldiers.

In both cases, the tweets included a photo of the same man. It is a stolen photo of gamer Jordi Jordan, not a non-existent journalist Bernie Gors.

CNN confirmed in August that the account from Afghanistan was not theirs, while the @CNNUKR account was used in the information war, and was created in February, having only 129 followers. Twitter suspended the account immediately after the fake tweet on February 23.

This fake news was also published by IN4S, under the title: Virus of fake tweets of CNN in the middle of the Ukrainian-Russian crisis: The journalist passed away twice – in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

An analysis of the DFC shows how the Russian and pro-Russian media are actively fomenting current tensions by publishing fake or deceptive allegations of Ukrainian aggression and misleading narratives

Online space has become a key platform for political confrontation in Montenegro. Social networks especially enable political parties and activists to reach a large number of people in a short period of time. In addition to this facilitation, social networks, due to weak regulation, enable technical coordination. Technical coordination refers to the use of specific platform manipulation techniques that can be detected for artificially boosting or propagating a message or narrative on social networks.

Due to the turbulent socio-political situation caused by passing a no-confidence motion in the Government of Zdravko Krivokapić and the removal of Parliament spokesman Aleksa Bečić, as well as negotiations on forming a new government, the Digital Forensic Center analyzed Facebook pages of political parties that had significant activity in that period. During this analysis, the DFC focused on identifying coordinated inauthentic behavior on these pages that aims to promote certain policies and thus influence public opinion. Coordinated inauthentic behavior does not in itself include an assessment of the veracity of the content that is placed, but implies synchronized deceptive actions of several entities within Facebook. During the analysis, bot accounts and fake accounts were discovered, but also real accounts, where coordinated activities for the needs of certain political parties were noticed. Bot account networks are most often created during important socio-political events in a country, with the main goal of directing public opinion in the desired direction.

Fake accounts and political parties

Political parties used fake accounts to create fictitious personalities who support their policies and activities in order to make certain content as visible and popular as possible. Such user accounts provide support through interactions, comments, and content sharing. Although accounts that support certain political parties through interactions have not posted on their profiles, the DFC analysis found that these accounts are interconnected because they are friends with each other on Facebook, like each other’s comments, share mutual friends, and interest in the same pages. The analysis established that some of these bot accounts used photos generated by artificial intelligence as profile photos, but also photos of real people outside Montenegro.

A network of bot accounts was noticed on the official Facebook page of the Civic Movement URA, which left positive reactions and comments in a short period of time after a certain post on this page. It was noticed that almost all of them were created in the first two months of 2022 and were marked by Facebook as new accounts. Further analysis determined that these accounts use fake photos, that they do not have posts on their profiles, but also that they like identical pages. Profiles that stand out: Aleksa Mitrović, Dario Raković, Janko Matković, Goran Petrušić, Milan Nikolić, Maksim Miletić, Milić Vuković, Ognjen Kontić, are friends of each other and they all liked the same group of Facebook pages – Ta OLOŠ, Dnevne novine Dan, Portal Analitika, Kolektiv.me, Vijesti, CDM Portal, Information portal IN4S, RTCG. It is important to point out that the Facebook page Ta OLOŠ, which is followed by these profiles, is a meme page that targets all political parties and actors except the Civic Movement URA.

Somewhat more active are accounts Krsto Kukuličić, Irina Stamatović, Jasna Krivokapić, Josif Lalatović, Milić Vuković, Andrijana Ana Sekulić, whose profile photos can be found by simple Internet search, or are created through artificial intelligence, for instance on a website such as thispersondoesnotexist. The algorithm of that platform is trained on a huge set of data from real images, and then uses a type of neural network known as the generative adversarial network (GAN) to create new examples. The position of the eyes in all profile photos is identical and forms a straight line, which is another indicator that the photos were created via artificial intelligence.

Profile photos created via artificial intelligence (AI)

According to the same pattern as the previous ones, these profiles leave reactions to the posts of the Civic movement URA page and like the same pages. In addition to supporting the URA with their comments, these accounts often target the party’s political opponents. It is interesting that most fake and bot accounts that comment on and like the posts of the GP URA page, do not follow the page itself. These profiles are very active on the Facebook page of the Vijesti portal, leaving comments that either support the URA or attack all other political parties. They also like each other’s comments and thus increase visibility.

