The Election Day in Niksic passed in a relatively peaceful atmosphere, even though during the weeks prior to March 14, these elections had been evaluated as historic. Several (minor) incidents were reported, such as a violent attempt of mail-in voting reported by the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI).

However, numerous pieces of disinformation and fake news published by the Serbia-based media, and posted on social media, marked the electoral processes. Fortunately, their predictions, from the riots in the streets in case the ruling power loses elections, power outages in the afternoon hours to President Milo Djukanovic’s plans to flee the country through Albania, turned out to be wrong.

At the same time, everyone who followed the coverage of Election Day via news portals and social media platforms had an impression that an atmosphere prior to potential conflicts prevailed in the town under the Trebjesa. After the closing of the polling station and the announcement of the election results, the supporters of the coalitions For the Future of Niksic and Peace is Our Nation gathered in large numbers. Minor incidents occurred then in front of the campaign headquarters of the coalition For the Future of Niksic and the COVID-19 measures were breached despite the calls from the leader of the coalition For the Future of Niksic Marko Kovacevic and President of the Parliament Aleksa Becic on their supporters to celebrate the victory at home.

As during the parliamentary elections in Montenegro in 2020, the Serbia-based media outlets led in covering the situation in Niksic, with their headlines frequently colored with sensationalism and tendentiousness. The identical narratives and predictions about the results of the Election Day prevailed as during the parliamentary elections. Following the same pattern, the goal was to create an image of Niksic as a place where unrest and chaos rule. While the news portal Glas javnosti had led in covering the parliamentary elections, the news portal Nacionalist led in covering the local elections.

The riots that never happened

The essential topic in the Serbia-based media was the narrative about the riots planned by the DPS. On Election Day, they wrote that the DPS activists are taking photos of the voters, threatening them not to vote for another political option, and as well as gathering 300 young male persons to organize riots at the polling station to override the political will of the voters. According to those texts, the DPS found support for causing the unrest in Budva. The news portal Nacionalist writes that Milo Djukanovic realized that it is getting beyond a joke now, so he is asking his friend Brano Micunovic to send a squadron of Komitas, thugs, and members of the Kavac clan from Budva to spark riots in Niksic. A similar narrative marked the parliamentary elections: (BREAKING NEWS) DPS prepared “special” scenario for tonight: All citizens should celebrate the victory at their homes!, when the news portal IN4S wrote about the DPS’s plan to organize groups that would set the flags of NATO, the EU, and Montenegro on fire.

The news portal Novosti writes that the members of the Special Anti-terrorist Unit were seen in the streets of Niksic with the intention to prevent the chaos announced by the DPS because of the alleged beating of its members. It also writes that large police forces continue to gather in front of the police station in Niksic, and that their colleagues from Zabljak are coming to help them, all with the goal to prevent potential riots. The news portal Informer republishes the same text with a tendentious headline: NIKCIS REACHING A BOILING POINT, THE NEXT FEW HOURS FILLED WITH DREAD, AS LONG AS THERE IS NO ERUPTION OF…! POLICE FROM ZABLJAK IS HERE, The DPS supporters driving around the headquarters of the coalition “For the Future of Niksic”!

More from the column #itneverhappened: Power outages, the escape of the President

Apart from the outbreak of riots and police presence on the streets, neither this time did the narratives achieve a level of originality higher than the one seen in the parliamentary elections. The news portal Nacionalist finds out that the DPS is planning to cut electricity to Niksic. According to their writing, the DPS soldiers, faced with certain defeat, got an assignment to create a diversion, immediately after the closing of the polling station, by disrupting the electric power system in order to prevent the local electoral commission from counting the ballots under normal conditions, which would mark their end. On the day of the parliamentary elections, the news portal Glas javnosti published that the disruption of the Internet and shutting down of opposition news portals including IN4S and Borba was planned around 6 p.m., which, as well as the power outages, never happened.

The press statement issued by the Police Administration calling on citizens not to go to the streets after the closing of the polling station and to respect the COVID-19 preventive measures was used by the news portal Nacionalist to spread panic under a headline: IT DOESN’T AUGUR WELL!  Montenegro’s police issued an emergency statement: Stay at home, GATHERINGS ARE PROHIBITED.

In the Serbia-based media, the closing of the polling station was rounded out by repeating the narrative that Milo Djukanovic was planning a spectacular escape from the country. The news portals Objektiv and Alo write that the chief of Djukanovic’s security was ordered to prepare an inconspicuous middle-class vehicle in which he will, in case that the political-security situation in Montenegro doesn’t develop in his favor, head toward Albania and, with the help of confidential people working at the Bozaj crossing border, secretly leave Montenegro’s territory the same night under cover of the darkness. During the parliamentary elections in 2020, the news portal Alo spread the same narrative on President Djukanovic’s leaving the country. The text then reported the lawyer Goran Petronijevic’s statement that Milo Djukanovic had helicopters awaiting him at three locations that are supposed to take him to Albania, should he suffer the defeat in the elections.

The persistent narrative about the DPS members leaving the party

The news portal Kurir publishes a piece of breaking news with a headline: LEFT FOR GOOD: Dusko Markovic left the DPS’ headquarters, A NEW PARTY IN THE CARDS? This news portal writes that, according to a well-informed source, the former Prime Minister of Montenegro left the DPS and started forming a new party, predicting that after the elections in Niksic, the first rift will open up within that party. Markovic quickly denied those allegations on his Twitter account. According to the news portal Nacionalist’s writing, Andrija Nikolic will join the Dusko Markovic’s faction, because he does not want to put up with the mobbing and the pressure from boss Milo any longer.

In its inappropriate content, the news portal Alo assures that Markovic and Nikolic are not the only ones who are leaving the DPS: THE ANARCHY WITHIN THE DPS Milo’s loyal servant first hit the bottle and then turned his back on him! According to this news portal’s writing, knowing that the DPS will be defeated, Milutin Simovic, in accordance with the old-age traditional custom, turned to the grape rakia in the most difficult times, entering into the state of severe intoxication, to reduce his fear and stress. The narrative on the DPS’s losing the elections circumvented not even the Election Day, which was portrayed by the news portal Glas javnosti under the headline: THE FIASCO AROUND THE CORNER: Sanja Damjanovic burst into tears when she realized that she’s LOOSING!

Fake news and false surveys

One of the first fake news to appear on social media platforms during the Election Day in Niksic was that Niksic-based singer-songwriter Miladin Sobic called on the citizens of Niksic to vote against the Democratic Party of Socialists. The allegations were denied on Sobic’s official Facebook page.

False public opinion surveys also circulated during the election campaign, circumventing not even Election Day. A survey allegedly conducted by the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMi) on the exit poll results, according to which the coalitions For the Future of Niksic and Peace is our Nation are well ahead, circulated on social media. The CeMI told the fact-checker portal Raskrinkavanje.me that Montenegro prohibits the exit polls. The CeMI has never conducted them, thus neither at these elections. Those are just disinformation that we should pay no attention to. The CeMI will announce the election result forecast, once the polls have closed, and NOT based on the exit polls, but rather on another methodology, i.e., the method of the parallel vote tabulation that we always employ in the election monitoring, they stated.

