Prime Minister-designate of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic is a target of the Twitter bot accounts, which, with concerted efforts, attacked his attitudes on the formation of a technocratic government.

The bot network consisting of more than 80 bot accounts from three families – Andric, Ivanovic, and Popovic are attacking Krivokapic on Twitter for his determination that all the minister-candidates of the new Government should be subject to the qualification verification for their designated positions.

Analyzing the bot network, we concluded that each member of the Popovic family was created on the same day (October 13) while the Andric family was created a couple of days later (on October 17 and 18). The accounts with the surname Ivanovic were created on October 25.

The accounts were not active until yesterday’s tweet of the Prime Minister-designate Krivokapic in which he emphasized that all the minister-candidates of the new Government should be subject to the qualification verification for their designated positions, adding that that did not exclude the politicians if their biography satisfied the criteria for a proposed position.

Subsequently, a bot account @AndricDanijela4 retweeted Krivokapic’s post and criticized his attitudes. Soon after, the bot network has been activated.

Almost all accounts belonging to this bot network retweeted the @AndricDanijela4 tweet, with no likes. This indicated that the goal was to amplify the reach of the existing content and not to create a new and an original one – which is one of the key features of bot accounts.

All accounts with Popovic surname had just one tweet while the Andric accounts had two of them or more, with the same narrative. All tweets mentioned Nebojsa Medojevic, leader of the Movement for Changes (PzP), one of the biggest critics of the Prime Minister-designate. Additionally, some accounts from the Andric family were defending Medojevic’s attitudes, stating that the PzP’s leader is the only one having made some concrete moves for all these years.

All the profile photos were created using artificial intelligence and some websites such as thispersondoesnotexist.  The algorithm of this platform is trained on a huge database from the real photos, after which it uses a type of neural network known as generative adversarial network (GAN) to create new examples. Every time you refresh the website, the network will create a new image of a face. All the profile photos were created using artificial intelligence and some websites such as thispersondoesnotexist.  The algorithm of this platform is trained on a huge database from the real photos, after which it uses a type of neural network known as generative adversarial network (GAN) to create new examples. Every time you refresh the website, the network will create a new image of a face.

A particular number of photos presenting Asian people indicates to the truthfulness of this statement.

Moreover, the position of eyes on all profile photos is identical to and forms a straight line, which also indicates that the photos were created using artificial intelligence.

Bot accounts are usually created during significant social and political events in a country with the main goal of directing a public opinion in the wanted direction. Let us remind that the DFC discovered in April a bot network connected with the ruling party in Serbia that was promoting the Chinese aid to that country during the coronavirus pandemic. Soon after that, the DFC also discovered a new bot network from Serbia whose main target was Montenegro.

Once perceived as an underground conspiracy theory in the U.S., QAnon is becoming mainstream and more real, with its effect being visible in our region as well.

Conspiracy theories commonly known as QAnon appeared in the U.S. in 2017 claiming that there was a deep state. With the coronavirus pandemic spreading all over the world, the theories spread outside the U.S. borders as well, turning into anti-vaxxer, anti-government and anti-5G protest movements and theories boosted by disinformation. That unspecific and undefined trait of theirs is a scheme that the QAnon supporters used to attract so many people of different ideologies. They can choose from a wide range of narratives, therefore some are against the establishment, some against vaccines, and some against 5G technology.

According to the movement’s claims, the international pedophilia ring of elite groups is abducting and abusing children with the purpose of obtaining a rejuvenation medicine from their blood. This elite, which allegedly includes Hillary Clinton and George Soros, strives to take over the world by establishing a shadow government that would control the world’s politics behind the scene. On the other hand, there is American President Donald Trump who is fighting the deep state.

The movement is grounded in posts which appeared on an internet forum 4chan in October 2017, posted by a username Q Clearance Patriot (Q Clearance is the highest level of security clearance required by the U.S. Department of Energy to access secret information on the nuclear weapon) that the movement got its name QAnon – short of Q-Anonymous. Without any evidence, Q stated that Donald Trump was waging war against the deep state and other elite groups and that he planned to attack a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. Back then, Q claimed that he had been working as an intelligence agent and that he had access to secret information. That way, his criticizing posts gained in popularity and were spread all over Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram, and YouTube.

The Balkans and QAnon

QAnon is now part of our everyday life and as it uses social media as its main base, the movement has mobilized a large number of people to protest across Europe. The number of tweets related to QAnon has increased from 5 million in 2017 to 12 million this year all over the world, with Germany as fifth and Great Britain second, right after the U.S.

The DFC analysis of the internet content related to QAnon in the six Western Balkan countries showed huge growth in popularity of this phenomenon in the period March-November 2020 (56.9k posts), which is an increase of 147% compared to the whole last year (38.6k posts).

That the QAnon influence is not visible only on social media platforms confirms the protest gatherings organized due to the COVID-19 preventive measures and the obligatory wearing of masks, which moved from Berlin, Bucharest, and London to Podgorica, Belgrade, Tirana, and Zagreb. Without providing any evidence, the protesters were alerting that the pandemic was a conspiracy of the cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who were controlling the world, that the masks could not protect you from the virus or that Bill Gates was planning to implant a chip in people through vaccines, whose production he supported financially. If all of the stated does not speak for itself, it is important to mention that disinformation is a key communication tool of this movement, neither facts nor science.

Anti-vaxxers hand in hand with QAnon

Among many conspiracy theories, the narrative on the adverse effects of vaccines stands out. Aroused initiatives against obligatory vaccination have been a topic for many years now all over the world, although the anti-vaxxer movement is not widespread in Montenegro.

Among those who spread this theory in our region, the website and the Facebook page of Pravo na izbor with Dr. Jovana Stojkovic as a founder stand out. In December 2018, a group of doctors filed a lawsuit against Dr. Stojkovic before the Court of Honor of the Regional Medical Chamber in Belgrade. They required that her medical license be revoked due to spreading panic and public performances that caused a decrease in vaccination and eventually a measles outbreak in Serbia. The court proceedings were suspended because it was believed that her media performances did not present enough evidence to revoke the license. However, in March 2019, the proceedings were resumed before the same Court as it was determined that Dr. Stojkovic’s activism had been indeed against people’s health.

Besides Dr. Stojkovic, Dr. Nada Kosic, MP in the Parliament of Serbia until recently, an internist and professor at the Medical Faculty in Belgrade, has been equally active in spreading of the narratives, as well as Dr. Lidija Gaski from Croatia who strongly advocates for the right to choose to get a vaccine, which is legally binding in that country.

