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RT Balkan assists Serbian regime in discrediting findings of foreign election observers

Photo: FoNet

The Russian state media in Serbia Russia Today Balkan has joined other pro-government tabloids in attacking international observers who monitored the elections held on Sunday in Serbia. In several articles published after the elections, RT Balkan suggests that the assessments of international observers are not objective and that the criticism arises only because the change of power in Serbia did not occur as the West would have liked. In none of the articles does RT Balkan mention reports from domestic observer missions regarding electoral irregularities.

On 19 December, the portal published an article titled “RT Balkan Investigates: Who are the (un)friendly Western observers who controlled Serbian elections?”. The portal questions the OSCE/ODIHR assessments, stating, “to what extent can such assessments, without specific evidence provided for serious accusations, be accepted as objective and true?”.

The article implies that Western observers are not objective, citing the statement of the head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Stefan Schennach, who criticized the practice of snap elections in an interview with N1. However, RT Balkan interprets his statement as evidence that the West believes that Serbs don’t need elections, “as if they should decide on that”.

The article also suggests that the sharp criticism from international observers is because the elections did not produce the outcome expected by foreigners. It also brings up Schennach’s membership in the “Friends of the Western Balkans” network and “his offer” to impose sanctions against Russia, implying his potential subjective interest in changing power in Serbia.

In the article published on 20 December titled “Challenging Serbian elections: What does Germany and America want?“, RT Balkan questions whether the West has justified criticism of Serbian elections or if the problem is that the results are not the their liking.

This media outlet uses a statement from European Parliament member Vladimir Bilčik that the elections in Serbia went smoothly to support its claims about the lack of objectivity of international observers. Despite Bičik later expressing concern about the number of complaints and irregularities, RT Balkan did not report this on its portal.

The two published articles on this issue do not explain the role of international observer missions, nor the important fact that they observed elections based on an invitation from the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić. A month before the December elections, Serbia extended an invitation to the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE.

As political analyst Aleksandar Đokić previously assessed for European Western Balkans, Kremlin-affiliated media in Serbia, such as RT Balkan and Sputnik, invest more effort in promoting the regime in Belgrade than the one in Moscow. He added that regarding Vučić’s regime, there are no disagreements among Kremlin-affiliated media in Serbia and state or pro-regime media in Serbia. “For all of them, Vučić should remain the undisputed ruler forever,” Đokić said on that occasion.

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

The elections in Serbia were marked by serious irregularities, misuse of public funds, media dominance by President Aleksandar Vučić, negative campaigning, and the spread of fear, as assessed by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

“These are serious issues that institutions must address and investigate thoroughly to create fair electoral conditions and strengthen democracy in Serbia in the future,” stated during a press conference in Belgrade on 18 December.

Regarding irregularities on election day, ODIHR noted “group voting and the violation of the secrecy of the vote.” Representatives of international observers mentioned serious irregularities, including vote-buying.

They emphasize that they are not in a position to comment on whether the election results could be questioned due to these irregularities but stress that they have recommendations regarding this matter. They will monitor how the authorities in Serbia will handle these recommendations.

Even the assessments from domestic observers are not more optimistic. CRTA Election Observation Mission stated that drastic abuses of voters’ rights, laws, and institutions escalated on election day.

“We bring attention to serious concerns regarding the quality of Parliamentary elections, and their further departure from standards for free and fair elections. Considering the scope and diversity of electoral abuses in Belgrade we conclude that the results of the Belgrade elections do not reflect the freely expressed will of voters living in Belgrade”, CRTA stated.

They added that irregularities compromising election results were recorded at five percent of polling stations for parliamentary elections and nine percent of polling stations for Belgrade elections.

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