Soon after the video showing vote-buying and selling of ID cards in the coffee bar Arkade appeared on social media platforms, it was shared by the media outlets. The video was published by the tabloid Alo under a headline: SCANDAL SHAKES NIKSIC Police are guarding the coffee bar where Djukanovic’s men are buying the votes; citizens were threatened with arrest!, explaining that more than 15 persons had been seen in one place. The texts republished the words of Milan Knezevic that the police was called, but they have not done anything about it. A bit later on, the news portal Novosti recycled the text providing some new information and shared another video claiming that during the search of the coffee bar Arkade, ten DPS’ activists had been found buying the votes. Sometime later, the Police Administration stated that there was no vote-buying in the coffee bar Arkade, which is registered as the DPS’ headquarters.

The incident in Dragova Luka at polling station No. 118

The Municipal Board of the Democratic Party of Socialists in Niksic stated that Marko Kovacevic violently entered the polling station No.118 in the neighborhood Dragova Luka, which was followed by taking of the voting material, preventing of the electoral commission to come on-site, and beating of one person. The Police Administration stated that they came to the polling station and determined that the information about the beaten person was false.

The news portal Nacionalist closed the Election Day coverage with the headline: MILO IS TRAMPLING ON THE CONSTITUTION: He is imposing police curfew in Niksic! (PHOTO). The text attached the screenshot of a Viber message in which the person under the name MILO THE BOSS says the following: Get ready for tonight I’m ordering police curfew in Niksic.

As during the parliamentary elections, none of the projected scenarios including the power outages, the escape to Albania, and the declaration of police curfew, occurred in Niksic. While there was certainly no lack of tensions in the headlines and the media coverage, Election Day in Niksic passed relatively peacefully.

The Digital Forensic Center recalls that a quality fight against disinformation and fake news requires the education of the citizens and the strengthening of media literacy in Montenegro and all the countries in the region. Fake news travel six times faster than the truthful information on social media, which serve as evidence of how much the fight against this phenomenon is difficult. The only possible solution is the joint fight of media, the competent authorities, and organizations against fake news.

Local parliament elections in Niksic scheduled for March 2021, have undoubtedly drawn a great deal of attention not only in Montenegro but in the region as well. Therefore, the DFC carried out the analysis of the election atmosphere in Niksic that covers the political situation ahead of the elections, an overview of the media coverage of this topic, and the activities on the social media platform Facebook.

The analysis indicates and proves why the political situation in Montenegro is quite complex. The election campaign, pretty intensive from the very beginning, is followed by a tough political fight, tensions, incidents, as well as disinformation, and narratives. The Serbian Orthodox Church has been an active participant in the local elections in Niksic, as it was in the parliamentary elections. This religious organization’s priests called on the citizens to change the government in Niksic, to confirm the freedom obtained through blood and lives. It is also evident that the political parties have been fighting among themselves to win the SPC’s support.

During the last parliamentary elections, foreign meddling in the electoral processes in Montenegro, the spread of disinformation and propaganda was mainly coming from Serbia. The same scenario is seen in local elections in Niksic. Moreover, the influence coming from Serbia is more intense compared to the August parliamentary elections. Besides obvious propaganda and disinformation coming from the Serbia-based media, this country’s political activists have been also visible.

The DFC monitoring of the Serbia-based and Montenegro-based media coverage of the elections in Niksic in the period from February 1 to 28, 2021, shows that the upcoming elections in this town surpass the significance that the local elections usually have. For the purposes of this research, five news portals from both Montenegro (Borba, CdM, IN4S, Pobjeda, and Vijesti) and Serbia (Alo, Nacionalist, Novosti, Republika, and Srbin.info) were taken in this analysis.

The pro-Montenegrin media camp spreads the narrative that Serbia is meddling in Niksic elections by providing financial and logistic help, as well as by sending its people to help the pro-Serbian opposition parties in that town. In the texts from those media, the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party are frequently accused of implementing such activities. Additionally, it is concluded that if the DPS or another pro-Montenegrin party does not win the elections in Niksic, the project of the Serb’s world creation will start.

Elections in Niksic are one of the main topics in the Serbia-based media. Certain media outlets introduced special shows/columns dedicated to the upcoming elections. Since the beginning of February, TV Happy has been broadcasting the serial Battle for Niksic. The news portal and daily Novosti – that according to the research of the Council for Strategic Policy from Belgrade had the highest number of fake news published on its covers in 2020 – launched a column Elections in MNE. The column of the same name was also launched by the tabloid Alo. The content that these editorial offices launch is frequently insulting, full of disinformation and narratives. The Democratic Party of Socialists and President Milo Djukanovic are most often targeted by these news portals, which claim that they are facing a definite defeat in Niksic. The Serbia-based media strongly support the coalition For the Future of Niksic (Za budućnost Nikšića), gathered around the Democratic Front. The press releases of this coalition are being integrally published, with the unavoidable emphasis on their indisputable electoral victory. Besides the DPS and Djukanovic, a frequent target of the Serbia-based media is the leader of the People’s Movement Miodrag Daka Davidovic, as well as Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic.

The monitoring of Facebook, as the most present social media in Montenegro, revealed the coordinated activity ahead of the local elections in Niksic. We detected 292 coordinated activities (time, narrative, and content coordination) from 15 Facebook pages with 305, 000 likes in total. During the monitored period, from February 1 to 28, 2021, these activities resulted in 1, 060 posts. The discovered network of Facebook pages frequently shared content of certain media, political parties, and political activists close to them in a coordinated manner. The most active Facebook pages were Никшић Пoнoсни Српски град, Црна Гора и Република Српска, Црна Гора – Српска Спарта, and Srpska CRNA GORA. These Facebook pages mostly promoted and synchronously shared content from the media outlets IN4S, Borba, Nacionalist, and Srpske novine. The admins of the monitored Facebook pages are coming from whether Montenegro, Serbia, or Germany. The content posted on the analyzed Facebook pages showed their clear bias toward the opposition political parties in Niksic, calling on the citizens to vote for them.  That way, the illusion of stronger support than in reality is created, which additionally influences the choice of the electors.

The Digital Forensic Center has been trying for some time to build the understanding of the citizens by raising awareness to the current internet phenomena and pointing out to increasingly present problems of hate speech, finger-pointing without any proof, the spread of disinformation, and other negative implications of the modern digital era. In order to fulfill this goal, this analysis was created with the following recommendations:

  • Prompt and decisive combat against malign foreign influence in the election processes in Montenegro;
  • Better coordination of the state authorities in the suppression of malign foreign influence in the election processes in Montenegro;
  • Establishing cooperation on all social levels in the fight against disinformation campaigns online, especially ahead of the significant social and political events
  • Establishing cooperation on all social levels in order to create and implement campaigns to raise public awareness of the misuse and coordinated activities on the internet and the social media platforms;
  • Establishing cooperation on all social levels in order to organize specialized workshops for journalists, with a goal to strengthening their capacities in the fight against negative digital phenomena;
  • Better cooperation of civil sector and state authorities, which would additionally provide the regularity of the election processes;
  • Greater role of the civil sector and state authorities in developing a democratic and political culture in order to reduce social and political intolerance that may cause incidents;
  • Responsibility of the highest state authorities in order to prevent the election corruption;
  • Establishing cooperation on all social levels to organize workshops and courses of training for the citizens in order to raise awareness and enhance resilience to fake news and disinformation;
  • Transparent work of the state authorities in regulating the election processes.