Comments of the bot accounts on Vijesti Facebook page on content related to GP URA

When it comes to Aleksa Bečić’s Democratic Montenegro (Demokratska Crna Gora), there are accounts on their Facebook page that are active in all posts, leaving reactions or comments, while they do not have posts on their own accounts. Another group of accounts was noticed on the Facebook posts of Democratic Montenegro, which is in charge of sharing content in certain Facebook groups or accounts. Thus, the accounts: Luka Popovic, Josephine Zemfeld Delacroix, and Natalija Vukcevic, exclusively share the contents of Democratic Montenegro on their profiles. Luka Popović further shares this content in the group Kupujem prodajem, which has 897 members, and the account of Zorica Ristic named Tekstopiosac in the group ZAJEDNO SMO JAČI (We are stronger together) numbers over 2,000 members, all with a view for these posts to reaching a larger number of Facebook users.

Some of the bot accounts that support Democratic Montenegro

Along with the page of Democratic Montenegro, the Facebook page of Marko Milačić and Prava Crna Gora (True Montenegro) also had significant activity in the analyzed period. Non-authentic accounts (i.e. fake and bot accounts) have not been detected on these pages. However, the largest number of interactions on the posts of those two pages came from people (accounts) who are not from Montenegro, but from Serbia and the Republic of Srpska.

Online antibodies and hate speech

We should not ignore the pages, groups, and accounts that are part of the propaganda network that openly promotes Zdravko Krivokapić, ministers close to him, as well as former spokesman of the Parliament Aleks Bečić and MP Marko Milačić. The network, which the DFC has written about on several occasions, has been particularly active in targeting members of the URA GP and the Socialist People’s Party (SNP). Also, those pages, groups, as well as fake profiles, actively called for protests.

Due to the current aggravation on the political scene, DFC also analyzed comments on social networks and portals that proved to be a testing ground for insults and hate speech addressed to certain politicians due to a no-confidence motion in the government of Zdravko Krivokapic and the removal of Aleksa Bečić. Representatives of the Crno na bijelo Coalition (Black and White coalition) were the most frequent targets of hate speech. Hate speech, which included insults on religious and national grounds, was particularly prevalent. All this was accompanied by threats and calls for physical confrontation.

This analysis offers evidence that there is a coordination of Facebook accounts whose activities create the illusion of greater support for political parties than it is the case, trying to influence the political opinion of citizens and create opinions according to their agenda. Therefore, this analysis aims to inform citizens and point out to them the negative activities on Facebook that may affect their choices and perception of socio-political events. Through its activities, the Digital Forensic Center will continue to work on raising citizens’ awareness of abuses and coordinated activities on the Internet in sensitive socio-political moments.

Novak Djokovic is officially No. 1 seed of the Australian Open, but whether it remains so will be known in the following days and no later than January 17th, when the tournament starts.

Meanwhile, the Australian court ruled in favor of Novak Djokovic on the 10th of January –annulling the decision about canceling visa as well as the request for deportation made by the Australian authorities. On the very same day, after having spent six days in an immigration detention hotel due to the revocation of a visa previously given on the basis of medical exemption and after having his team filed a complaint to that decision, he went out on the tennis court in Melbourne.

However, the decision is not final as the Australian minister for immigration has discretionary power to overturn the court decision. Furthermore, Djokovic’s travels during the quarantine are currently being re-examined due to his COVID-19 infection before his departure to Australia.

It is known that the population of Australia has been faced with strict epidemiological restrictions and frequent lock-downs of cities and countries. In that country, even 90% of adult citizens got vaccinated with the second dose. However, on the 6th of January, more than 70.000 new cases were registered.

To remind, the beginning of 2020 was labeled by drama and media pressure after Border authorities had revoked Djokovic’s visa at the airport of Melbourne. Not being vaccinated, Novak Djokovic had to fulfill certain conditions in order to enter Australia and participate in the tournament. The main condition was to get vaccinated or provide proof that he had recovered from COVID-19. Novak got the medical exemption based on having been recovered from COVID-19 infection, for which he was tested positive on the 16th December 2021. However, information appeared in media that in that period Djokovic participated at the panel titled Path of a Champion organized by his Foundation. During that time and on behalf of the Belgrade Tennis Association, Djokovic handed over cups and awards to the best young players of the season. On the 18th of December, Djokovic confessed having given the interview and photo shoot for French L’equippe while he was infected with COVID-19.

