As part of the program Regional Initiative to Combat Disinformation, we present you a new analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.
“Germany is behind Kurti’s terror”: Crisis in Kosovo and anti-Western narratives in the Serbian media
The last month of 2022 in the Western Balkans was marked by a new tightening of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. It was a continuation of a series of tensions over disputed issues between the two sides, whose mutual relations have deteriorated significantly in the last two years. As on previous occasions, the pro-government media in Serbia presented the role of the West, primarily Germany and the European Union, in this crisis in a very negative light.
After the arrest of a former member of the Kosovo police, Serb Dejan Pantić, accused of obstructing the conduct of extraordinary local elections, Serbs from the north of Kosovo again set up roadblocks in December, while official Belgrade put the army in ‘full combat readiness’. Tensions lasted for several weeks and subsided after the court’s decision, made near the end of 2022, to release Pantić to house arrest, whereupon the barricades were removed.
The main narratives spread during these periods were that the West is either hypocritical and does not condemn Pristina’s moves in the way it condemns Belgrade or openly threatens Serbia and works against its interests. In particular, Germany came under attack, whose politicians, officials and media were fiercely attacked in pro-government tabloids, due to the alleged support of Prime Minister Aljbin Kurti’s “terror” towards the Kosovo Serbs.
Another narrative worth mentioning was the one about Russia’s support for Serbia in this crisis, contributing to the prevailing perception that the West is the enemy and Russia is the friend when it comes to Serbia’s most important national interests. On the other hand, occasionally a narrative appeared that viewed the West with less hostility — primarily the United States of America — and emphasized that their dissatisfaction with Kurti was growing. Admittedly, these articles were much fewer compared to anti-Western headlines.
Influential pro-government tabloids, such as Informer, Alo, and Večernje novosti, published a series of articles during December that were extremely negative about the role of the West in resolving tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. They were also joined by pro-government internet portals, such as Srbija danas. Anti-Western portals critical of the Serbian authorities have paid far less attention to this topic.
“The West will allow Kurti to attack the Serbs”
One of the most serious narratives during the last Kosovo crisis was related to the supposed ultimatum of the West addressed to Serbia, according to which Aljbin Kurti will be allowed to attack the Serbs from the north of Kosovo if they do not remove the barricades. That’s exactly what the headline of the Informer tabloid, published on December 25, read: “ULTIMATUM OF THE WEST! Vučić, remove the barricades or we will let Kurti attack the Serbs!” The text claimed, based on unnamed sources, that they communicated this to the President of Serbia.
The text claimed, on the basis of unnamed sources, that this was communicated to the President of Serbia by the Quinte ambassadors (USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy). These allegations have never been confirmed by credible sources.
Two days later, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić made a statement consistent with the same narrative, without mentioning specific countries or officials.
“Why is someone hysterically advocating the removal of barricades? Because they want to expel the Serbs. Albanians don’t go on that way… Those hysterical threats, Kurti is going to attack you, you’re running out of time. Shame on you all together, you liars! We will continue to fight for peace,” Vučić said, and was reported by Informer.
On the same day, the portal Srbija danas reported the statements of pro-regime commentators Ljuban Karan and Božidar Spasić, who claimed that Kurti wants a “new Storm”, i.e. the expulsion of Serbs from the territory of Kosovo, and that for this he has the support of Great Britain and Germany.
The same media reported two weeks earlier that “the West struck Belgrade”, and that “complete hysteria prevailed after the demand to enable the return of Serbian units to Kosovo and Metohija”. In question was the announcement of the arrival of Western diplomats in charge of the Balkans due to the escalation of tensions in Kosovo.
In addition to the alleged direct threats to Serbia and the Serbs from Kosovo, the narrative about the hypocrisy of the West was also very prevalent. The European Union was particularly targeted.
On December 12, the tabloid Alo published an article with the title “The HYPOCRITES of the EU Borelj is bothered by barricades, he is silent about Kurti’s terror and mistreatment of Dejan Pantić, and now he is sending a representative to Belgrade and Pristina”, in which they criticized the statement of the High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borelj, that barricades should be removed. Behind Borelj, in the cover picture, there is a photoshopped Albanian flag.
At the end of the month, the same media once again criticized the “indirect placement of the EU on one side” and their “placement in the service of Shqiptars” while labeling Serbia as “usual suspects”. It was a reaction to the EU’s announcement in which both sides are held accountable for the tensions. Also, on the occasion of the decision of the European Union ambassadors to approve visa liberalization for Kosovo from 2024, Alo published the title “SHAME! Europe rewarded Shqiptars! ”
On several occasions, the media reported the statements of state officials — most often Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija of the Government of Serbia, Petar Petković — who emphasized the “double standards” of the West.
At the beginning of December, Vučić took part in the Pink television program, attacking the European Union for its reaction to the appointment of Nenad Rašić as a minister in the Government of Kosovo after the representatives of the Serbian List resigned from it. Vučić accused the EU of “the worst anti-Serbian attitude” and announced that Serbia will not participate in the EU-Western Balkan Summit in Tirana. That decision was later changed. Vučić’s statement was reported in detail by the pro-government media, and one of the headlines on the Srbija danas portal read “EU, SHAME ON YOU Historic speech and Vučić’s message to the West.”