Click here to download the PDF version of the research.

Besides changing social, political and economic situation, the global health crisis, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, gave power to social media to reshape and create the perception of reality. In the time when the knowledge is reduced to a level of critically unprocessed information, together with communication and social interaction being moved to social media due to the global isolation measures, the reach and the consequences of disinformation are accentuated and the issues of social immunity to the infodemic wave that splashed the world soil is (again) on the agenda.

Fighting on two battlefields – medicine and disinformation, has been additionally complicated by the development of the vaccine that left room for further populistic narratives and manipulations in order to favor a particular pharmaceutical company, or country of origin.

On the other hand, the regional media, dominantly Serbia-based, launched a lot of pseudo-science content in the last months, which they used in order to compromise the credibility and trust of the public in the work of health authorities.

Fake news about the death of Dr. Topcic

On January 27, Facebook account Marina Knezevic posted that Dr. Blazenka Topic, Director of the Medical Center in Drnis, died soon after having received the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Blazenka Topic personally confirmed for the Croatian fact-check news portal Faktograf that this was a piece of fake news. The colleagues from Raskrinkavanje analyzed the same issue. Faktograf published that they had received the response from the Sibenik hospital that it was not possible to provide a detailed answer on why Dr. Topcic had come to the hospital in the first place, because of data protection and Act on the Protection of Patients’ Rights. This way, we can deny the untrue claims stated in the post, which refer to the vaccine and side effects that we have no knowledge of, they responded.

Démenti from the University of Oxford on the death of a volunteer

The development of the AstraZeneca Company’s vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford was accompanied by some speculations. The suspicious were related to its effectiveness and that it is not sufficiently safe for usage. Allegedly, it was concluded that it caused serious side effects (hospitalization or death). In the previous period, the Serbia-based news portals wrote about death of a volunteer from Brazil who was vaccinated in the third phase of the clinical trial, using sensationalistic headlines in their texts. Here are a couple of examples: THIS IS WHAT AWAITS US: A volunteer who was vaccinated against COVID-19 died (Srbin.info); WORLD IS SHOCKED! Volunteer died after receiving the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine! (Pravda); BRITISH VACCINE IS DEADLY! A volunteer who took part in a testing of the COVID-19 vaccine died! Here’s what the authorities say (Kurir). Soon after the news had become viral, the reaction from the University of Oxford followed, which denied that the volunteer died due to the vaccine consequences.

Claims that the Western vaccines affect sterility and sexual orientation

One of last misleading claims on the vaccine, that even the political elite of the Western Balkans did not remain immune to, refers to the claim that the Western vaccines cause infertility. Therefore, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik said that he does not believe in the commercial stories from the West, as he is afraid that they would affect the population sterility, and that the Republic of Srpska will supply the vaccines only from Russia. Dr. Ana Gligic, a famous virologist from Serbia, said that there was no risk for reproductive and overall health of those vaccinated with the Western vaccines.

The news portal Srbin.info republished a theory of a rabbi Daniel Asor that the COVID-19 vaccines turn people into homosexuals. Asor adds that the whole global vaccination is a creation of the global malicious government trying to establish the new world order, which is a well-known conspiracy theory. Even though there is no proof for his claim, it also completely opposes the statements of the leading rabbis who invited believers to get vaccinated.

Despite infodemic, vaccination supporters are growing in Montenegro

The flood of disinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus and vaccines, which resulted in the spreading of fear, emphasized the importance of trust in the work of institutions and necessity to provide constantly reliable information about vaccines. That way, the negative effects of numerous conspiracy theories and disinformation about vaccines would be reduced, and the responsibility of a society to identify and analyze harmful narratives would develop. In this context, a piece of research of the international NGO Globsec is indicative. According to the research, Montenegro is the first among the Western Balkans countries, and Central and Eastern Europe in the number of citizens believing in conspiracy theories (four out of ten citizens).

What do the experts say?

At the meeting of the Minister Jelena Borovinic Bojovic and Emanuel Salinas, the World Bank Country Manager for Montenegro, which took place on January 21, the Minister assessed that the current situation is at the same time the warning and the guideline for the further development of the health policy, especially for the cases demanding systematic approach and organization. She added that the response in the form of vaccination to the current health crisis caused by the coronavirus is the absolute priority. In that sense, the results of the Ipsos research from December 2020 pointing out to the fact that one in two citizens in Montenegro (42%) would get vaccinated with one of the available vaccines are encouraging. Also, the number of those doubting the vaccine has significantly lowered (from 22% to 17%).

Great Britain is the first country in the world that approved a vaccine against COVID-19 on December 2, 2020. Among the companies that have been working for almost half a year now on vaccine development, the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech is paving the way for mass vaccination.

However, given the amount of disinformation and conspiracy theories spread about coronavirus during 2020, one could have expected that the distribution of vaccines and the vaccination would be accompanied by misleading content. Even though, generally speaking, the anti-vaccines campaign (primarily regarding immunization of children) has been present for several years now and is being persistent both in the world and in the Western Balkan region.

BBC recently wrote about conspiracy theories and misleading information that followed after the first persons received the vaccine against COVID-19. Social media saw the sharing of videos and posts claiming that the very vaccination process has been staged and that fake syringes with disappearing needles are being used in an attempt to promote a vaccine that doesn’t exist. However, according to BBC, they were not fake but safety syringes that protect medical staff and patients from injuries and infection, and that have been in widespread use for over a decade.

Another video claimed that the Australian politician was posing with a syringe next to her arm, the needle covered with a safety cap, which was supposed to indicate that her Covid-19 vaccination had been faked. But in reality, it showed Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk posing for the cameras after receiving a flu vaccine in April 2020. One Facebook post claimed that a nurse in Alabama died after having received the vaccine against COVID-19. The information was soon denied by the department of public health, which contacted all vaccine-administering hospitals in the state.

As the first people in Great Britain received the vaccine, a 30-minute video entitled Ask The Expert went live and was posted on the internet. The BBC states that the video consists of a host of false and unsubstantiated claims about the pandemic, which itself was described as the greatest hoax in history. One of the claims was that the pharmaceutical industry has been given permission to skip the animal trials, which means that humans will be the guinea pigs. BBC states in the article that the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines have all been tested in animals as well as thousands of people before they could be considered for licensing.

The Western Balkans a fertile ground for similar theories

The Western Balkan region, Serbia and Montenegro in particular, where Montenegro has been recently recognized as the country whose citizens are the most susceptible to conspiracy theories and manipulated content online, welcomed with open arms new theories about vaccines. Besides sharing content such as fake vaccination of Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk or Ask The Expert video, the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers created their own content with the same message about public figures from the region who received the vaccine.