Protests of parents more frequent

As the mass protests against obligatory vaccination are still active all over the world, the supporters of the QAnon movement have embraced them and used them to spread influence and their own agenda. Therefore, it is not unusual to see their slogans at the protests, which were seen in Belgrade where the protest called We don’t Give You the Children was organized on October 17 in front of the Presidency. The protest was organized to point to the violation of the fundamental rights of parents who were deprived of the right to make decisions regarding the vaccination of their children. The fact that the Center for Social Work had been taking their kids away due to poverty was unacceptable according to their claims, and they added that the rights of children had been violated at schools since they must wear protective masks. Dr. Stojkovic emphasized that such problems were particularly visible since President Vucic is in power. As she said, he is not actually the President of Serbia, but the country was controlled by NGOs, which is one of the QAnon movement’s ideas.

During one of the similar previous protests, organized on September 7 in front of the Institute of Public Health Batut due to announced vaccine testing for coronavirus, Dr. Jovana Stojkovic stated that the Minister of Education of Serbia had said that children would be taken away from their parents if they had not been vaccinated. The gathered people displayed the slogans We don’t Give you the Children and Stop Taking Children Away, emphasizing that every parent had a right to choose what was the best for their child. These slogans are similar to those promoted by the QAnon supporters: Save Our Children, Choose a Side, Freedom not Fear, Stop Child Trafficking, which could be seen on the streets of London many times since August.

In Montenegro, parents from Bar, Podgorica, and Herceg Novi have been actively protesting against the wearing of masks in schools because, as they claim, they are harmful to children’s health. Advocating for the non-effectiveness of masks does not contribute to virus prevention, particularly in such a bad situation that Montenegro is in right now.

A similar campaign lead under the #SaveTheChildren hashtag and initiated to raise awareness of the problem of child sex trafficking that was out of control in the U.S. and all around the world has gained popularity on social media this summer. The campaign attracted the attention of the QAnon movement, which also has started to promote the #SaveTheChildren hashtag to amplify its reach on social media.

According to the QAnon supporters, face masks which children must wear due to the coronavirus pandemic pose a serious problem because they make it harder for them to cry for help if attacked.

Promoting the movement on social media

Even though Facebook removed groups and pages such as Q-ANON Bosna i Hercegovina, Q-Anon Serbian version, QAnon Serbia WWG1WGA, QANON/Buđenje Srbije, Qanon – Srbija, Q/QANON ARMY Srbija/Serbia, Qanon Balkan, there are others which promote the same or similar theories on this and other platforms.

Using keywords related to conspiracy theories of the QAnon movement, we analyzed posts on Facebook, which is the dominant platform in Montenegro and the region. The graphs show that over 19,000 posts and almost 1.4 million interactions have been spread on the internet for the six Western Balkan countries since the beginning of this year. The largest number of posts was registered in the period when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading all over the region (March-May 2020) and when many conspiracy theories started circulating due to many questions surrounding the pandemic.

Graph showing the number of posts and interactions on Facebook in six Western Balkans countries since the beginning of the year

When it comes to the spreading of such content, a recently created closed Facebook group called BalkAnon with 2,000 members stands out. It is followed by Pravo na izbor (24,000 likes), Pravo na slobodu (93.000 likes), Protiv novog svetskog poretka (30.000 likes), Orvel civilizacija (11.000 likes), including many other pages, groups, and individuals.

Apart from online groups and pages, the deep state theory finds its supporters among members of Montenegro’s political life. Nebojsa Medojevic is the first who comes to mind since he uses social media and the Parliamentary sessions to speak frequently about a secret cabal that controls the world, which is financed by George Soros and that Donald Trump is fighting against. He recently stated that Montenegro has been controlled by a secret organization for years, which never votes and does not have any democratic legitimacy.

The YouTube video platform revealed several channels promoting conspiracy theories. BalkanInfo, known to a broader audience, often invites guests who speak about Satan-worshipers, deep state, and vaccines. The same stands for Slavija info TV, while the FES TV and Nauka i misterije Balkan channels openly declare themselves as supporters of alternative views on the world, resolute to uncover mysteries and disclose secrets.

Twitter, the platform on the rise in the region, did not discover any accounts that were exclusively dedicated to such content. However, several users were tweeting, among other stuff, about the deep state, global Satan-worshipers, the ineffectiveness of masks, etc. Some of them include @NebojsaMedojevi, @VladoGeorgiev, @SvilarovNikola, @peterstoun, and @Kosovo_SRB_1244.

To sum up, although QAnon conspiracy theories are not based on scientific facts, their impact is real and visible. The greatest threat of this movement is creating a wider gap between what the truth is and what a large number of people would believe the truth is, when in reality – it is not. That way, conspiracy theories lead to long-term consequences: they downplay the importance of the fight against the pandemic, undermine the trust in vaccines, science, and common sense in general. Likewise, they mix their anti-Semitic and alt-right views with the theory that coronavirus is a conspiracy that deprives people of their freedoms and that people are being controlled by 5G technology and chips.

Yearly research of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), encompassing 10,630 articles with 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 the news portals Alo, Espreso, Blic, Srbija danas, Kurir, Informer, and Novosti had been the most read Serbian media in Montenegro continuously during the last 12 months, but at the same time, they had been spreading the content of a debatable quality.

Daily coverage of the Serbian media on Montenegro would not be particular at all, had it not been dominated by disinformation, fake news, sensational headlines, and the narratives addressing the broad audience.

The monthly media reports showed that the Serbian media were very much read in Montenegro, which raises concerns even more on the possibility of manipulating the Montenegrin public.

Given that the Montenegrin social and political scene this and last year was marked by big events: adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions resulting therefrom, the coronavirus and the parliamentary elections that had brought about their own narratives, the negative narratives were launched almost on a daily basis.

The most frequent narrative was: Montenegro is a criminal and captured state. The adjective criminal sends out a message that the criminal activities in the region are originating from Montenegro and that the most notorious criminal organizations, the most vicious homicides, robberies, kidnappings, and drug dealing have their roots in Montenegro. While captured means that it is captured both politically and socially. Some of the messages sent out and suggesting bad conditions in Montenegro are: state institutions are captured as they are dominated by corruption and nepotism, the Montenegrin regime does not respect human or religious rights and it aims at creating a private state.

The narrative that has been filling the Serbian media columns for months and was particularly popular with the processions going on, refers to the endangered Serbs in Montenegro, deprived of any rights, which was supported by the claims that Serbia would protect them from the discrimination of the Montenegrin regime. Besides the protection of Serbs, the articles persisted in aiding and supporting the Serbian shrines in Montenegro that the Montenegro regime aims at seizing.

Key events through the lens of the Serbian media

The adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions, and the developments in Budva gave rise to another narrative: Montenegro is an unstable state where riots and civil war may occur and where the Montenegrin regime is using repression. On a daily basis, they have been reporting that the Montenegrin regime was using the police force to apprehend, beat and persecute both the believers and the clergy, that it does not allow the freedom of expression on social media, that it has been attacking the opponents in every possible way. To strengthen the narrative, even the Army of Montenegro was targeted by the Serbian media, in the sense that it had been taken by the government to the streets to prevent the processions.