TWO INDEPENDENT BOARDS APPROVED THE MEDICAL EXEMPTION

On January 3rd, Novak Djokovic got a medical exemption for a vaccine against COVID-19 by two independent boards of the Tennis Australia and the Victorian State Government, thus fulfilling the condition for the possibility to participate in the tournament. In Australia, one can get a medical exemption for unvaccinated if it is based on the evidence of being previously recovered from COVID-19, having serious health issues, or being allergic to the vaccine.

ENORMOUS MEDIA ATTENTION

Visa revocation and request for the deportation of Novak Djokovic, then transfer to an immigration detention hotel caused huge attention primarily of Serbian but also regional and worldwide media, as well as sports ambassadors, fans, and to the same extent the opponents of the world’s first racket. The analysis showed that for the period from 3rd to 11th of January, when Djokovic announced that he had got the medical exemption and that he would participate in the tournament, there were over 460.000 posts with the keyword Novak Djokovic. The trend of daily publishing shows that the highest number of posts was during the 6th of January when Djokovic was kept at the airport in Melbourne and the 10th of January when a decision was awaited – the one that judge ruled in favor of Djokovic.

Serbian media coverage about Novak Djokovic would not be to that extent unexpected if it wasn’t abounded with sensationalist titles, narratives, disinformation, and fake news directed to the general public. That wouldn’t be much worrisome if those publications were not placed by very popular media in Serbia, the ones that are highly read in Montenegro.

Showcase of articles with keyword Nokak Djokovic for the period 3-11 January

SPORT PUSHED INTO THE BACKGROUND

In any case, by using his right not to get vaccinated, Novak Djokovic has contributed to being harassed and mistreated in many ways. It is questionable whether this will have a negative connotation for him and his career.

This whole case made the best worldwide tennis player a symbol of the anti-vaccination movement and started a new wave of conspiracy and other manipulations of information. Of course, in the Balkans, that wave easily gets nationalist and political connotation. The media contributes greatly to this by spreading untrusted information and biased reporting. Instead of being a solution to the problem, they are just making it worse. All events related to Novak Djokovic’s case showed an urgent need for media and digital literacy, especially in the Western Balkans.

THE NARRATIVE ABOUT THE ENDANGERMENT OF SERBS AT THE FOREFRONT

The narrative about the endangerment of the Serbian people, which has been dominant in Serbian media for the last few years, has once again been brought to the forefront. Serbian media are united over the thesis that Djokovic has been inflicted a huge injustice and that it represents an attack on the Serbian people, not even once having mentioned the vaccination obligatory for the entrance into Australia. Sensationalist headlines conveyed that border force officials were torturing Novak with an intent to break him down, that the lawyer of Australian authorities threatened him together with the Australian government which wanted to detain him.

Serbian tabloids targeted all those who dared to criticize Djokovic, and that is how Serbian media condemned Vlora Çitaku, who shared the post about Novak Djokovic followed by the quote All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others from the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. It was presented in media as an unseen insolence followed by comments that Çitaku compared Djokovic with an animal, more precisely – with pigs.

Right after the revocation of the visa, the media and members of Djokovic’s family placed the information that he had been arrested. However, it turned out to be fake news. Australian media claimed this not being true citing statements by members of the Australian Government and sources from the Tennis Australia. After that, Djokovic tweeted on his account a picture from the tennis court which confirmed that he was neither arrested nor detained, but that he was free to move around.

The events related to Novak Djokovic were covered almost in the same way by all media in Montenegro, but the pro-Serbian portals IN4S and Borba paid special attention to that case. Praising Djokovic’s achievements and criticizing Australian authorities, the reporting of those two portals did not differ much from the reporting of the Serbian tabloids.

As the days were passing by and the saga or drama (as it was presented in media) kept going on, the media were talking less about sport and Djokovic’s participation in the tournament and more about politics, endangerment of Serbian people, and vaccines. Sensationalism, biased reporting, and disinformation filled the columns of Serbian tabloids, as well as of certain media in Montenegro.