Video-snimak Pitaj stručnjaka (Ask The Expert) u kome se iznose pogrešnje tvrdnje o pandemiji korona virusa

The first who received the vaccine in the Western Balkans was Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Barnabić (simultaneously the first Prime Minister in Europe to receive the vaccine), Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy Darija Kisić-Tepavčević, and Crisis Staff member Dr. Predrag Kon. The same day, the IN studio Facebook page posted two videos claiming that the Prime Minister’s and the Minister’s vaccinations were faked. Besides, they claimed that before vaccination both of them signed the agreement that no one would be held liable in case of death or other side effects of Pfizer’s vaccine. The videos cumulatively generated almost 2,000 interactions and around 2,500 shares.

Two days after this post, a video was posted on a Facebook page LME 2.0, claiming that Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was falsely vaccinated since there is no needle, referring to the theory of a disappearing needle. The video was shared 971 times, has more than 580 interactions and the page amounts to more than 20,000 followers. Fake vaccination posts did not end on Facebook but were also spread on Twitter. Some of them have a couple of hundreds of likes and dozens of retweets.

Altered DNA and microchip claims

At the beginning of December last year, BBC in Serbian wrote about numerous theories and claims about the COVID-19 vaccine that appeared on the Internet. In some articles, it is emphasized that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology has never been tested or approved before, and it would alter human DNA. Professor Jeffrey Almond from the Oxford University, one of the three independent scientists that BBC contacted, said that injecting RNA into a person doesn’t do anything to the DNA of a human cell.

During 2020, Bill Gates and his Foundation were targeted by numerous conspiracy theorists who found a connection between him, coronavirus, and vaccines. In the same text, BBC states that the rumors appeared in March last year when Gates stated in one interview that eventually we will have some sort of digital certificates, which will confirm who has been recovered, tested, and vaccinated. Even though he did not mention microchips, theorists are referring to a study, financed by Gates Foundation, about technology that may store data on someone’s vaccination into special ink, inserted during the injection. Ana Jaklenec, a scientist who worked on that study, says that this technology is not a microchip; it is more like an invisible tattoo. It has not been rolled out yet, would not allow people to be tracked and personal information would not be entered into a database.

Another theory is that the vaccine contains the lung tissue of a fetus. Even though Michael Head from the University of Southampton, along with the others, denied that the fetus cells are being used in the vaccination process, this did not prevent conspiracy theorists from continuing to spread disinformation on social media.

Social media response

Since the COVID-19 vaccine was recently approved, Facebook stated on December 18, 2020, that it would allow the ads highlighting the efficiency of the vaccine and promoting safe access to it. As they stated, they would continue to remove the content trying to exploit the pandemic for commercial gain. Also, they would ban the ads or organic posts promoting vaccine sale.

On the other hand, Twitter says that the company is still working on its policy and plans as the medically approved vaccine appeared. Since 2018, the company has been warning its users to contact the official institutions.

In October, YouTube updated its policy of removal of videos containing disinformation on the COVID-19 vaccines, including all claims that go against the general consensus of health workers or the WHO. TikTok, a new network, very popular among the young, stated that they would remove disinformation about coronavirus and vaccines, including anti-vaccination content, through the users reporting the inappropriate content.

First vaccines in Montenegro at the end of January

The first vaccines in Montenegro are expected at the end of January, said the Minister of Health Jelena Borovinic-Bojovic during the emergency press conference on December 30, 2020. She did not specify which vaccine would it be and in which quantity but she reminded that Montenegro signed the COVAX mechanism for vaccine supply earlier, which is recommended by the World Health Organization.

We continue to follow whether the media and internet environment in Montenegro will be active in spreading misleading content and disinformation prior to and during vaccination and whether the local conspiracy theorists would create new content or republish the familiar one and adapt it for the local consumers.

The study Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them was published on December 3 on the website of the European Parliament. The authors analyzed the events and disinformation in the Western Balkans in the period from 2018 through 2020.

The independent experts conducted this study for the needs of the Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, analyzing the information environment in the six Western Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia. The Digital Forensic Center (DFC) analyzed the stated observations about Montenegro. It was noticed that the study contained a lot of imprecise information, one-sided conclusions, and incorrect data in the part concerning Montenegro, which may blur the image and understanding of the information environment in our country.

Therefore, the DFC contacted the Delegation of the European Union in Montenegro in order to demand clarification of the parts presented in the study. We received an answer that they did not take part in the study and that we should contact the European Parliament. Subsequently, the DFC contacted the European Parliament which directed us to the academic coordinator of the study. His response was that the study represented an academic product, which did not represent the official position of the European Parliament. However, this certainly does not mitigate the fact that the study contained particular oversights.

Taking into consideration that particular Montenegrin media republished the original report from the European Parliament’s website, and therefore, the expert and lay audience were presented with a false image of our country, the DFC analyzed the debatable key parts of the study for the purpose of the objective informing.

Debatable items in the study:

  • Information taken from the stated reference is put into a different context
  • Some information has been presented out of the stated period from 2018 through 2020
  • Večernje Novosti and Kurir are presented as Montenegro-based media
  • The news portal Danas portrayed as media that supports the ZBCG coalition
  • Facebook is not particularly popular in Montenegro
  • The Government of Montenegro publicly leaked the identities of the country’s first confirmed coronavirus cases
  • Most disinformation in Montenegro remains domestic
  • Even in the heat of the election, most of the disinformation appeared to focus on other issues, most prominently – COVID-19

False data on media and Facebook popularity

Within one of the sub-chapters of Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans, in a part referring to Montenegro, it is stated that Vecernje Novosti and Kurir were Montenegrin media which is false since they are Belgrade-based news portals and editorial offices.

Equally, it is stated that the news portal Danas, also from Serbia, supported the coalition For the Future of Montenegro (ZBCG). Based on the DFC’s analysis and monitoring, the news portal Danas is recognized as an independent media outlet whose reporting was not supporting any political option during and after the last elections in Montenegro. Additionally, the DFC contacted the editorial office of Danas and we received a confirmation that the information given in the study was false.

On the other hand, it is interesting that the analysis of disinformation in Montenegro did not mention Borba or IN4S, the pro-Serbian media, known for spreading misleading content.

One of the conclusions of the study is that the media from Serbia generally supported the ZBCG coalition. Since the period of the analysis is not completely precise, and the English language manuscript was completed on November 19, 2020, that claim is partially true. The Serbian media indeed promoted the ZBCG coalition in the pre-election period, but that narrative has changed soon after the election outcome. Even though the key figures of the coalition, Milan Knezevic and Andrija Mandic are still supported by the media from Serbia, the leader of the coalition Zdravko Krivokapic is frequently targeted by these news portals and tabloids, which the DFC already addressed in one of its analyses.

The study also emphasizes that Facebook is not particularly popular in Montenegro. However, the data of the DFC prove the contrary. The number of people that can be reached with Facebook adds amounts to 400,000 for December of this year. Given the fact that Montenegro has around 630,000 citizens, this datum indicates a significant Facebook activity.

