A research titled “Russia’s narratives toward the Western Balkans”, published by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (NATO StratCom COE) identified several Russian narratives in the news media in the Western Balkans. The research is based on the media reporting in 2018, which cited the Serbian edition of the Russian state news agency “Sputnik”. The Sputnik website, which is directly funded by the Kremlin, is pinpointed as one of the main channels of Russian influence in the media in the Western Balkans, writes Truthmeter.mk.
We republish the full article below:
The report identifies the primary narratives which this news outlet publishes for the six countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as the European Union (EU) and NATO.
The research concludes that while nearly one-third of the articles are neutral, “Sputnik Srbija” uses sensationalistic headlines to attract visitors, while the articles themselves were more or less balanced. Although the research has been done on media content from 2018, yet even today we can notice that the same narratives are still present in the media.
Narrative: “The Western Balkan region is a playground for the clash of the interests of the East and the West”
This is a most common narrative that is used in all of the six countries. The EU and NATO are seen as the main representatives of the West and are being perceived as a collective influence in the region.
In some of the posts of “Sputnik Srbija” in which this narrative can be seen, and are related to North Macedonia, are the claims that the referendum for the name change was dictated by the West. Furthermore, “Sputnik Srbija” represents the referendum as invalid due to the low voter turnout and concludes that it has shown that the opinion of the Macedonians has a very small stake in the outcome and that it is an example of how the West’s interferes in the internal affairs of other countries. In the meantime, Russia is represented as the protector of the right of the Macedonian people to make an independent decision on the new name of their country.
Narrative: “The Western Balkan region is unstable”
The narrative that the region is “unstable,” and has “a high potential for conflicts,” uses the ethnic tensions in the region to strengthen the impression of instability and a fragile peace. So, articles with headlines such as “We are two bullets away from instability”” or “The doors of Hell are being opened in the Balkans”. This narrative focuses on the unresolved border disputes and the bad relations between the neighbors.
Narrative: “The European Union is hegemonic”
“Sputnik Srbija” sees the presence of the West and the EU in the region as hegemonic, in terms of the security, politics, diplomacy, etc. This is due to the fact that the EU is represented as the creator and the key player and the owner of the decisions in terms of the political and social developments in the Western Balkans
Narrative: Western Balkan countries are weak, incapable and corrupt
“Sputnik Srbija” underpins that the region is not ready yet to play the role of an important international factor, due to the corruption, and the weak and un-transparent governance. This narrative has been projected on several plans. Some of the stories speak about vote-rigging, corruption, nepotism or a politicized judicial system, while others have focused on issues such as crime, protests, public debt, etc.
Narrative: EU/NATO are weak and not united
This narrative does not directly refer to the countries of the Western Balkans, but it presents the EU and NATO as weak and non-unified organizations, and the aim of it is to highlight the negative aspect of the two entities in relation to the countries of the Western Balkan, which aspire to join them. Sub-narratives which are also often heard are “EU sends mixed signals,”, “The relations between the EU worsen”, NATO is weak and not unified”.
Narrative: NATO is aggressive and provocative
The main topics that are discussed below in this narrative include the expansion of the NATO internationally and in the region, the provocative approach of the Alliance towards Russia, installation of military bases of NATO in the region, as well as the intervention of NATO in the region in 1999. The accession of North Macedonia to NATO is described as a “forced entry”.
Narratives used in North Macedonia
In particular, in the North Macedonia, the two most commonly used narratives that were detected in the Research are “The Western Balkans is unstable” and “The countries of the Western Balkans countries are weak, incompetent, and corrupt”. The least frequently used narrative is that the “The European Unions is hegemonic”.
The most commonly used sub-narratives in North Macedonia “Creation of Greater Albania”, “Intolerance between the opposition parties,”, “North Macedonia – a captured state”, “North Macedonia – a criminal state,“, “The referendum for the name change is invalid”, “Russia is a traditional friend of Macedonia”.
An analysis published by “Deutsche Welle” in its turn, noted that the Balkan media uncritically republish the originals od “Sputnik:, and that is due to the chronic lack of financial resources for the media.
Thus, the free articles of “Sputnik” in Serbian are widely welcomed. In turn, forming within the citizens an impression that it is more virtual than real. The scheme of “Sputnik” is clear – a news article and a commentary mixed up together. The resources are being used selectively, and the goal is not to obtain a comprehensive information. On the contrary, the point is to show you and prove to the world that the Russian position is the correct one. In addition, the national conflicts in the Balkans are constantly “warmed up”, “Deutsche Welle” writes.