Even the global coronavirus pandemic did not lower the tone of the Serbian online media. Moreover, they were writing that the Montenegrin government was unable to cope with the virus and that it had been hiding the numbers of the infected. The fact that we had been the last country in Europe to report on positive cases and first to declare corona free destination did not prevent the Serbian tabloids from continuing their hunt by publishing that we had neither laboratories nor PCR tests. Neither have the démenti of the Institute for Public Health and the Government of Montenegro stopped them from thwarting Montenegro’s success in the fight against coronavirus.

At the time of the coronavirus emerging and the NKT’s preventive measures introduction, the narrative of coronavirus being an excuse for the government to stop the continuation of processions was brought to the fore.

The influence of a negative campaign on the tourist industry’s collapse

Montenegro’s tourist industry, which has been for years targeted through the Serbian media’s steady pattern, was clinched by disinformation and fake news. However, the epidemiological situation and measures introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic had additionally deepened and intensified the campaign of deteriorating the image of Montenegro as a tourist destination. The negative propaganda was visible in calling on the Serbian citizens not to go to Montenegro on holiday because the coronavirus was flaring up there, the beaches were empty, and the prices were extremely high. Their main ace in the hole was that the Serbian tourists were not welcomed there. The decision not to open the borders with Serbia due to the unfavorable epidemiological situation in the country and the risk of the virus importation was presented in the Serbian tabloids as a politically motivated decision, which causes further tension between Podgorica and Belgrade.

Elections and constitution of the Government

All of the tabloids and media in Serbia paid great attention to the parliamentary elections in Montenegro held on August 30. The narratives and sensational headlines were coming one after another day by day until the very Election day. Spreading of negative narratives and disinformation had a goal of its own – to create more tension. The dominant narrative was the one about the regime’s continuing with three-decades-long activities of electoral fraud and manipulation to stay in power; this time by vote-buying (IDs), inviting foreigners primarily coming from Kosovo and Albania to vote for the DPS, and by inciting riots. However, none of the stated was supported by evidence.

The constitution of the Government after the elections was the old-new topic, and by that, the occasion for the Serbian media to influence social and political developments in Montenegro additionally through information manipulation. The declaration of election results was followed by the narratives on divisions that occurred in Djukanovic’s DPS, falling apart of the DPS, which was proved by alleged incidents among the party’s representatives, unraveling of a tapestry of crime that has been suffocating the whole country. There were also claims that President Milo Djukanovic could present us with a couple of surprises in order to undermine the constitution of the new Government without the DPS. In his attempts to stay in power, one of the scenarios presented was a declaring of a state of emergency due to the abrupt increase in the number of infected. This was described as a method serving the purpose of possible salvation or prolonging of the regime’s political end. Besides the spreading of these narratives, the Serbian media were regular in the publishing of the statements of the three coalitions’ leaders: For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and It’s in Black and White, along with their further plans. They were also trying to guess who would take the seat of the President of the Parliament, Prime Minister, or who would be entrusted to lead the most important bodies in the new Government.

At the end of the monitored period, the change in the Serbian media narratives regarding Montenegro’s new majority is noticeable. The shift happened because of the signing of the Agreement among the leaders of the three collations on September 9, after which they have become traitors overnight who have turned their backs on Serbs.

Owing to the new Facebook’s advertising policy, these elections were the first we have been able to find out the data on the parties’ spending on Facebook ads.

Using the official Facebook data, the Digital Forensic Center discovered that from August 4 to September 2, the Social Democratic Party spent the largest amount of money – 17,973 euros, followed closely by the Social Democrats with 17,621 euros.

The official page Aleksa Becic – the Democrats paid for the Facebook ads a total of 15,230 euros, the Democratic Party of Socialists paid 14,634, while the Civic Movement URA paid 8,116 euros. The page Zdravko Krivokapic – Za buducnost Crne Gore spent 2,336 euros on sponsored posts.

The Croatian Civic Initiative spent 612 euros on Facebook ads, the Albanian coalition Unanonimously spent 304, the Albanian list 200, the Croatian Reform Party 153, and the Bosniak Party 102 euros. Ahead of the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, Facebook presented the new advertising policy, which refers to our country as well. Now, all political ads must be authorized and provide information on who paid for the ad. Owing to that rule, the recently held parliamentary elections were the first we have been able to find out the data on the parties’ paying for the ads on the most popular social network in our country.

The Election Day in Montenegro was marked by fake news and disinformation both in the media and on social media platforms. All the published projections did not realize in the end – from unrest on the streets in case the ruling government was defeated to Internet outage in the afternoon.

When it comes to the media, the absolute “champion” of fake news was the Belgrade-based news portal – Glas Javnosti (Voice of the public). Therefore, we could read about pre-planned riots and beating of the people, for which the government would blame the opposition. Additionally, we could read that the Montenegrin government was preparing to run over people with trucks. In a text headlined: Scandalous! Montenegrin authorities are preparing to run over the people with trucks! was stated that the authorities ordered the fire department to equip its trucks to break the protests by installing the special metal constructions on the front of the vehicle which would enable the vehicles to efficiently run into the masses.

After that, they claimed that the authorities are planning to break the gathered people into smaller groups using tear gas and water cannons, making room for the reserves and the criminals wearing police uniforms led by Veselin Veljovic to enter the scene, with a task to beat the gathered.

Similar content was found on the other portals where the authors referred to the unanimous sources of the Democratic Party of Socialists, claiming that the government formed the strike force, consisting of the notorious criminals and individuals. As it was stated, they were previously amnestied by the state and they were supposed to be divided and sent to two locations.

Srbija danas continued in that manner, claiming that the well-informed sources from Montenegro discovered that the DPS was planning to cause serious incidents all over the country, even to endanger the lives of the police officers before the closure of the polling stations, in order to make it look like the opposition was behind that. Referring to the statement of attorney Goran Petronijevic, they stated that Milo Djukanovic has helicopters on three locations, which should transport him to Albania if he faces an electoral defeat.

The news portal Alo claimed in a text: “DESPERATE MOVE OF THE DPS! The information from the Secret Service leaked! Milo’s police are ready for action around the Serbian monasteries!”, that the representatives of the Montenegrin security structures will hide a particular quantity of weapons on August 29 (on the eve of the elections) on suitable locations near particular monasteries and other facilities of the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to the text, the plan was “to find” the weapons on Election Day, thanks to the alleged operational engagement, and to accuse the SPC’s representatives in Montenegro of the alleged armed conflict and “the violent overthrow of the government”, in order to try to influence the election result.

Besides news portals, activists such as Vladislav Dajkovic were spreading the disinformation too. On his Facebook profile, he posted that after the opposition’s electoral victory, the DPS would send its groups to burn the flags of Montenegro, NATO, and the EU and cause unrest in order to present that the opposition wants to annul the statehood of Montenegro. His post was republished by numerous news portals: IN4S, Novosti, Srbija danas.