Actors of the former government put in a wrong context

The study reads that the President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic poured further disinformation into the uproar around the coup attempt affair in 2016, and therefore contributed that the opposition leaders Milan Knezevic and Andrija Mandic, without corroborated evidence, be added to the list of prosecuted co-conspirators (author’s comment: the process is not finalized yet, the decision of the Appellate Court is waited upon). As a reference for this claim, the analysis entitled Hanging by a Thread: Russia’s Strategy of Destabilization in Montenegro published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute was given in the study. However, insight into the abovementioned analysis led us to a conclusion that nowhere was it mentioned that President Djukanovic was spreading disinformation in the context of the coup attempt in 2016 nor this analysis addressed his alleged contribution to the prosecution of Knezevic and Mandic.

The study also reads that the Government of Montenegro leaked the identities of the country’s first confirmed coronavirus cases in March 2020. The article from the news portal Balkan Insight that is given as a reference points out that the infected patients’ identities were revealed by social media users and not the Government of Montenegro itself.

Even though the authors of the study stated that Montenegro was the subject of significant external disinformation activity (coup attempt in 2016, NATO accession in 2017, and elections in 2020 to a lesser extent), they maintain the position that most disinformation remains domestic, and has been an important tool in internal political competition. However, given the popularity of the Serbian media in Montenegro – the media recognized for spreading tendentious content and disinformation – it is evident that a large number of such content is foreign.

About 2020 elections – superficially

The study also addressed the August parliamentary elections in Montenegro, but an insufficient quantity of information about the period is also visible. Insufficient data available on Montenegro, as they stated, prevented them from providing a more detailed analysis of the elections, even though the DFC conducted a large number of analyses and much research on the topic.  

It is not logical that the authors of the study stated that they could not use the stated open-source tools in the case of Montenegro, since the DFC used precisely the same tool, besides others, to monitor the elections and analyze both Facebook and the media scene. The tools were used to measure the activity increase of the pages and groups of the political parties which took part in the parliamentary elections, as well as the amount of money they spent on Facebook ads.

In the context of the elections, the study presented disinformation about disappearing ink pens, which was debunked by Raskrinkavanje.me. However, the disinformation was taken out of the real context. The message circulating on Facebook was not designed to suppress turnout by scaring away voters, as stated in the study. The message warned the citizens about the very existence of the pens and the possibility of their votes being altered, but with the advice to carry pens with themselves so that the alterations would not occur. The fact is that the media, politicians, and activists were encouraging citizens to vote, this year even more than during the previous election cycles, with one of the leading narratives that this year’s elections were the fight for the existence of the country.

The conclusion of the authors that the issue such as the COVID-19 pandemic remained in the focus of disinformation during the August elections is also false. Since mid-August, the DFC ran a blog dedicated to elections, which shows that disinformation around coronavirus was not largely present at that time. Additionally, the analyses of Serbia and Montenegro-based media reporting during the August elections, conducted by the DFC, showed that the main topics in the articles were: elections, crime and corruption, defending shrines, and tourism.

Additionally, the authors of the study stated that mapping disinformation in Montenegro with any accuracy is unusually difficult, especially because the literature was extremely thin. However, the Digital Forensic Center, whose analyses were enlisted in the references of the study, but superficially presented, has an extensive range of analyses, texts, and infographics which represent the quality literature for the research of information and disinformation environment in Montenegro.

The Digital Forensic Center believes that the lack of complete information in the study Mapping Fake News and Disinformation in the Western Balkans and Identifying Ways to Effectively Counter Them creates a wrong image of the information and disinformation environment in Montenegro. The insufficiently analyzed political and social situation in Montenegro leads to a general impression that the authors are not familiar with the events in our country.

The session of the Parliament of Montenegro on the appointment of the new Prime Minister and members of the 42nd Parliament started yesterday, on December 2, and the discussion was tainted by criticism mainly of both the government and the opposition.

Typical of the Serbian media reporting is their focusing on the presence of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic at the session, which was covered by sensationalist headlines: SHOCK IN PODGORICA Krivokapic reads the exposition, Milo is gaping in the first row!; DISPUTES WITH MILO’S PEOPLE: Here’s what the DPS supporters jeered at Krivokapic; „NOT OUR GOVERNMENT“ Chaos in Podgorica, Milo brought women outside Zdravko’s window, they are bawling out! (VIDEO). Besides, the news portal Pravda states that everything is in complete disarray because Montenegro does not still have a Government.

By the way, the session was previously scheduled for November 24, but because of the suspicions that the new ruling majority intended to appoint the new Government on the anniversary of the abolition of Montenegro’s independence in 1918 – it was postponed. The Serbian news portals presented the reason for the postponement with sensationalist headlines: MILO FOUND A LOOPHOLE IN THE CALENDAR, the DPS has a way to stay in power (Alo), KOMITAS AND MILO SET THE DATE: Due to the pressure of the Montenegrin nationalists the appointment of the new Government postponed for December 2 (Novosti).

Even the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to declare the Ambassador of Serbia to Montenegro Vladimir Bozovic persona non grata gave rise to a new narrative. The news portal Nacionalist published a statement of Vladislav Jovanovic, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in which he claimed that the expulsion of Ambassador Bozovic was a tendency of the outgoing regime to complicate the situation to the new Government in order to have ground for their possible come back in future.

Criticizing the Prime Minister-designate

Contrary to the election reporting that praised the holder of the list For the Future of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic, the Serbian media rhetoric has changed after the elections with him targeted by many news portals. Therefore, the Informer tabloid writes that the technocratic government of Milo Djukanovic continues to apprehend priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro, emphasizing that Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapic approved the apprehensions at first, while the leader of the It’s in Black and White coalition Dritan Abazovic did not comment on that. Informer presented the event as an ongoing tremendous pressure on Serbs and the persecution of the SPC. Even the news portal Srbija danas criticized Krivokapic and stated that the Prime Minister-designate had double standards because he condemned the threat to Abazovic, but did not react when the assassination of one of the DF leaders Milan Knezevic was planned.

The news portal Republika spread the narrative that businessman Miodrag Daka Davidovic decided to found a new political party in order to provide Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapic with political support and infrastructure for challenges of the future elections. The move was understood as underhand dealings of the next Prime Minister and the businessman in Montenegro. They added that, according to the findings of Srpski telegraf, the goal was to marginalize the Democratic Front, which is the greatest impetus of the fight against Milo Djukanovic’s regime.

The Prime Minister-designate was targeted by Serbian media even because of the issue of revoking Kosovo’s independence recognition. The news portals Novosti and Pravda wrote that the messages sent during Metropolitan Amfilohije’s funeral were a clear indicator of the general attitude of the believers regarding the Kosovo issue, but also the differences in attitudes regarding the same issue of the new ruling majority headed by Prime Minister-designate Krivokapic. The headlines of both texts stated that the Kosovo issue is Amfilohije’s test for Krivokapic and that it opened the question of revoking the recognition of that fake state.