During December, the pro-government media also reported several tweets by Petar Petković, in which he condemned the European Union and the international community for inadequate reaction to Pristina’s moves.
“Europe, do you see the long pipes in the north?! Europe, do you see the special forces above the hospital? While the Serbs on the barricades are fighting for their bare survival, Kurti is sending ROSA to the north with his finger on the trigger!”, is one of the tweets that Alo shared on December 13. Two weeks later, Informer published a headline, also based on Petkovic’s tweet: “KURTI CONTINUES TERROR AGAINST SERBS!” RTS JOURNALISTS FORBIDDEN ENTRY TO KIM! Petkovic: Will there be a condemnation from the international community? ”
Germany is the enemy, Russia is the friend, America is losing patience with Kurti
The main target of anti-Western narratives during December was Germany, about which the pro-government media published a large number of negative texts, reacting to the frequent statements of German politicians and state officials about the tensions in Kosovo. “GERMANY IS BEHIND KURTI’S TERROR! While Berlin allows Pristina’s DANGEROUS moves, the situation in the north is brought to the EDGE OF WAR,” is the title of the text published on the portal Večernje novosti on December 22.
“Now there is no longer any dilemma: the main inspirers and probably the strategists of the destructive policy of the Prime Minister of the temporary institutions in the province, Aljbin Kurti, with the aim of cleansing Kosovo from the Serbs, are sitting in – Berlin”, it is stated in this article, on the occasion of the multiple addresses of the German representatives.
One of the aforementioned statements was made, among others, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, who wrote on Twitter on December 11 that the return of the Serbian army to Kosovo was unacceptable. Portal Srbija danas conveyed this tweet with the title “NOW IT IS COMPLETELY CLEAR WHO IS GIVING KURTI THE GREEN LIGHT FOR TERROR! A message from Germany revealed the dirty intentions of Berlin”.
Another statement that was attacked by the pro-government tabloids was made by the deputy of the German Christian Democratic Union, Knut Abraham, who stated it is unacceptable for Serbia to play with fire in the north of Kosovo. This text was conveyed by the portal Alo with the title “NEW PROVOCATION! The Swabians stood by the Shqiptars: The Serbs cannot play with fire in the north of Kosovo!”. Večernje novosti reported the same statement under the headline “Germans continue to support Kurti”.
On the other hand, during December, Alo published several texts that presented Russia as an unequivocal ally of Serbia in all aspects of the Kosovo issue. First, on December 13, the announcement of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he states that Russia will support Serbia if it requests an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation in Kosovo was conveyed. On the same day, the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, said that “the claims of the West that Russia currently has no time for Kosovo and Metohija” are completely incorrect, which was also reported by Alo.
At the end of the month, Alo also published a text with a comment from the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Maria Zakharova, who “emphasized that for all this time the NATO and EU contingents cannot and do not want to influence the situation around the Serbian southern province, and added that playing around with official Brussels in the interest of the Kosovo Albanians goes beyond all limits”. Zakharova assessed that the situation in Kosovo “is not far from a large-scale conflict”.
Also, on December 28, Alo published the headline “RUSSIA STANDED WITH SERBIA! The Kremlin made announcement about the Shqiptar terror in the Republic of Kosovo!” with a picture of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. In the text, the statement of the Russian President’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was conveyed, who said that Russia supports Serbia in its actions regarding the situation around Kosovo and that it is wrong to talk about harmful Russian influence.
Finally, the United States of America is presented in a different tone compared to Germany and the EU. Although it was not directly stated that the USA is on the side of Serbia, on several occasions, their impatience and dissatisfaction with Aljbin Kurti’s moves was emphasized, implying that Washington has understanding for Serbian arguments and that it is possible to cooperate.
“AMERICANS LOST THEIR NERVES, KURTI IS FORMER? A replacement is ready, only ONE NAME is mentioned” is the title of an article published on the Srbija danas portal, in which it is stated that the Kosovo prime minister has less and less support in Pristina, but also in the western centers of power, and that in the near future he could be removed from that position and replaced by the former minister of foreign affairs, Behgjet Pacolli. The sources of these speculations were not given.
The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, as well as the US Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, were presented in Alo in a positive tone. On December 19, this tabloid reported Prime Minister Ana Brnabić’s statement about how Serbia received Escobar’s assurance that the Brussels agreements will be implemented as soon as possible. A couple of days earlier, the same media announced that Escobar had “criticized” the Kosovo Albanians. Christopher Hill, on the other hand, criticized Pristina’s decision not to let the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church visit Kosovo, which Alo also conveyed in a positive tone.
The last day of 2022, the portal Srbija danas published the headline: “US AMBASSADOR “COOLED DOWN” ALBANIANS! The establishment of the ZSO has no alternative; it is a legally binding agreement”. The text conveys the statement of the US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, who stated that the Association of Serbian Municipalities has no alternative, that the agreement on its establishment is legally binding and that the US will not change its position on it.