The overseas lobbying for the Serbian interests in MNE

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.

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.

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.

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.