Similar messages were sent by the member of the main board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Vladimir Djukanovic. He appealed that all of those who were shouting We don’t give you Kosovo (MNE: Ne damo Kosovo) during Metropolitan Amfilohije’s funeral should make straight away the next Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic revoke the recognition of the independence of that state. Djukanovic also criticized the initial candidates of the Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapic for the new Government. Via his Twitter account, he questioned the expertise of Dritan Abazovic, as well as the Montenegrin language that Nikola Terzic, the initial candidate for the Minister of Interior, is speaking.

Krivokapic was criticized for his alleged anti-Serbian politics. The news portal Objektiv writes that he stabbed Serbs in their backs, the Serbs who helped him win the elections and which he expelled from the Cabinet. The texts highlight that Krivokapic has been portrayed several times as Milo Djukanovic’s man, and that the question raises whether he was Djukanovic’s Trojan horse.

Whom will Krivokapic and Abazovic kowtow first?

The Serbian media were highly interested in the positioning of the leader of the Civic Movement URA Dritan Abazobvic in the new Government. The news portal Novosti claimed that Dritan will be given a position and that his seat is being secured. After the lawyer Nikola Terzic had withdrawn his candidacy for the Minister of Interior, Novosti wondered whether Abazovic would get it.

The information that the first official visit of the next Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister would be to Brussels – that the leader of URA stated after the working breakfast with the Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro Oana Cristina Popa, the Alo news portal published with the sensationalist headline: IT IS KNOWN WHOM TO KOWTOW Here’s what Krivokapic and Abazovic will firstly visit.

What is the outgoing government cooking up?

Besides Prime Minister-designate Krivokapic, the Serbian media targeted the outgoing government too, notably the President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). The narrative on divisions in Djukanovic’s DPS and the dissolution of the party have been relaunched with sensationalist headlines: Milo’s on the hook, the DPS on the verge of collapse (Alo), THE DPS ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE: Tremendous turmoil and divisions in the former strongest political party in Montenegro (Srbija danas).

The narrative that the regime will not hand over the power peacefully and that it will do everything to prevent that has also been accentuated. The news portals Informer and Srbija danas published statements of analyst Bosko Vukicevic that the outgoing government was trying to thwart the constitution of the new Government by approving official projects that involve businessmen close to them. Vukicevic’s view on the situation was presented in headlines such as MILO’S REGIME HIT THE GROUND! The analyst revealed the last devious plan of the OUTGOING GOVERNMENT (Srbija danas), MILO SHARES PEOPLE’S MONEY WITH HIS BUSINESSMEN, THE LAST DEVIOUS PLAN OF THE OUTGOING GOVERNMENT! Krivokapic and his team must react swiftly, every hour is important! (Informer).

By analyzing the Serbian media content about events in Montenegro in the post-election period, the DFC has discovered that they were mainly publishing official statements of the politicians or institutions while wrapping them up in tendentious headlines in order to spread particular narratives.

The first coronavirus case was officially registered in Wuhan in China less than a year ago and that quite a short period was marked by numerous events and global changes. Since the adoption of the restrictive measures introduced to prevent the spreading of coronavirus and the protests against these measures, then the game of great power rivalry and the race to find the Covid-19 vaccine, the world has been facing the spreading of numerous conspiracy theories and narratives reaching the inconceivable popularity.

After a short pause and due to the current affairs – elections and government change both in Montenegro and the USA, it is evident that numerous news portals from Serbia are turning again to the coronavirus conspiracy theories and spreading the already familiar narratives as well as creating the new content.

Another theory after the U.S. election

Soon after the candidate of Democrats, Joe Biden had won the U.S. election, the Pfizer Company announced that early results from ongoing Phase III trials showed that their vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. That coincidence was used to launch a conspiracy theory that the virus was made so that the outgoing President Donald Trump would be ousted. The news portal Republika (Serbia) was among the first to spread that theory in its text headlined END OF CORONAVIRUS! Pandemic was made to OUST TRUMP!

The text states that the sole goal of creating coronavirus is not to oust Trump but to establish the world government that would dictate the politics to other countries. The outgoing U.S. President was presented as an initiator of positive changes in the USA and the world, and according to this news portal, he was targeted so that the USA would remain the evil imperia and not become a part of some new system. One of the DF leaders Nebojsa Medojevic spread the theory on coronavirus and the ousting of Trump on his Twitter account, which was republished by numerous news portals from Serbia.

Orthodoxy targeted again

According to the news portal Pravda, coronavirus represents the biological poison and the war against Orthodoxy. Analyst Sasa Borojevic finds it suspicious that many SPC priests (Serbian Orthodox Church) have died from coronavirus lately, and states that the genocide against the Orthodox leaders is in progress. He points out that all the SPC priests (who were diagnosed with coronavirus or died due to the infection consequences) had similar attitudes on a lot of issues – they were opposing Kosovo independence, supporting deceased Metropolitan Amfilohije in his fight against the then regime, etc. Borojevic concludes that it is unusual that not a single bishop, a Catholic priest, or Pope himself has been infected. At the same time, he forgets the fact that numerous SPC priests were infected after the Metropolitan Amfilohiije’s funeral in Podgorica when the massive breach of epidemiological measures had occurred.

At the same time, the news portal Nacionalist is reviving the famous narrative on the invasion of the Holy Communion during the coronavirus pandemic. A section from the book written by Bishop of Backa Dr. Irinej Bulovic entitled Holly Communion: Source of health or disease was presented in the text. It is emphasized that perceiving the shared-spoon Holy Communion as dangerous and infectious is completely misplaced and meaningless since the Holy Communion is a cure of immortality, and as such, it cannot be a source or cause of a disease, infection, or death. Bishop Bulovic also claims that behind fake concerns about the alleged spreading of the infection through Holly Communion lays the intention of some to ban the Holy Communion itself, which represents the abolition of human rights that the same individuals are tirelessly fighting for.

In the same context, it is important to mention a statement of the Prime Minister-designate of the new Government of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic. While appearing on the TV show Načisto, he emphasized that Holy Communion is a special moment for each believer and that the one who has faith will not be infected during Holly Communion.

Another example of the famous narrative on the church persecution during coronavirus occurred after the interrogation of Bishop Kiril Bojovic, priest Dalibor Milakovic and parish priest Branko Vujacic due to liturgy and seven-day commemoration to the Metropolitan Amfilohije on November 8 in the Cathedral church of the Resurrection of Christ in Podgorica. It is a fact that the clergymen were interrogated since it was estimated that the measures of the National Coordination Body of Montenegro were not complied with. However, the Serbian media characterized this act as a persecution of the Church by Milo’s administration, a new attack on the SPC in Montenegro, and the continuation of Milo’s invasion of the church.

Srbin.info leader in conspiracy theories

The news portal Srbin.info is launching again the narrative on coronavirus as the biggest hoax in history, republishing the words of the Canadian pathologist Roger Hodkinson that it is outrageous to lock down the whole society due to another severe influenza. Hodkinson adds that keeping the distance is as useless as the masks since there is no proof for their effectiveness while he assessed the PCR tests as unreliable.