SOCIAL NETWORKS HYPERCHARGED

Novak Djokovic was the number one topic on social networks, as well. In the previous 14 days, he was mentioned 38,4 times on Twitter.

Djokovic was the main topic in the region as well. In the last two weeks, the best worldwide tennis player was mentioned 61,7 thousand times.

Novak Djokovic has definitely divided social network users by becoming the front face of the anti-vaccination movement and those against COVID-19 measures. On the other hand, Novak Djokovic was criticized for not being vaccinated, as well as for appearing in public without a mask after receiving a positive test to COVID-19.

Both regional and worldwide politicians deal with Djokovic’s case. It is interesting to mention the appearance of Nigel Farage, a former right-wing British and European parliamentarian and one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign. Farage stayed with Djokovic’s family in Belgrade, constantly supporting ‘the first worldwide racket’ by criticizing Australian authorities. It is interesting to mention that during the Brexit campaign, Farage praised Australia’s conservative approach for entering the country. In addition to that, one of the xenophobic messages that could be heard during the Brexit campaign is the threat of the arrival of millions of Turks, Albanians, Serbs, and Montenegrins.

Serbian politicians, led by the leader of the right-wing movement Dveri Boskov Obradovic, mostly supported Djokovic. Obradovic also assumed certain narratives from popular conspiracy theories saying that Djokovic is fighting against the deep state.

Djokovic’s case also brought new quarrels between the ambassador of Serbia – Marko Djuric, and the ambassador of Kosovo – Vlora Çitaku, to Washington. Djuric tried to literary interpret the quote from the Animal Farm posted by Çitaku, believing that it was a matter of dehumanization and hate speech addressed to the Serbs.

On the other hand, some people used the opportunity and made fun of the entire situation. Thus, one Twitter user assigned the American actor Steve Carell the role of an Australian Brigadier General named Moit Egadio, who as a sign of protest against the Australian government’s treatment of Novak, decided to resign.

Australian Brigadier General Moit Egadio resigned as a sign of protest due to the way his government treated the world’s first racket. You are a hero! It was written on the account dnevnik iz srema (Diary from Srem) followed by Steve Carell’s picture. That satirical post was shared in that context on other social networks as well.

However, many people understood literally that satirical post, and the fact that during the protest Novak Djokovic’s father sincerely thanked the imaginary General for supporting Novak, tells us how quickly the information spreads. It is another indicator of utterly low media and digital literacy degree in our region.

PROTESTS AS AN ACT OF SUPPORT

After the Melbourne case escalated, Novak Djokovic’s family invited people for mass gatherings not only in front of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia in protest against the actions of Australian authorities, but also worldwide gatherings. All gatherings in Belgrade were covered by the media, and the Djokovic family also organized press conferences.

In his speeches, Novak’s father Srdjan equals Novak to the Serbian people. They wanted to set him on his knees. Not only him, but our country as well. Our gorgeous country Serbia! We are the Serbs! We never attack, we just defend ourselves. Always, through the whole history. Now, the exact same thing does our pride, our Serb – said Srdjan Djokovic.

On the protests that were held in Belgrade from 6th to 9th January, which were attended by hundreds of citizens, the elder Djokovic spoke about the survival of Serbian people wondering why the Serbs as an old European nation with a long history deserved such treatment. He (Novak) will endure, as we endure because they bombed us, oppressed us and destroyed us – he said. In addressing to the crowd, Srdjan Djokovic also mentioned the issue of Kosovo and mother Russia.

He described Novak, who, as he said, didn’t want to be a part of that imperial world, as Spartacus of the new age and compared him with the Jesus Christ sacrifice. Being a part of fake news spreading that appeared on social networks, Srdjan Djokovic once mentioned that the Australian Brigadier General resigned in support of Novak Djokovic. Exclamations against Masons and black nobility could be heard at gatherings in Belgrade, and some anti-vaccine messages were sent as well. The Minister in the Government of the Republic of Serbia, Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, also attended one of the gatherings.