Together with the news on the planned unrest, the news on the intended suspension of voting, because of a great turnout which is not in favor of the ruling party was also launched. Therefore, the IN4S news portal claimed that the suspension of voting would occur on the particular polling stations, under the guise of the alleged breach of the health measures of the NKT, in order to prevent the victory of the opposition.

The news portal Glas Javnosti published that the internet outage in Montenegro was planned for around 6 pm, as well as the takedown of the news portals IN4S and Borba which did not occur in the end.

Fake news were spread on social media too

Sputnjik Srbija (Sputnik Serbia) was also active in the spreading of disinformation. Sputnik published that a captain and a dozen representatives of the Army of Montenegro (who were sent to offer assistance near Rozaje) demonstratively handed over their weapons and went to Niksic to vote. As it was stated in the text, they wanted to vote by letter and asked that one of them be in the commission that was carrying the letters. Since they were not allowed to do so, they decided to go to Niksic and vote on their polling stations. This piece of fake news was soon denied by the Ministry of Defense of Montenegro in a statement reading that the soldiers were allowed to vote in Niksic a day before the elections. The transport to the polling station was organized and afterward, they returned to their workplaces, they stated from the Ministry of Defence.

Disinformation on the news portals CdM and Analitika

On the other hand, the Montenegrin news portals CdM and Portal Analitika published yesterday the news: Reinke: I admire the people who came to Montenegro and risk their health so that they would vote. The text reads that the U.S. Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke talked to the ENEMO observation mission representatives. “I’m amazed at the fact that you were willing to get on a plane at this historical moment and, as a matter of fact, to risk your health to come and witness something you sincerely and deeply believe in. You share my belief in the importance of this mission”, Ms. Reinke told. Therefore, the Ambassador expressed her honest admiration to the mission members who arrived in Montenegro despite the pandemic, and she did not mention the voters from abroad which were insinuated in the headline, even though there is no such construction in the text. After a couple of hours, the CdM corrected the headline by publishing a new one: I admire people who came to Montenegro, risking their health just to come and witness something they sincerely and deeply believe in, while Analitika did not do so.

All of the fake news we register on a daily basis indicate the necessity of the education of citizens and the strengthening of media literacy in all countries of the region.

Fake news is spreading six times faster than true information on social media, which is per se speaking of the difficult fight against this phenomenon. The only possible way is a common collaboration of media, state institutions, and organizations that are fighting fake news.

Since its appearing on the media scene, the Udar news portal has been publishing unverified information, almost always with the reference to the unknown sources, and one month from its first texts, it still does not have an Impressum, even though the Law is obliging it to do so. The Digital Forensic Center analyzed written and video content from the Udar news portal, its influence on social media, and anonymous ownership and editorial structure.

Soon after its registration under the national Internet domain of Montenegro (the domain was registered on July 17), the authors announced the disclosure of well-kept information and secrets.

Our experience has shown us that the media, which has been launched prior to the elections, almost always serves the interests of the specific political option. The same case was with the Sloboda newspaper before the 2018 Presidential Elections, which was openly supporting the opposition. However, what makes Udar stand out and creates difficulties to identify it with a specific political party is targeting of all the actors, without exception.

Even though they announced the disclosure of well-kept information, the Montenegrin public has been provided with the pinpointing and unsubstantiated accusing of politicians, parties, and other individuals from public life, without providing any reference to the author or source of information, but always referring to well-informed and anonymous sources.

Moreover, what made Udar one of the main topics of the electoral campaign are YouTube videos of foreign (Serbian) security services’ co-workers disclosing names of famous persons from Montenegro’s public life. Contrary to its written content, videos published on the Udar news portal targeted only one side. In the six videos posted so far, almost all persons are either supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church, representatives of the opposition parties, or activists close to them. Apart from the photo with their names and surnames, the news portal provides their code names as well, along with their operation links with the foreign country, without any concrete evidence on their alleged connection to the given structures.

A similar pattern has been used in the texts – a particular politician has been targeted with the reference to the anonymous sources. On July 25, an article: Boskovic has never returned the SPC’s decoration was published by that pattern. The main thesis was that the Minister of Defense has not returned the SPC’s decoration, even though he said otherwise in the Parliament in February this year, claiming that he has a DHL receipt as proof. Referring to anonymous sources from the SPC’s Holy Synod, Udar claims that the Church did not receive the decoration, although it does leave open the possibility that such a thing could have happened. A similar example of contradictory stances was noticed in the articles published on July 23: The DPS’s representative married daughter despite the measures, where they stated that Mayor of Ulcinj Loro Nrekiq breached the preventive measures of the National Coordination Body (NKT). Further in the text, they stated that another source claimed that all measures were met and that the truth was still unknown?! Even with that conclusion and without any concrete evidence, Udar accused Nrekiq, by providing a bombastic headline, of jeopardizing the health of citizens of Ulcinj.

The same day the text on Nrekiq was published, Udar published another article: EXCLUSIVE: Krapovic wants to join the list It’s in Black and White! Again referring to the anonymous sources, the text stated that former Mayor of Budva Dragan Krapovic wanted to transfer from the Democrats to the list It’s in Black and White lead by Dritan Abazovic. As proof of the claim, they published a photo of the two actors from one of the cafés in Budva. Interesting is that the same day the text was published, Krapovic appeared on TV A1, where he represented the Democrats. Even though the second guest was Filip Adzic from the URA (It’s in Black and White), Krapovic not once mentioned leaving his party, and four days later when the DIK (State Election Commission) confirmed the electoral lists, he ended up fourth on the list Peace is our nation.

Besides speculations, incomplete information, and accusations towards public persons without concrete evidence, Udar publishes conspiracy theories too. The text: The DF confirmed suspicions: Mandic is NATO’s player, states that it is a well-kept secret that the American scientists have developed an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently only available to a limited number of people. They state that on July 11, 25 of such vaccines were imported in Montenegro because of the regime’s fear of someone of the key players being out of the game ahead of the elections, and Mandic was given the vaccine because he is the key regime’s opposition player. At the moment of publishing, this text (July 26) nowhere in the world was available the COVID-19 vaccine. Only on August 15, Russia published that they initiated the vaccine production, even though the World Health Organization data show that not all the phases of the clinical trials of such, as they said, experimental medicine have been completed.

When it comes to social media, the news portal has an active account on both Facebook and Twitter. But despite their frequent advertising, they did not generate a large number of followers on both platforms (Facebook – 870, Twitter – 87).