Srbin.info published the narrative that our lives would be significantly controlled by the technology due to the pandemic, stating that three different smartphone applications (financed by Rockefeller and Clinton foundations) would control each aspect of human life after the pandemic. A couple of days later, they published a translated interview of Olga Chetverikova, director of the Center for Geopolitics for the Russian Svobodnaya Pressa where she emphasized that the world was ahead of the digital concentration camp.

Srbin.info is known for its anti-vaxxer narrative; therefore, the issue of the coronavirus vaccine is frequently present on this news portal. In one of the texts, writer Vladimir Dimitrijevic states that the pharmaceutical mafia is offering super-powerful vaccines against coronavirus and that the large-scale infodemic was planned in order to make the billions of people get vaccinated. On the other hand, Dr. Alek Racic thinks that it is impossible to make a vaccine against coronavirus due to the fact that it is not only one type of virus (author’s comment: but a huge number of mutations).

Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election but its echo is not dying away even twenty days after the polling stations had closed. We were waiting quite a long time for the winner to be announced since the counting was additionally slowed down due to a high number of mail-in-ballots. Besides, the epilogue of the court proceedings that the campaign headquarters of the current president Donald Trump initiated was waited upon.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris announced the victory on November 10. The U.S. mainstream media did the same, including Fox News, close to the Republicans. The world leaders, including the ones from the Western Balkans, congratulated the President-elect on his victory.

Besides, Donald Trump did not accept the defeat for a long time. In his first address after the closure of the polling stations, Trump stated that he won the election, then that the election was rigged and that he would seek justice before the court. His social media posts were regularly flagged as containing false, disputed, or misleading information.

For Trump and his campaign headquarters, the mail-in-ballots were debatable. They thought that the majority of the votes in the states where Trump had lost should be annulled. Trump used the same narrative on the election fraud during the election campaign on the occasion of this but also the previous presidential election, which the DFC already analyzed. What posed a problem for Trump is the fact that the Republican officials from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan – states in which the result was debatable, according to Trump – claimed that there were no irregularities. Equally, the courts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona rejected a lot of complaints initiated by Trump’s legal team.

Trump’s PR team from Serbia

Who will take over the White House for the following four years is of huge significance for the whole world, including the Western Balkans. That is one of the reasons why the media from the region were carefully monitoring and reporting on the post-election developments in the USA.

Donald Trump may have lost the uncompromising support of Fox News but one can conclude that he is still enjoying the support of the Serbia media corpus. And while it is understandable that the developments in the USA were one of the main topics in the Serbian media, it is certainly less understandable why the majority of them accepted wholeheartedly Trump’s claims on the rigged election and started defending him.

Besides the key narrative on the rigged election, the media wrote about the unrest in the USA, the crash of the U.S. democracy as well as the groups and persons behind the election fraud. Also, a part of the media directly attacked Biden, trying to present him as a threat not only to Serbia but to the whole world. The analysis of the Serbian media content in relation to the U.S. election displays a clear gradation of sensationalism. Suspicious developments on Election Day in a week turned into the epic fraud plotted by the deep state, mainstream media, and George Soros himself.

The Second American Civil War and the crash of democracy

After Trump’s statement that he would go to court, the supporters of both candidates started gathering in multiple U.S. cities. The President’s supporters gathered around the polling stations seeking that the counting be stopped, while Biden’s supporters celebrated and requested that the votes be counted. The protests were generally peaceful with a small number of isolated incidents. However, the news portals Alo, Sputnik Serbia, and Pravda.rs presented the developments in the USA as a start of the new Civil War and hereby tried to depict the USA as a country in turmoil. Interestingly, Sputnik Serbia published a video from Minneapolis made at the protests Black Lives Matter held in May this year in a text about the unrest after the presidential election.

Half of Trump’s posts on social media were marked as false or incomplete information, while his address from the White House was cut away by the media outlets ABC, CBS, and NBC for the same reasons. Republika, Informer, Sputnjik Srbija, and Srbin.info immediately started defending Trump, not taking into account the misleading claims and accusations that the outgoing US President made without any proof. For them, the US developments were obstruction, censure, and the end to the freedom of speech, scandal, and new totalitarianism. The main message of these media was that the powerful Western mainstream media and social media owners undermined democracy and abolished the freedom of speech and that their sole mission was to oust Donald Trump.

Biden, an enemy of Serbs, will destabilize the world

Since the 2016 Presidential election, Donald Trump has been portrayed as a friend of the Serbs in most of the Serbian media, while his challenger has had the role of villain. The narrative that Joe Biden is one of the biggest enemies of Serbs, which has been present on social networks and in the Serbian media for more than a decade, has been brought to the fore again before, after, and during the November election. Referring to the comments of the journalist and political critic Milan Jovanovic, the news portals Kurir, Srbija Danas, Nacionalist and Pravda.rs wrote, without providing any evidence, that Biden has been financially supported over the years by the Albanian lobby in the US.

Another narrative that could be found in the Serbian media presents Biden as a person who will start another armed conflict. As his victory in the election was just around the corner, the news portals Sputnjik Srbija and Novi Standard were announcing the new Cold War and the return of the United States to the aggressive war policy, while referring to the statements of Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov and Willy Wimmer, a former Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. After the General Service Administration, the first official institution, had declared Biden’s victory, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg talked to the newly elected president and congratulated him on his victory. The Alo news portal entitled the news with the following headline: IT HAS BEGUN! Biden met the General, they are planning news strikes!¸with the article not corresponding to headline.

Election fraud, deep state, and Soros

The most visible narrative in the Serbian media was the one supporting Trump’s claims that the U.S. election was allegedly rigged. On the very first day of the election, Informer published a text reading that something strange is going on in the key states, while in the days that followed, something strange became the greatest election fraud and a coup d’état. The background of the election fraud that the Serbian news portals and tabloids were buzzing about had been uncovered. Different conspiracy theories entered the scene, with the main role allocated to George Soros and the deep state. Besides, the media have always used individuals’ claims and overall developments in the United States to modify them with their interpretations. For example, after the courts had dismissed a large number of lawsuits that Donald Trump’s team had filed, the Serbian version of Sputnik published a couple of days later that George Soros has been buying the American judiciary for years.

Donald Trump’s legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has dropped the lawsuits filed to the court in Michigan. The same day, Giuliani presented a conspiracy theory at the press conference that George Soros and the deceased president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez were behind the election fraud. Sputnik Serbia, AloInformer, and Espreso republished the news without previously challenging it or questioning Giuliani’s assumptions.

Pro-Serbian media and news portals in Montenegro

Pro-Serbian media and news portals in Montenegro were also following the developments after the U.S. election with much attention, presenting similar or almost the same narratives as the ones found in the Serbian media. Even though the articles of IN4S, Borba, and Pogled were less sensational, they resembled the Serbian articles almost to the bone and they were mostly republishing the articles from Sputnik Serbia.