Protests in support of Novak Djokovic were held on January 7th in several Montenegrin cities – Niksic, Budva, and Berane. The common thing of such gatherings, apart from non-compliance with the prescribed epidemiological measures to keep the coronavirus under control, is that the protests were led by the high officials of those municipalities. Since 2018, the first worldwide tennis player has been awarded honorary citizenship of Budva city, while in September 2021 he was declared an honorary citizen of Niksic as well.

In Budva, the gathered citizens were addressed by the mayor Marko Carevic, who said that citizens of Budva were aware of the fact who Novak Djokovic was, adding that the actual reason why Australian authorities were afraid of him, was his faith in himself till the very end.

The mayor of Niksic, Marko Kovacevic, said at the gathering Everything happening to Novak Djokovic is unfair, but we are the nation that got used to being exposed to injustice – at the same time collectivizing the feeling of victimization. Apart from Kovacevic, the event was attended by a long-time member of the Democratic Front, the current Chairman of the EPCG Board of Directors – Milutin Djukanovic.

Words of support for the Serbian tennis player could be heard in Paris as well when the protest of about 18,000 anti-vaxxers against the implementation of vaccination passes, mandatory vaccination, and vaccination of children turned into protest for demanding freedom for Djokovic. Several day protests by Djokovic’ s fans were also held in Melbourne, where gathered people were sending anti-vaccine messages.

Local elections in Montenegro, held in three municipalities – Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica on December 5, 2021, were organized during the political and institutional crisis in the country. Disagreements between the greatest part of the parliamentary majority (the Democratic Front and the Socialist People’s Party) and the Government continued, and all attempts to reconstruct it were unsuccessful. The Democratic Front determined December 10 as a deadline for a new agreement between the constituents of the parliamentary majority and then proposed returning the mandate to the citizens and organizing new elections. In the same period, the opposition raised in Parliament the issue of trust in the Government, a move that has since been withdrawn from the parliamentary procedure. As the reconstruction has not taken place yet, Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic will continue to lead the executive branch of government in the coming period.

The rather perplexing situation on the Montenegrin political scene also had an impact on the local elections. Only after the end of the local elections did the Parliament elect a new Chair of the State Election Commission (the previous Chair of the SEC was dismissed by the parliamentary majority in June), which undoubtedly negatively affected the democratic character of the elections. Without the SEC Chair, any election appeal process is completely paralyzed. Also, due to disagreements within the parliamentary majority, certain non-governmental organizations in charge of monitoring the elections in Montenegro were not able to do so this time as well.

Although the local elections in Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica were held at an important political moment for Montenegro, the election campaign, as well as the election day itself passed quite peacefully and without tensions. Also, neither strong media campaign was initiated, nor a campaign on social networks. However, it should be emphasized that there was no visible foreign interference during these elections, which we witnessed during the parliamentary elections in 2020 and the local elections in Niksic in 2021.

Disinterest of the media from Serbia

While the elections in Niksic were marked to be of historical significance, the local elections in Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica were not characterized in a similar way either in the days before or after the elections. Moreover, the presence in the media and on social networks was much lower than in the case of the elections in Niksic, in March 2021. In the pre-election campaign in Niksic, the Serbian media were at the forefront. Headlines on portals often had a tendentious note, with frequent sensationalist posts, as well as fake news and disinformation. This time, neither the Serbian media nor the regular activists on social networks cared much.

According to data released by the Digital Forensic Center (DFC) on February 14 ahead of the local elections in Niksic, there were over 1,000 election-related announcements in just one week. For the sake of comparison, almost a month before the elections, the media, and users of social networks published over 1,000 announcements on a weekly basis. For the December 5 elections, a month before election day, about 200 announcements were made weekly.

As many as 1,000 announcements were reached just a week before the elections in Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica, including the election day. For the sake of comparison, a week before the elections in Niksic, there were over 4,000 announcements that were directly related to the elections. An important difference is in the fact that before and during the elections in Niksic, most announcements were from Serbia, while for the recent elections in the three mentioned municipalities, most information was from Montenegro, as shown by the graphs.

During the election day, the portals Alo, Novosti, and Srbija danas reported on irregularities, sensationally emphasizing that the irregular headquarters of the Democratic Party of Socialists in Mojkovac was broken, and that alleged new people from Mojkovac (novi Mojkovcani), ie DPS activists from Kolasin, voted in that town. These irregularities were not reported by the municipal election commission.