Data on the Facebook page Crnogorske novosti

During the Facebook analysis, only one person was noticed as an administrator from Montenegro. Besides, the Crnogorske novosti (the Montenegrin news) page is substantially active in sharing of Udar‘s content – out of 80 posts in total, one third (27) constituted posts shared from that news portal. The page was created on October 29, 2019, under the name Crnogorke najljepše djevojke (Montenegrins the most beautiful girls) just to change its name in Crnogorske novosti on July 22, ahead of the beginning of the election campaign. On that occasion, all of the previous content was deleted and then they started to post content aimed at discrediting the Montenegrin opposition.

Anonymous ownership and no impressum

Although they announced that the mission of the Udar news portal was to publish well-kept secrets and truths and that its editorial board is constituted of a team with international expertise in investigative journalism, till this day there is not an Impressum with the names of editor-in-chief and members of the editorial board, which is a legal obligation.

According to the Law on Media, Impressum should be visible, easily recognizable, and always available. Likewise, Impressum consists of the name of the media, e-mail or website address, name of editor-in-chief, name and headquarters/location of the founder, and a TIN of the media founder.

Milorad Vujovic and Srdjan Peric have recently and in the capacity of citizens submitted a request to the Agency for Electronic Media to take necessary actions within their authority and regarding the unregistered electronic media and the content it publishes.

Carefully hidden information on the tenant of the domain

The Udar news portal was created on the Internet by using the tools for anonymous web hostings, such as Njalla, which uses Bitcoin as a type of payment method that cannot be traced, and Cloudflare. These tools are designed to keep the ownership identity by hiding the information on domain or web hosting tenant (WHOIS).

Overview of the news portal’s certificates, WHOIS information, IP address history, hosting server, and the portal’s content did provide us neither with any information nor mistake that would uncover the ownership identity. It is about an organization with technical knowledge, which has carefully created and kept their anonymity.

During the first 15 days of August, the most read Montenegrin portals (six of them) published 627 articles mentioning the Democratic Party of Socialists (Demokratska partija socijalista). Out of them, 63.4 percent were negative, 19.9 percent were neutral while 16.7 percent were positive. In the same period, 284 articles mentioning the list For the future of Montenegro (Za budućnost Crne Gore) were registered, out of which 47.8 percent were positive, 39.2 were neutral and 13 percent were negative.

The Digital Forensic Center carried out a monitoring of the articles about the electoral lists on the news portals and posts on Facebook in order to determine their presence, key topics in the articles and their social media reach.

From August 1 to 15, we registered the articles mentioning parties and/or their representatives on six most visited Montenegrin news portals in the previous month, according to our data: Vijesti, CDM, In4S, RTCG, Antena M and Borba.

Monitoring demonstrated that the majority of the articles on news portals (627 of them) were about the list Decisively for Montenegro – DPS Milo Djukanovic (Odlučno za Crnu Goru – DPS Milo Đukanović), out of which 398 were negative, 124 were neutral while 105 of them were positive. When it comes to the number of articles on the portals, the majority of those mentioning the DPS and its leaders in any context were registered on the news portals IN4S, Borba and Vijesti. The news portal In4S had 160 articles. Out of them, 153 were negative, six were neutral and only one article was positive. On the news portal Borba, the DPS and its representatives were mentioned in negative context 107 times, 21 articles were neutral while there were no positive articles. On the news portal Vijesti, the DPS had 66 negative, 26 neutral and 15 positive articles.

During the monitoring period, In4S had the highest number of the op-eds on the upcoming elections while the majority of those targeted the government. Out of those articles, the following stand out: The opposition may defeat Milo if united and Montenegrins bit the hand that educated them. In4S and Borba republished the information of the Belgrade-based news portal Glas javnosti (the Voice of the public) that a great electoral fraud is being prepared and that the authorities are bringing the Albanians from Kosovo to vote for the DPS using false identity documents. The negative narratives published on the news portal Vijesti on the DPS and its representatives are usually taken from the press releases of the opposition parties, stating that the ruling party is blackmailing the voters and buying IDs as well as that the DPS has never been more vulnerable and endangered.

The second most mentioned party in the articles and posts is the coalition around the Democratic Front (Za budućnost Crne Gore), with the majority of articles in the positive context – 136, 111 were neutral, and 37 articles about this list and its representatives were negative. The majority of the articles about that electoral list in the monitoring period were on the news portals In4S and Borba. Out of 70 published articles on the news portal In4S, 60 were positive, eight were neutral and two were negative while Borba published 44 positive articles about that list, 22 neutral articles and no negative articles. Out of the positive articles about the great people’s coalition on the portal In4S, the op-eds stand out again. Hence, in the text For the future of Montenegro, the leaders of this coalition are commended since they succeeded to unite and it is also stated that the opposition is close to the electoral victory. The key message of the article is that Montenegro deserves to (re)animate and the precondition for that would be that the people vote for themselves and the future of Montenegro. The news portal Borba mostly reported on the statements and announcements of the chief candidate of the list For the future of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic, in which this coalition is presented as a defender of the shrines and the focus is on the abolition Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief after the regime change.

The list „Mir je naša nacija” (“Peace is our nation“) is on the third place for the number of articles (158) while the coalition „Crno na bijelo” (“It’s in black and white“) comes right after it with 154 articles. The list leaded by the Democratic Montenegro had 67 positive and neutral articles respectively while 24 articles were negative. The list „It’s in black and white“ had 79 positive articles, 63 neutral ones and 12 negative on all monitored news portals. Both lists had the most articles on the news portal Vijesti (Peace is our nation – 44, It’s in black and white – 43).

The list SDP – Strong Montenegro had 141 articles out of which 72 were positive, 53 were neutral and 16 were negative while the list SD – Ivan Brajovic – We decide CONSISTENTLY had 111 articles out of which 54 were positive, 30 were neutral and 27 were negative.

It is noticeable that the news portals dedicated much less attention to the national minorities’ parties. Therefore, there were 40 articles about the list of the Bosniak Party (Bošnjačka stranka), while the Croatian Citizens’ Initiative (Hrvatska građanska inicijativa) and the Albanian List – Genci Nimanbegu and Nik Gjeloshaj (Albanska lista – Gneci Nimanbegu i Nik Đeljošaj) had 28 articles respectively, the Croatian Reform Party (Hrvatska reformska stranka) had 27 articles and the least articles, only 19, had the Albanian Coalition – Unanimously (Albanska koalicija – Jednoglasno).

The most present topics in the articles on the news portals were identity issues, the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, healthcare and the measures of the National Coordination Body (NKT), crime and corruption, economy, youth and education.

More than 3.6k of the Facebook posts concern the elections

In the monitoring period, we registered more than 3.6k of the posts concerning elections in Facebook groups and pages. The posts had more than 880k of interactions (shares, likes, comments etc.)

Out of the monitored news portals, Borba had the most posts about the elections on its Facebook page – 231, then comes In4S with 184, Antena M with 84 while Vijesti had 76, RTCG had 51 and CdM had 25 posts.

