European Western Balkans

Russia Today Balkan: Kremlin’s media outlet in service of Serbian ruling parties ahead of elections

Aleksandar Vučić and Vladimir Putin; Photo: The President of the Republic of Serbia

Over 170,000 people have signed the “ProGlas initiative”, launched by a group of intellectuals and public figures calling people to vote in the 17 December elections. The public figures, who do not support any party openly but are highly critical of the current government, include the former president of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Vladimir Kostić, former rector of the University of Belgrade Ivanka Popović, actress Svetlana Bojković, actor Dragan Bjelogrlić, judge Miodrag Majić and others.

The negative campaign against the “ProGlas” in the pro-government media has been ongoing since early November when the initiative was launched. In addition to statements from government officials, pro-government media dailies have regularly published pieces discrediting individuals who supported “ProGlas”.

Last week, the Russian state media outlet in Serbia Russia Today Balkan (RT Balkan) also joined the effort to discredit “ProGlas”. RT Balkan “investigated” the alleged connections between “ProGlas” and civil society organizations in Serbia, Soros, CIA and the United States.

RT’s analysis, published on 6 December, made its way to the front page of the leading pro-government tabloid Informer, and the article about it was also published in the print edition of the oldest daily in Serbia, Politika.

Thus, the Russian state media in Serbia once again came to the aid of the ruling party. During the first in a series of mass anti-government protests following the May mass shootings, RT Balkan reported that opposition parties were attempting to exploit the tragedies for the promotion of their own interests.

The newest RT article states that the initiative is backed by the non-governmental organization Civic Initiatives (Građanske inicijative), “known in public as one of the pro-Western NGOs”.

“The list of donors for this organization includes the embassies of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States, as well as the European Commission, Freedom House, ‘Integra Kosovo,’ Soros’s Kosovo Open Society Foundation and its branch in “the rest of” Serbia, the Council of Europe, USAID, and, of course, the unavoidable NED, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, which has been linked to CIA activities since its inception”, writes RT Balkan. 

The article suggests that the campaign involving public figures and intellectuals is “formally non-partisan but evidently anti-regime,” with America pulling the strings through non-governmental organizations.

By involving Americans, the CIA, Soros, and foreign embassies, RT Balkan, in a manner well-known in Serbia, targets civil society organizations in Serbia and the ProGlas initiative.

The “ProGlas” initiative has been announced from the start as a group critical of the government and aimed at increasing voter turnout in the upcoming elections. The call to abstainers to use their voting rights on election day is the main message of the “ProGlas” initiative.

What is also publicly known is that many activist groups united around the “Dokle više” campaign early in November, even before the formal presentation of the “ProGlas” initiative. This campaign urges citizens to turn out massively for the elections and safeguard the ballot boxes. Civic Initiatives are part of this campaign, together with other activists and movements.

Political analyst Aleksandar Đokić assesses that Kremlin-controlled media in Serbia, such as RT Balkan and Sputnik, invest more effort in promoting the regime in Belgrade than the one in Moscow.

“The reason is simple. Margarita Simonyan, who oversees both state media corporations from Moscow, outsourced the management of Kremlin media in Serbia to the Trgovčević family (mother is the editor-in-chief of Sputnik, daughter is the editor-in-chief of RT). When it comes to people primarily living in Serbia, they are mostly informed about Vučić, not Putin, even though the latter formally pays them,” notes Đokić.

He adds that there are no divergences between Kremlin media in Serbia and state or pro-regime media in Serbia regarding Vučić’s regime.

“For all of them, Vučić should forever remain an undisputed ruler,” says Đokić.

According to him, the current state of Serbian society is such that every piece of information from Russia is uncritically and positively adopted, while every piece of information from the West is uncritically and negatively embraced.

“This is how the voter base of the SNS, SPS, and nationalist parties thinks, and they continue to be the absolute majority of the electorate. Moreover, the specific influence of Russian, or Kremlin, media is not high, simply because media close to the regime, especially tabloids, convey identical anti-Western propaganda narratives. In other words, Kremlin media cannot break through on the Serbian scene dominated by regime-friendly media,” concludes Aleksandar Đokić.

The question of how much money the media and civil society receive from the international donors regularly becomes a topic for certain media, especially before elections. Often, media close to the ruling party publish lists showing who receives how much money from the European Union or its member states, promoting it as a significant revelation and exposure, even though these data have been publicly available all along.

What these articles, including the latest one targeting Građanske Inicijative, fail to acknowledge, is that the largest beneficiary of foreign funds is the state of Serbia and its institutions.

As previously reported by EWB, in the past 18 years, taxpayers from EU member states have donated over 3.6 billion in non-repayable funds in various areas. Thanks to IPA funds, the state of Serbia and its institutions receive approximately 200 million euros annually, making Serbia the largest recipient of European funds in the region.

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