After the poll stations closed and after the announcement of the election results, the Serbian media reported in their characteristic, sensationalist manner. However, there weren’t many of them either. The analysis found that the Serbian media focused on the results of the elections in Mojkovac, emphasizing the historic victory of opposition political parties and Serbs in that municipality and the great overthrow of the DPS after 16 years.

In the pre-election campaign in Niksic, a special show titled Battle for Niksic was broadcast on TV Happy. Almost every week, the guests of the show were politicians and political activists from Serbia and Montenegro, who commented on the current events in Niksic, dominantly providing support to the Democratic Front. We will mention only a few: the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, one of the leaders of the Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic, and the member of the Democratic Front, Milutin Djukanovic. The shows featured content full of disinformation, fake news, and insults. In addition, certain media from Serbia had special columns dedicated to the elections in Niksic, which did not exist during the December local elections in Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica.

Why were there no battles for Cetinje, Mojkovac and Petnjica?

There are several reasons why the local elections in Cetinje, Mojkovac, and Petnjica are very different from the elections held in Niksic on March 14 this year. The first reason is the social ambiance. There was no euphoria that accompanied the Niksic elections, which was a product of the opposition’s election victory in the parliamentary elections and the protest of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). This time, the Serbian Orthodox Church stayed aside. Unlike the elections in Niksic, church dignitaries did not suggest to the citizens when to vote, which contributed to the reduction of tensions and propaganda.

The demographic structure of voters in the three municipalities should not be neglected either. The duel between the pro-Montenegrin and pro-Serbian blocs was only expressed in Mojkovac. The elections in that municipality were most often mentioned in the media from Serbia. However, due to the size of the municipality, these elections did not deserve enough attention from the regular propagandists, as it was the case with the elections in Niksic.

Focus on protests in Serbia and the issue of the Republic of Srpska

The absence of political interest of the top Serbian authorities and President Aleksandar Vucic in the local elections in three Montenegrin municipalities on December 5 can be understood in the context of the internal political and overall social environment in Serbia, as well as foreign pressures on local authorities.

Four months before the snap parliamentary elections held on the same day and regular presidential and Belgrade elections announced for April 2022, political leaders in Serbia have been facing challenges to their own policy. The adoption of two controversial laws on expropriation and referendum, in the shadow of the business activities of the metallurgical-mining corporation Rio Tinto, initiated mass protests of dissatisfied citizens at the end of November and, consequently, additionally engaged available state and party capacities.

This, unlike the elections in Niksic in March 2021, when, according to media reports, members of the Main Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Vladimir Mandic and Predrag Rajic provided logistical support to the Za buducnost Niksica (For the Future of Niksic) coalition, may explain the lack of such political activism before the elections on December 5, 2021. Serbian media reported that Mandic, who is also considered a man trusted by President Vucic, led the blockade breaking on Branko’s Bridge during the last protests in Belgrade on December 4.

Although the election campaign in Serbia has not yet officially begun, the issue of resource exploitation has become a major topic used by both the opposition and the current government to pursue political interests. The polarization of public opinion and opposition from the expert public (including Serbian academics and university professors) to current politics are the focus of the ruling SNS and its president, who are facing growing potential to weaken their political position in the upcoming elections. The application of repressive measures in the suppression of protests, which Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and the Minister in her Government Aleksandar Vulin called fascism, also contributes to that. On the other hand, President Aleksandar Vucic was personally engaged in solving the problem by visiting the locals in the areas planned for ore exploitation.

Another important point that contributed to the attention diversion from Montenegro is related to the concerns of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic regarding the issue of the Republic of Srpska in the context of imposing US sanctions against individuals who threaten peace and stability in the Western Balkans. With the introduction of such sanctions, the position of Milorad Dodik as Vucic’s spokesman and important player, who survives on the political scene thanks to secessionist rhetoric, could be significantly shaken. Vucic also stated during the recent meeting with Milorad Dodik in Belgrade that Serbia will oppose the sanctions and that it is necessary to have a dialogue.

Disinfo Brief is a new DFC publication that provides a monthly overview of the key disinformation, narratives, and propaganda developments that the DFC team researched and debunked to raise awareness of the issue and its extent.

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.

You can read the second issue via THIS LINK or by clicking on the photo below.