Politico: Soft-power struggle between Russia and West in Serbia

Media; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – The West is fighting back against Russia in a battle for influence in the Balkans. But although the European Union has renewed its interest in the region, the latest charge is being led by Britain, writes Politico.

BBC has recently released service in the Serbian language after seven years of break, which Politico sees as a move against pro-Russian media “pumping out fake news stories”.

“The media market and the general situation has become a lot more difficult” in Serbia, said Artyom Liss, the BBC World Service’s regional editor for Europe. “We think there is a demand for what the BBC offers everywhere else — accurate and balanced reporting.”

It is stated that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić clearly pointed out that Serbia’s strategic goal is the EU, however, he remains very close to Russia. “While he talks positively of Serbia joining the EU, he and many of his ministers also use fiery rhetoric against the West and praise Moscow,” writes Politico.

Also, the percentage of Russian investments in Serbia is significantly lower than the European ones, and more than 100 Serbian organizations promote friendly ties with Russia, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies.

A drastic drop in media freedom in Serbia is noted, but also the fact that the government attacked critical media on several occasions, calling them “liars”. It was also pointed out that “even under the rule of strongman Slobodan Milošević during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, some fiercely independent media outlets thrived.”

“The independent media survived dictatorship but they won’t survive democracy. This is open hunting season on independent thinkers,” Snježana Milivojević, journalism professor said for Politico. “Democracy is seriously in danger.”

Stevan Dojčinović, editor-in-chief of KRIK, says most of the fake news comes from the mainstream media and government, as well as from Russia.

Vučić’s adviser for media relations, Suzana Vasilijević, said many media organizations that portray themselves as independent are run by longtime political opponents of the president.

“They now use their media influence to attack the current government and state policy,” she said for Politico.

It is also stated that Vučić made it very clear that he was not thrilled with the return of BBC.

“The BBC is opening in Serbia … All of that is OK, Serbia is a free country. The people of Serbia need to know that so that they understand that this is not objective information, but information that is in the interest of one kingdom.” Vučić said, writes Politico.