How the Serbian media are pitting the people against the Army

A planned five-day exercise on Sinjajevina Mountain that was envisaged for the period from October 19 to October 23 was followed by sensational and tendentious content in the Serbian tabloids.

In accordance with its activities, the Army of Montenegro announced on October 14 that the military exercise would be held on the Montenegrin Sinjajevina Mountain in the period from October 19 to October 23. At the same time, the part of the public discussed the potential threats to the environment that may be caused by 82mm and 120mm mortar shooting. In a press release published earlier by the Ministry of Defense, it was stated that all the media and NGOs engaged in environmental protection were invited to participate in the exercise on October 22.

Soon after the news on the military exercise had been published, numerous eco-activists, NGO representatives, and above all the members of the civic initiative Sačuvajmo Sinjajevinu (Save Sinjajevina) started a peaceful protest that included camping on the military exercise site. A part of the activists, green organizations representatives, and locals arrived on the mountain on October 16, and in the moment of writing, they are still there. The road blockage was another way to express dissatisfaction with the announced military exercise.

On the other hand, Minister of Defense Predrag Boskovic emphasized that all relevant studies in Montenegro and the region confirmed that this type of exercise with such armament and munitions could not aggravate or complicate any ecological situation on the site. However, after the pressure of the public and media, the Ministry of Defense announced on October 21 that the exercise was postponed until further notice.

Waves of sensational and sappy headlines on the news portals

A piece of news on the military exercise ended up on the main headlines of the Serbian news portals that were competing in the number of articles and sensational headlines. Even though the texts usually reported the facts and statements of the Montenegrin activists or officials, clickbait headlines suggested a state of war tensions on Sinjajevina Mountain: RANTING AND RAVING! War for Sinjajevina is continuing, the armies of Montenegro and NATO cannot take over the Mountain (VIDEO) (Srbija danas), (VIDEO) TOUGH WAR FOR SINJAJEVINA, PEOPLE STOPPED THE ARMY OF MONTENEGRO AND NATO FROM TAKING OVER THE MOUNTAIN! The battle is not over, can the people handle it?! (Informer), GUSLE AGAINST CANONS! Montenegrins on -3 °C are waiting for the Army on Sinjajevina! (VIDEO) (Informer).

In order to awake the widest public circle to the happenings on Sinjajevina, the Serbian tabloids did not run away from sappy tones in order to arouse the feelings of the readers. Therefore, a text about father Raso who was wishing his daughter happy birthday with tears in his eyes and saying that he was ready to die for his mountain appeared on the news portal Alo. Another example is a headline on the news portal Vecernje novosti: A BOY IS DEFENDING HIS MOUNTAIN: A young fellow on Sinjajevina is readily waiting for NATO soldiers (FOTO), created by the same model – to deepen the emotions. Both news pieces were initially published by the Facebook page Sačuvajmo Sinjajevinu/Сачувајмо Сињајевину.

Striving to display the images of disorder and chaos, the Serbian media did not miss the opportunity to present the NATO alliance as a destructive organization, and to discredit Montenegro as its member state. The drama and visible raise of tensions were accomplished with clickbait headlines: THE OVERTHROW IN NATO BEGAN! Montenegrins launched the rebellion against the Western alliance: Take that radar to your own cottage and watch your chief Stoltenberg! (Alo) or Where NATO sets up its bases, the land reeks of pertness: Montenegrins got out their lethal weapon /video/ (Sputnik Srbija). In comparison to the other media outlets, the text from Sputnik generated 826 interactions in total on Facebook.

After the exercise had been postponed, the following headlines appeared: THE PEOPLE DEFENDED SINJAJEVINA, THE ARMY OF MONTENEGRO GAVE UP ON THE EXERCISE! (Informer) and MONTENEGRIN ARMY BEATEN TO A PULP! Great victory over the NATO forces on Sinjajevina! (Alo). However, Minister Boskovic appeared on the RTCG news on October 19 and said that the exercise of the Army of Montenegro was scheduled at the beginning of the year and was on the agenda of the Ministry. He added that the Army of Montenegro was planning to organize the exercise on Sinjajevina with NATO member states in January and February of the following year.

Montenegrin media and meme pages – name-calling and insults

The Montenegrin news portal Aktuelno jumped into the race for the most striking content with a headline: Feasting of „the Albanian Chetnik“ and the hippy commune of Saint Sava: A blazing fire is flaring above Sinjajevina, let us see which „ecologist“ is gone (author’s comment: the reference to a Chetnik song). The expressed dissatisfaction of the ecological activists, cattlemen, and NGOs with the military exercise was described by the author as a protest which overnight turned to a paramilitary, subversive action that includes political, para political, intelligence, and propaganda structures of the local political forces but also those from the neighboring countries. When the leader of the Civic Movement URA Dritan Abazovic supported the activists, the author changed direction. Therefore, the author writes that under the influence of the environmentally-conscious „Albanian Chetnik“, the hippy commune of the procession participants on Sinjajevina adapted to the new circumstances and “retailored” their motto  „We don’t give you the shrines“ to „We don’t give you Sinjajevina“.

The fact is that the Serbian news portals lead in a campaign of presenting Sinjajevina as a battlefield in Montenegro. However, the Montenegrin meme pages on Facebook are leading the campaign against the NATO alliance and Montenegro as its member state. Even though the content of the meme pages should not be taken too seriously (since they declare themselves as pages for jokes and fun only), they often serve as the cover for open campaigns and advocating for particular ideas.

Stoltenberg: Protect nature, but also enable the Army to perform exercises

Responding to the question of whether the nature park could be the site for military exercises, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he did not want to comment on the specific locations for exercises in Montenegro, but emphasized that the balance must be found between the need to preserve nature and to perform military exercises. This is important for all allies and countries so that their army would be able to protect them, he said.