The pages and groups which mostly shared the posts of the news portals on Facebook were: Srpski Herceg Novi, Pleme Vasojevići, Srpsko-rusko bratstvo – duhovno i istorijsko, Ne u NATO, Srpska Crna Gora, Crna Gora – Srpska Sparta, Ludački pokret Ne damo svetinje, Svetosavski pokret Crne Gore, Srbi u Crnoj Gori, Podrška mitoropolitu crnogorsko-primorskom g. Amfilohiju Radoviću, Nikšić ponosni srpski grad and Glas naroda u Republici Srpskoj. These pro-Serbian pages and groups mostly shared the articles from the portals In4S and Borba which demonstrates that they are more active on Facebook in this context than the pro-Montenegrin pages where we have not registered more significant sharing of the content from the monitored news portals.

For a complete presentation of the monitoring, click here.

All around the world, social media have been actively used as the means of influence in the prominent events and political processes. However, Facebook is the most used when it comes to the election campaigns, thanks to its features and tools. It offers a feature to collect numerous data easily, which enables the targeting of the groups on the basis of different criteria (users’ preferences, location etc.) This way, the users susceptible to a particular content are easily identified.

Examples of the political influence on social media are numerous. During 2019, President Donald Trump spent almost 20 million dollars on ads on Facebook. Russian meddling in the USA elections in 2016 is also problematic. On that occasion, Russian hackers allegedly meddled by launching misleading and false Facebook ads, intended for the users in the USA.

Influencers also have an important role in the election campaigns. What is indicative is the fact that not only influencers with many followers are engaged in the propaganda of political parties on social media or inviting people to participate in the elections, but also the so-called micro-influencers with only a couple of thousands of followers.

Where are our political parties on Facebook?

According to the data from 2019, Montenegro has 51 political parties, the most per capita in the region. However, in the race for parliamentary elections scheduled for August 30, 2020, there are about a dozen of them.

Since the coronavirus pandemic made the campaign in real word difficult, some parties decided to use the virtual world (social media) for this purpose. In Montenegro, it is usually Facebook, as the most used social network.

The DFC analyzed eleven Facebook pages of the Montenegrin political parties during the period June – July 2020: Aleksa Bečić – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora, Građanski pokret URA, Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore, Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanična stranica, DEMOS – Miodrag Lekić, Socijaldemokrate Crne Gore, Marko Milačić – Prava Crna Gora, Demokratski front, SNP – Socijalistička narodna partija Crne Gore – СНП ЦГ, Socijaldemokratska partija Crne Gore – SDP) and Bošnjačka stranka.

The acquired data indicate which political parties had the most interactions per post (total number of likes, shares, and comments), the most likes on the page as well as whether the interaction has varied as the elections are approaching. It was noticed that particular political parties used the option of sponsoring in order to amplify their reach, which collides with the organic interactions on these pages.

Milacic’s page  – the most interactions and likes

The page of Marko Milacic – Prava Crna Gora had the most interactions per post (4.3k) in June. This page also generates the most likes (70.1k). The next are the pages Demokratski front with 1.5k and Aleksa Bečić – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora with 1.1k of interactions per post. Besides this, both pages obtained many likes; therefore, the page of the DF has 51.3k while the Democrats have 44.4k of likes.

Number of average interactions per post in June on the pages of political parties

Other pages of political parties have less than a thousand interactions per post in June. However, Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanična stranica stands out in this group and despite the lower number of likes (5.8k) generates 717 interactions per post.

In July, Milacic’s page still had the most interactions per post (3.4.k) while this figure is almost halved in the case of Demokratski Front and Demokrate accounting for 757 and 643 interactions per post respectively. The data indicates that not all pages of political parties generate a significant increase in the number of interactions per post, even though the elections are approaching.

Number of average interactions per post in July on the pages of political parties

The pages of other political parties generate a similar trend in July as it was the case with June. Therefore, the number of interactions per post still does not surpass a thousand. However, a significant increase in the number of interactions is noticeable on the page of the Social democrats of Montenegro, which bounced from 70 in June to 369 interactions per post in July.

Overview of the growth in number of likes for June – July

When it comes to page likes, the biggest growth for the period June-July is registered on the Marko Milacic – Prava Crna Gora Facebook page with 6.7k likes, as well as on the Aleksa Becic – Demokrate – Demokratska Crna Gora with 6.1k likes. This is followed by Demokratski front (3.2k), Socijaldemokrate Crne Gore (1.8k), Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore (1.5k) and Ujedinjena Crna Gora – Zvanicna stranica (1.4k). Other pages of the political parties generate the growth of a less than a thousand page likes for the two monitored months.

Meme pages joined the political game

Apart from being fun, meme pages popular on Facebook use their rhetoric to influence public opinion. With a characteristic dose of satire, they have frequently been used as a tool of influence, which is most visible at the key political moments – in this case, the election campaign in Montenegro.

Otavio Freire, chief technology officer and president of SafeGuard Cyber, told for The Guardian last year: The visual nature of content makes it easier to stoke discord by speaking to audiences’ beliefs through memes. This content is easy and inexpensive to produce but more difficult to factcheck than articles from dubious sites.

Meme pages achieve the growth in Montenegro

Meme pages, divided between the position and the opposition just like the domestic political scene, find sources of their content in the current political reality, interpreting it in different manners. It is presumed that some of them have been created by political parties themselves, while others are obviously supporting specific political parties and even the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral in the context of the elections.

That way, the politics have been transferred to the virtual world, and in that sense, several opposition-oriented meme pages come to the fore: МИМистарство оностраних послова, Nemojmo politizovati proteste, It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 (which call themselves meme serdars), Dnevna doza crnogorskih dubioza, including two position-close meme pages – Crna Gora Transparentno and Politika Crna Gora.

Figures and statistics

In the context of the upcoming elections, it was noticed that the opposition-oriented meme pages have had a larger number of posts on a daily basis. Just meme page It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 had 28 posts per day on average for the period June-July.  Also, by random sharing, they amplify the content from other meme pages with similar views. On the other hand, pages close to the government account for a smaller number of posts – several posts on a weekly or monthly basis, but some of their posts have more than a thousand likes.

Growth in number of likes on the meme pages for June – July

The analyzed data clearly shows us that depending on the political option they are more inclined to, some meme pages criticize the opposition and their leaders. Others, on the other hand, call for opposition unity, insist on voting instead of election boycott, and criticize the ruling party – the DPS, and the President of Montenegro. The SPC and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral is also a frequent topic of the meme pages; some of them express their support to Metropolitan Amfilohije. Sometimes, admins of such pages see themselves as persons whose strategies should be followed by the church to overthrow the government.

