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European Western Balkans
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Russian state media in Serbia support the government with anti-Western narratives

Aleksandar Vučić meets with Vladimir Putin; Photo: Kremlin.ru

While the EU member states have banned the broadcast of Russian state-affiliated media due to their propagandistic reporting and spreading disinformation, in Serbia, the operation of these media outlets remains unhindered, while their influence is significant. The majority of pro-government mainstream media regularly disseminate news published by Russian state media outlets, such as RT Balkan and Sputnik Serbia.

The powerful impact of these media outlets is evident from different public opinion surveys on citizens’ attitudes toward Russia. According to the survey published by the organization “New Third Way” in April 2023, as many as 66% of citizens believe that the West is responsible for the war in Ukraine, while only 21% blame Russia.

Furthermore, the same poll showed that nearly 48% of Serbian citizens consider Russia as Serbia’s most important political and economic partner, while only 30% say it is the EU.

In addition to being a penetrative channel for Kremlin propaganda dissemination, Russian state media in Serbia also serve as a platform for spreading narratives beneficial to Serbian state officials.

As EWB reported, Russian state media assisted the Serbian ruling party and President Vučić in controlling the narrative during mass protests after the May tragedies, as well as during the election process. The reporting by Russian media on these events did not significantly differ from the pro-government tabloids.

“Color revolutions”, “new Maidans”, and “the overthrow of the Serbian state by the West” – are some of the regular labels that Serbian authorities attach to every anti-government protest and opposition activity. Russian state media have also utilized such narratives in interpreting political events in Serbia.

During the election process, negative campaigns against for example “ProGlas” civic initiatives found space not only in pro-government media but also in Russian state media. For example, RT Balkan “investigated” the connections of “ProGlas” with non-governmental organizations, Soros, CIA…

One such analysis from RT Balkan ended up on the front page of the pro-government tabloid Informer, while the article was also published in the print edition of the oldest daily in Serbia, Politika. 

Vladimir Đorđević, Assistant Professor at the Department of Territorial Studies at the Faculty of Regional Development and International Studies at Mendel University in Brno, believes that Russian state media, such as RT Balkan or Sputnik, never criticize political elites no matter what they do.

“Additionally, they give them space to slander the West. For example, in the case of the Serbian President, they reported several times when he spoke very critically about the EU. On the other hand, they did not report when he praised the EU for its help and assistance to Serbia“, Đorđević said.

He adds that Russian media often use existing nationalistic narratives, mostly those in Serbia and the Republika Srpska, offering sometimes Russian solutions for the situation in the region.

“Russian propaganda often uses the nationalist narratives that are already quite popular and well-established in countries like Serbia or the Republika Srpska entity in BiH. This is usually the basis for their communication in this region. This creates a perception among citizens of Russia as a protector of Serbian national interests”, Đorđević believes.

He adds that Russia uses its media to project its power and influence in the region of the Western Balkans, while the role and significance of Russia for countries in the region are often mythologized.

Apart from Serbia, the launching of Russian state media RT Balkan has been announced in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Experts believe that the launch of RT Balkan in BiH could further deepen the political and ethnic polarization in that country.

„Opening a media outlet that is directly funded by the Russian state will additionally problematize the issue of polarization in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans. This polarization will largely follow national lines, because, in my opinion, the Russian state is actually abusing nationalist narratives in the region and using them for its propaganda“, Đorđević states.

He adds that Russian propaganda is quite successful in creating a negative picture of the West in Serbia and in the Western Balkans.

 

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