From the above-mentioned media, IN4S dealt with the U.S. election the most. Analyst Igor Damjanovic talked for IN4S about coup d’état in the United States and the influence of the deep state on the U.S. Election. Danilo Tvrdisic, a journalist and a publicist, talked about the election fraud and different conspiracy theories while appearing in the Serbian world TV show on the National IN4S TV. In that TV show, Tvrdisic consolidated all the narratives related to the U.S. election, which were emphasized both in the Serbian media and on social networks.

Two events out of which one already occurred and the other is ahead of us are again reviving the narrative on the negation of the Montenegrin statehood and identity. The first event were the elections (held on August 30) that were won by the then opposition parties, which resulted in the change of the government. The other one is the census planned for 2021.

In the post-election months, which brought the shift on the Montenegrin political scene, the actors wanting to make another Serbian state out of Montenegro are being increasingly present. Equally, they are negating the fundamental values of the Montenegrin anti-fascism and destroying the state’s secularism. The planned campaign reflected in the negation of identity values of the Montenegrin society is very intense.

Federal State of Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Srpska

The most prominent advocate of the union of Montenegro, Serbia, and the Republic of Srpska into one federal state is undoubtedly Aleksandar Rakovic, Serbian historian and ideologist of the Greater Serbia project – the Serbian world. In his interview for Novosti, Rakovic assessed that after the regime had changed in Montenegro, the future of Montenegro-Serbia relations laid in the union of Belgrade, Podgorica, and Banjaluka into one federal state. While explaining that idea, he said that both Serbia and Montenegro are the historical states of the Serbs since, as he stated, both countries are connected by the Serbian statehood.

In October this year at the conference The position of Serbs after the fall of Milo Djukanovic’s regime, Rakovic presented a new strategy of the Serbian world towards Montenegro. The strategy specifies that Serbs in Montenegro should become the relative majority on the census, and subsequently, that the union of all Serbs’ states on the Western Balkans be presented as a legitimate initiative. During his speech, he stated that the Serbian national idea is mainstreamed in Montenegrin politics and the union cannot be taboo. It is a completely legitimate and legal idea. The union of all Serbs’ states in the area of ex-Yugoslavia is a completely legal idea, Rakovic said.

Minister of Internal Affairs of Serbia Aleksandar Vulin also has a positive attitude toward the Serbian world and the union of all Serbs under the auspices of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The last accusation in the Bosniak and Montenegrin media is that Vucic is creating the Serbian world. I believe and hope that the accusation is true; Vucic should be creating the Serbian world. Belgrade needs to gather all the Serbs within and around itself, and the President of Serbia is the President of all Serbs, Minister Vulin stated in September.

Negating the Montenegrin identity

The narrative negating Montenegrin identity is becoming increasingly dominant. Therefore, Dr. Radmilo Marojevic, former Dean of the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, stated on the panel discussion held in the Serbian house that Montenegrins, Bosniaks, and Croats living in Montenegro were falsely declaring themselves to be of such ethnicities, referring to the local, geographical or imported identity detriment.  Dr. Marojevic thinks that Serbs or Shqiptars (author’s comment: pejorative name for Albanians) have their ethnic orientationIn the ethnic sense, neither have Montenegrins ever existed nor do they exist today nor could they exist; this platitude can only destroy Montenegro as a historical reality and, of course, the native people of Montenegro, dr Marojevic said.

Member of the Main Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Vladimir Djukanovic negated the Montenegrin nation by equalizing Montenegrins and Serbs as one nation. Appearing on a TV show Serbian World on the national television IN4S and commenting on the work of deceased Metropolitan Amfilohije, Djukanovic said that he revived the living Serbian organism and Montenegrins, emphasizing that when he says Montenegrins, he means Serbs above all. In order to confirm the statements, he quoted deceased Archpriest-Staurophore Lazar Milin who said that a Montenegrin who is not a Serb is not a Montenegrin either.

The census has shaken the public

The planned census in Montenegro is presented as an issue of the survival of the country and the people. And while in the world the census represents a collection of statistical data, in Montenegro it is a political issue and a battleground of both sides.

The topic of the census in Montenegro is increasingly present in the Serbian media, even though not to the same extent as the texts on the new Government constitution. The dominant narrative is that Montenegrins are scared of the census due to the inevitable increase of the number of Serbs; hence the proposal to postpone the census. News portal Alo states that the outgoing government and the Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) close to them have been leading the campaign in a panicky manner in order to postpone the regular census. Sputnik Serbia, inter alia, writes that the postponement of the census represents a humiliation of the ethnic Montenegrins and that due to the governance of the outgoing regime, the clear criteria of what it means to be a Montenegrin have been lost.

Besides the media, the politicians and activists express their attitudes on the census in Montenegro. Mayor of Budva Marko Bato Carevic explained that he would use his position to help the Serbs in Montenegro be equal. As he says, that is what he is expecting after the regular census scheduled for the next year. Until now, people did not have a right to express their true opinions and feelings. My goal is for this to happen for the first time on this census, in order to obtain a real image about our society, mayor of Budva and member of the DF stated.

Cedomir Antic, a Serbian historian and one of the advocates of the Greater Serbia project – the Serbian World, also has a plan for the census. He assessed that the Serbs should be a majority on the upcoming census in Montenegro, while the Montenegrins should account for 25%. He believes that Montenegro will remain independent and multi-ethnic if the Serbs get an opportunity to develop themselves freely in democracy and equality. Serbs will account for 50% of the population, while Montenegrins will account for 25%. That is the truth and reality; it has nothing to do with the current government, but whether the country is free or democratic, Antic said.

Serbian world – an illusion

While appearing on Different radio connection (Drugačija radio veza), Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, was asked whether Biden’s victory would destroy the project of the Serbian World. She responded that this project objectively does not stand much of a chance. If it did, it would probably have stronger support from the international actors. Due to the international context, which is still fluid, and the international order is not consolidated, the Serbian nationalists think that the issue of borders has not been resolved yet and that a convenient moment is needed. It is an illusion that an end will be put on, but Serbia is wasting its historical time by remaining committed to that project, Biserko said.

Yearly research of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), encompassing 11,104 articles with Crna Gora (Montenegro) as the keyword, provides an insight into narratives and the amount at which they were spread by the most read Serbian news portals in Montenegro.

The analysis showed that in the period October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020, the news portals Alo, Espreso, Blic, Srbija danas, Kurir, Informer, and Novosti had continuously been the most read Serbian media in Montenegro. At the same time, they were the ones that had spread the content of debatable quality.

This quantitative and qualitative analysis of the Serbian media outlets’ content on Montenegro reveals the effort to combine real facts with the fake ones, the exaggerations, or the presentation of facts out of the context in order to shape public opinion.

Such reporting leads to dangerous prejudices against Montenegro, its citizens, and institutions among a large number of people in Serbia, but also in Montenegro, having in mind the reach and the readership of these portals in our country as well. It is evident from the foregoing that the Serbian media have been paying great attention to Montenegro, especially since the beginning of the processions, but in an extremely sensationalist and inciting way, often taking information out of the context, violating journalism ethics and human moral code of conduct.

Download the analysis by clicking on the following link or the photo below.