Average number of interaction per post on the meme pages for June – July

When it comes to the statistics for June-July 2020, despite its small number of posts (18) for the past two months, meme page Crna Gora Transparentno has the largest number of average interactions per post (914), at the same time being the most liked meme page (18.9k). This is followed by meme pages It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 with 447, Politika Crna Gora with 390, and Dnevna doza crnogorskih dubioza with 357 interactions per post. For the same period, meme pages МИМистарство оностраних послова and Nemojmo politizovati proteste have 287 and 260 interaction per post respectively. It is important to mention that meme page It was very unpleasant/Psalam 118 has achieved the highest growth in the number of likes (5.4k) for the period June-July.

In the context of the current events in Montenegro, the emergence of numerous organizations advocating for the Serbian interests and rights in Serbia and over the world is noticeable

The Serbian- American Leadership Conference (SALC) was particularly noticeable due to its activities and rhetoric on social media (Facebook and Twitter),  offering selective facts and thus representing Montenegro in a negative light to the American public.

The mission of this non-profit organization, as it is emphasized on the website, is the advancement of the professional, educational, cultural, and civic interests of the Serbian-American community as well as the preserving of Christian faith. The SALC is accordingly commenting on the situation in Montenegro through the lenses of the events around the Law on Freedom of Religion, offering its support to the clergymen, believers, and local activists.

Three levers for supporting the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro

A discourse analysis is showing that the SALC is using three different levers to fight the authorities in Montenegro online. Rhetoric and content of the arguments are adjusted to the American citizens and the current situation in the USA.

First, the SALC aims to portray Montenegro as a country that prevents people from practicing their religion and alerts that it endangers religious freedom. This is an argument that resonates in the minds of American policymakers and the public. Several hashtags are promoted to illustrate these allegations: such as #ReligiousFreedom or #NeDamoSvetinje.

Hashtags promoted by the SALC

Second, as mentioned above, the SALC used the current wave of protests in the US in the context of the message Black Lives Matter to draw a comparison with the current alleged oppression against Serbian orthodox people in Montenegro.  The comparative picture presenting the apprehension by the police in Budva and the USA is used to illustrate this alleged similar situation.

The collage comparing the situation in MNE and the USA

The third way is lobbying of the SALC in the Congress and their post on a day when the illegally built monastery residence in Ulcinj was demolished on June 10. The President of this organization, Aleksandar Djuricic invited all the interested persons to inform their representatives in the Congress about this undemocratic and unconstitutional law passed by the Montenegrin Government and the dangerous actions it is conducting, with the necessary instructions.

SALC Information on Montenegro: How to Call Your Member of Congress

SALC Information on Montenegro: How to Call Your Member of CongressSALC’s Call to Action on Montenegro! Inform your Senators and House Representative about the dire situation in Montenegro! This morning, June 10, 2020, the Montenegrin government began its implementation of its so-called “Law on Freedom of Religion” by forcibly taking control of several church properties, including the demolition of the building where the monks and nuns live at the Monastery of St. Basil of Ostrog in Ulcinj, Montenegro. We also have information that the Montenegrin Government is preparing to demolish the chapel where baptisms are conducted in Tivat, Montenegro. Please call your representatives to inform them about this undemocratic and unconstitutional law passed by the Montenegrin Government and the dangerous actions conducted today that will only enflame tensions.Steps to call your member of Congress:1. Go to www.govtrack.us2. Click on “Legislators”3. Click on “Members of Congress”4. Either enter your address, or click “I’m at Home” if you are currently at home. The safest option is to enter your address. 5. Call your Senators and House representative either with your own commentary or the template provided below.6. Remain calm and cordial.Hello, my name is [NAME] and I’m a constituent from [CITY, STATE].I’m calling to inform [NAME OF SENATOR OR CONGRESSPERSON] about the situation in Montenegro and to voice my concern about the recent actions taken by the Montenegrin Government against the Orthodox Christian community living there. In December, the Montenegrin Government passed a law that violates the rights to freedom of religion and property of both the religious communities and individuals in Montenegro. The Montenegrin Government began to implement this controversial law today by forcibly taking control of church properties and demolishing the monastic residence at the Monastery of St. Basil of Ostrog in Ulcinj, Montenegro. As a member of NATO that receives American taxpayer funds, Montenegro should be asked to cease and desist until the constitutionality of this law is ruled upon by the courts.I ask [NAME OF SENATOR OR CONGRESSPERSON] to visit to view a legal analysis of this law.Thank you for your time and attention.(If there is no answer, leave your name with spelling, full home address, and phone number on the voicemail.)

Posted by Serbian American Leadership Conference – SALC on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ties of the SALC in Montenegro

In order to better understand the scope of influence of this organization and detect additional persons coming from its network, the Twitter network of the SALC was analyzed.

The analysis discovered the accounts with which the SALC Twitter account has the strongest connections. Those are the accounts Neno Djordjevic and Vasilije Vranic.

Neno Djordjevic is a member of the Serbian American Leadership Conference board and is related to a Serbian political party named Narodna Stranka. This Twitter account reveals that Djordjevic is fully in line with the SALC activity around the current political situation in Montenegro. Djordjevic is a major individual spreading words in English about the developments in Montenegro.

Vasilije Vranic is a Priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, living in Washington DC. An analysis of his account led to assess that he is a strong opponent of Montenegro’s government and supports the Serbian Christians of Montenegro. Since the creation of his account one month ago, he tweets several times a day, promoting numerous hashtags related to religious freedom in Montenegro.

In March 2020, Vranic attended the meeting between the Patriarch Irinej and Sam Brownback, United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. On that occasion, they discussed the issues including the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Vranic is equally active on Facebook where he frequently shares the posts of the SALC. The photo which confirms that Vranic met with the President of the SALC in White House was detected right on that social media.

Serbian American Leadership Conference#serbian #salc #srbiuamerici?? @ United States Capitol

Posted by Vasilije Vranic on Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Online briefing with the opposition activists

Analysis of the Facebook page of the SALC led to the post concerning a special online briefing on the situation in Montenegro, held on May 16 in the organization of the SALC.

SALC Special Briefing on the Recent Situation in Montenegro

SALC Special Briefing on the Recent Situation in MontenegroSALC hosts a special briefing on the recent events in Montenegro after Bishop Joanikije and other clergy of the Metropolitanate of Montenegro & the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church were arrested and detained, and dozens of peaceful marchers in the procession of St. Basil were beaten. Joining SALC to discuss the events on the ground in Montenegro are Nebojša Medojević, Vladimir Božović, Vladislav Dajković, and Milojko Spajić.

Posted by Serbian American Leadership Conference – SALC on Saturday, May 16, 2020

The first speaker on the briefing was Nebojsa Medojevic, one of the Democratic Front leaders. Besides him, the opposition activist Vladislav Dajkovic received the invitation for briefing. However, he could not join the video call since, as he explained, he was on the way to a hospital due to the injuries that he received from the police during the protests in Niksic.

