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November 2019

Dear readers,

It is our pleasure to introduce to you a new monthly newsletter aimed at summarizing the latest policy developments and non-governmental activities in the area of monitoring, exposing and countering hostile foreign influence in the Western Balkans. 

The region of the Western Balkans has been a subject of ambitions of several foreign authoritarian regimes which use different means and tools to manipulate the opinion of the local citizens with disinformation, project influence via politically motivated economic operations and ally with local policymakers.

Despite those developments, the debate in the region about hostile foreign influence is only in the starting point. International attention and assistance, sharing experiences, lessons learnt, and best practices are needed to turn the situation around.

This is why we decided to launch this new product, which was possible due to the financial support of the International Visegrad Fund. Monthly, you will be provided with news on new developments in the non-governmental as well as the governmental and political sector from the Western Balkans region. The contributions are provided by the most distinguished local organizations: Center for Democratic Transitions, Institute for Democracy 'Societas Civilis' – Skopje and Zašto Ne.

We are hoping that this information service will encourage more attention to the situation in the region and perhaps also incite future activities and projects.


The Team of the European Values Center for Security Policy


Vulnerabilities to Russian influence in Montenegro

A new report published by the European Values Centre for Security Policy focuses on NATO's newest member, Montenegro. Its admission into NATO is viewed as a big win for the Alliance in terms of the message it sends to Russia and other Western Balkan nations. However, despite NATO membership, Russian influence in the country remains significant and has shown no signs of going away. This influence is seen most prominently in the economic, political, civil society, media, and religious realms. Russia relies heavily on disinformation and uses its proxy agents to promote its agenda directly and indirectly in the country. The high level of corruption in Montenegro and its weak institutions provide the fuel that allows Russian influence to take hold and infiltrates all levels of society without any resource. This poses a major threat not only to Montenegro but to the broader Western Balkan region and to both NATO and the EU.

North Macedonia's proposed action plan against disinformation

This summer, the Government of North Macedonia announced an Action Plan for Resolute Action against the Spreading of Disinformation. The action plan identifies the disinformation campaigns as the main threat to democracy and election processes. It includes security measures such as the launching of more secure intragovernmental communication and IT security protocols. 

Additionally, proactive measures are envisaged, most notably the establishment of a Taskforce for combating disinformation and attacks on democracy. The task force will be consisting of representatives of the Government, the ministries and the intelligence community, and will analyse and monitor the “spread of misinformation and disinformation in the public sphere”. 

Throughout the implementation of the action plan, the government will actively cooperate with EU and NATO and will ask for the inclusion of the North Macedonia into the Rapid Alert System within the European External Action Service. While the Action plan is currently consulted with various stakeholders, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the opposition parties raised their concerns that over-regulation in this regard could harm media freedoms.

A big hub of up to 30 outlets revealed jointly spreading disinformation in BiH

The research team of, a disinformation platform of UG Zašto ne from BiH, has published a comprehensive study about the state of disinformation in the country. The research looked into the types, sources, and redistributors of disinformation; their geographic location; their targets and beneficiaries; and the ways in which connections between them serve as distribution channels for disinformation. The whole research can be found here

One of the main findings of the research is the identification of the biggest countrywide and even regional disinformation hub that has consistently been found to share and distribute the same disinformation narratives to its audiences. It includes some 30 media outlets from BiH and Serbia and has Sputnik as one of its most connected nodes. The main focus of the hub was to have an impact on the elections in BiH in 2018, mostly in favour of the pro-Russian government of Republika Srpska lead by SNSD party and its' leader Milorad Dodik but has also targetted pro-democracy western actors, mostly in a negative way. 

Montenegrin journalists on the frontline against disinformation

More than half of the journalists believe that disinformation is a problem for the Montenegrin society, and almost all agree that the journalists themselves are the first line of defence against that occurrence, showed the study carried out by De Facto agency. The study is a result of the project “Dealing with Ethics and Fake News,” financially assisted by the EU, and carried out by the Mina News Agency and the NGOs Nomen and 35 mm. The survey included 50 journalists from traditional media outlets. Considering the fake news, 55% of them stated that disinformation presents a problem for the Montenegrin society, and 90% of them believe that the journalists themselves should be the first line of defence against it, followed by self-regulatory bodies, media management, and national institutions.

Regional Network against Disinformation in the Southeastern Europe

After several regional outlets for debunking disinformation and disinformative narratives in the SEE region have been established in the past years, most of them started cooperating on different topics. After some time, a need for the development of a more concrete regional networking was obvious. 

In September 2019 a regional network SEECheck was formed. It is, for now, consisting of the following groups: Center for Democratic Transition – Montenegro, Crime and Corruption Reporting Network – KRIK Serbia, MOST – North Macedonia, CA Why not – BiH, Novi Sad School of Journalism (Fake News Tragač) – Serbia,– Slovenia and GONG (Faktograf) - Croatia, but is open to any other regional groups who are dedicated to the issue and adhere to the principles of the network. 

CSO projects worth following in North Macedonia

The civic sector in North Macedonia is approaching the phenomenon of disinformation and fake news through awareness raising, capacity building, and advocacy activities. CSOs also contribute to developing fact-checking tools, news portals, and non-formal education mostly in the area of critical thinking and media literacy. 

One example is the EU supported project CriThink implemented by two local civil society organizations Metamorphosis Foundation and Eurothink Center for European Strategies. The project includes activities aimed to encourage critical thinking through education and capacity building for citizens and CSOs regarding recognizing and preventing manipulation through media. 

In another example, the Macedonian Institute of Media in partnership with the Institute for Communication Studies, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers and the Media Diversity Institute – London runs a project that is working actively in increasing the knowledge of CSOs and journalists to counteract fake news and unethical media reporting. 

In addition, civil society organizations working on democratization, dedicate increased attention to reducing the manoeuvring space for disinformation through projects that impulse trust in governance by increased accountability and transparency of state institutions.

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European Values Center for Security Policy