The Ambassador of Serbia to Montenegro, Vladimir Bozovic, and Milojko Spajic, from the group Montenegrins for Religious Freedom, also took part in the briefing. After the briefing, the SALC thanked everyone for tuning in for the special briefing and posted the press release from the Democratic Front on the police brutality against the opposition activists in Montenegro.

The SALC does not hesitate to comment on the ruling party in Montenegro through its Twitter account, comparing it with the Communist Party in China. It is important to emphasize that this Tweet, posted on June 19, is the only post mentioning the political parties in Montenegro since the account has been created. This may be indicative in the context of the upcoming elections in Montenegro.

Attorney Ilijana Todorovic

At the beginning of June, the news portal IN4S published an article on Ilijana Todorovic, attorney from the USA, who destroyed the Law on Freedom of Religion in her video analysis. In a video which was posted on YouTube on May 30, Todorovic is interpreting the articles of the Law and pointing out to its inconsistencies commenting that almost each article of the Law contains some mistakes. It is important to emphasize that this video was pinned on the Facebook page of the SALC, i.e., this is the first post on their feed.

Further analysis showed that lawyer Todorovic is a SALC VP of Legislative Affairs.

The Digital Forensic Center did a detailed analysis of the pieces of research of the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan studies (IFIMES), due to discovered inconsistencies in claims, biased coverage of specific topics and changing attitude towards the events and players in a short period.

In their last research 2020 Bosnia and Herzegovina-Montenegro: Dodik and Đukanović are destabilizing factors in Balkans and Europe?, IFIMES states that the declaring Montenegro a corona-free country was met with ridicule in Western diplomatic circles. Recently, Montenegro’s President Milo Đukanović (DPS) lightly declared Montenegro’s “victory over the Corona virus”, which was met with indignation, disbelief and ridicule in Western diplomatic circles. What the US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and other world leaders have not managed to do, Đukanović managed to do through a Twitter post, by which he deceived once again the Montenegrin and international public.

Without any intention of commenting on or disproving the author’s personal opinion, we cannot ignore the fact that the vocabulary used is neither appropriate nor characteristic of academic pieces of research of the Institute, whose name suggests influence, along with expertise and professionalism.

Shift in writing about Montenegro and Serbia

The research Security-intelligence activities at the time of Covid-19 pandemic, published on March 29 of this year, suggests that Montenegro is hiding results in the fight against coronavirus and withholding the data on the infected, presented itself as one of the few countries with no Covid-19 cases, which did not actually reflect the real situation in the country.

Besides negative narrative about Montenegro and its President, favoring the Serbian President and Serbia is evident, and they have been portrayed as victims of the intelligence services’ activities in the region. The research Serbia 2020: Serbia – scene of confrontation of intelligence services? (published on May 15) suggests that cooperation Podgorica-Zagreb-Pristina is directed against Aleksandar Vucic, without providing any proofs for the claim.

Vucic and Becirovic at the meeting in Belgrade

Analyzing IFIMES’ pieces of research, published from 2016 until 2020, a set of inconsistencies has been seen. The differences are visible in the tone and shift in writing about specific countries and actors. The changes happened after the meeting between President Aleksandar Vucic and IFIMES’ director Zijad Becirovic (on February 12, 2020), even though there was no significant political or social events in the preceding year that would support such a shift.

Vucic – a factor of instability, Djukanovic – a leader

Before the meeting in question, pieces of research had mostly been criticizing the politics of Aleksandar Vucic, calling it a successor of Milosevic and Seselj, and his party right-wing, conservative, and in many aspects nationalistic. Vucic was portrayed as a factor of instability in the region, whose destructive politics is based on media control, creating of crisis in the regional countries, schizophrenic foreign policy and inability to face the past. Both Vucic and Dacic have been constantly creating problems and crisis to appear as problem-solvers and solution-makers, thus ensuring themselves a status of regional leaders.

On the other hand, President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic is presented as a leader who is establishing harmonic relations with all ethnic communities and whose country became a prominent factor of stability in the region, with one of the best macroeconomic indicators in the region.

Change of tone – roles reversed

In the research Current events in the region 2019: Who wants to destabilize Serbia? published on June 18, 2019, after the meeting of Vucic and Becirovic, the tone of writing is changed and the narratives opposite to the previous analyses of IFIMES are increasingly noticeable. Vucic is presented as a factor of peace and stability in the Balkans and his current position is the most difficult. Even though he has been criticized for media control, now he is the target of the financed media network. The Serbian opposition is also threatening to the integrity of the President of Serbia by misusing the civilian protests and meetings with Kosovo-Albania politicians.

Montenegro, previously presented in the pieces of research of IFIMES as a factor of peace and stability is now presented as a country in which the virus of corruption and criminal is widely present through the DPS and Djukanovic, whose intelligence services are protecting the regime. President Djukanovic, who used to be portrayed as a factor of peace with all ethnic communities, is now playing the card of manipulation, nationalism, and religion in the analyses of IFIMES, and as a former participant in war crimes threatens to the image of NATO.

Besides the change of attitudes of IFIMES towards Montenegro and Serbia, during the observation period, the constant of a positive rating of Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and former Prime Minister of North Macedonia is noticeable. When Zaev came to power, this country became a bright spot in the region, was stated in many pieces of research. Affirming the politics of Zaev continued in the period from July 2017 to July 2019 when Becirovic, together with the other director of IFIMES, Aljaf Bakhtyar became an advisor in the Government of Zoran Zaev.

The credibility of the IFIMES under the microscope

Stjepan Mesic, former President of the Republic of Croatia and Honorable President of IFIMES and Budimir Loncar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and President of IFIMES Advisory Board distanced themselves from the recently published pieces of research of that Institute, by the mutual press release. The Slovenian media wrote many times on the affairs in relation to the financing of the Institute and its work. The case of Kopar municipality and six ordered pieces of research stands out.

Between 2011 and 2016, the municipality of Kopar bought six pieces of research from IFIMES for EUR 69,132 on the possibility of economic cooperation with the Balkan and Middle East countries, migrants, and Albanian families in that municipality. Instead of detailed analysis, the research provided general information on the wanted topics. A detailed analysis of the Slovenian portal Pod Črto demonstrated that two out of six pieces of research were completely plagiarized, while the two of them contain the parts taken from other sources.

A piece of research from 2016 conducted by the Radio-Television of Slovenia RTVSLO points out to another paid research where the municipality of Kopar sought the analysis on the funeral customs of Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox people for which they paid EUR 11, 000. It is stated that the research is bizarre and does not make any sense since only five Muslims are buried in the municipality of Kopar each year. Therefore, the President of the Islamic Association himself was surprised by the research. The opposition of Kopar stated that a mayor Boris Popovič and director of the Utility Company of Kopar, Gaspar Misic ordered this unnecessary study in order to finance Zijad Becirovic, their acquaintance and Director of IFIMES.