Analysis of the News “Create a squad of supporters: the EU will allocate 4.8 million euros to Serbian non-governmental organizations”

July 2022

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Create a squad of supporters: the EU will allocate 4.8 million euros to Serbian non-governmental organizations

The narrative that can be seen in the media in recent days is related to the financing of the non-governmental sector in Serbia. These news first talked about how non-governmental organizations failed and did not meet the expectations of the West, which will therefore “stop financing” i.e. reduce their funding. Not long after that, news with a completely different tone appears, and we will analyze it in this text.

This news, whose source is Russia Today, alludes in the very title that the European Union is asking Serbia to create a “squad of supporters” and it creates an impression in the reader about well-known narrative that the EU continues its dictate and conducts a blackmail policy towards Serbia.

The problem with such news is that they completely exclude and ignore the fact that Serbia’s official foreign policy is precisely related to its European path and European integration. In other words, the proclaimed interest and goal of the Republic of Serbia is complete integration into the Union, that is its official policy and position, and thus the rhetoric of the tabloids that the European Union is blackmailing and forcing Serbia to fulfill its self-proclaimed national interest is absurd, to say the least.

The news further writes about the creation of a controlled NGO network, which goal would be to prepare Serbia for accession to the European Union. Statements like this “preparation of Serbia for accession to the European Union” are formulated and shaped as something bad and against the interests of the state and people. Despite the fact that accession to the Union, as we have already emphasized, is the proclaimed official goal and interest of the state.

“As RT learns, the European Commission plans to allocate up to 4.8 million euros for the financing of the EU National Resource Center for civil-society organizations in Serbia, which it formed. The project provides the formation of a controlled network of non-governmental organizations and the preparation of Serbia for accession to the European Union. Experts note that Brussels is betting on the active use of soft power tools in the Balkans in order to reformat the traditional pro-Russian public opinion.”

In public opinion surveys, we can see that “traditionally pro-Russian” views are often based on lack of information and inaccurate data, such as those that the Russian Federation is Serbia’s largest economic partner and donor, even though the European Union is Serbia’s largest investor, trade partner and largest donor. We can conclude that the EU in Serbia needs to reach out to public opinion and deliver accurate information about existing economic cooperation and donations. According to information from 2020, since 2001, the EU has donated more than 3 billion euros in non-refundable aid – that is money that Serbia will never have to return, and the trade between the EU and Serbia makes up 62% of Serbia’s total trade.

Furthermore, the news states that RT has the tender documentation, leaving the reader with the impression that it is exclusive data with elements of secrecy. However, as stated below, this data is neither hidden nor secret, but is publicly available on the official EU website.

“From the tender documentation available to RT, which was posted on the profile of the EU Government Contracts portal, it follows that the European Commission planned to allocate up to 4.8 million euros for grant programs within the Serbian project. The preamble of the contract mentions the European Commission’s report “Serbia 2021”, which notes that “further efforts are needed to ensure systemic cooperation between the government and civil society.”

Although the news contains accurate information, they are inserted into a negative, distorted context of non-governmental organizations ‘that work against the interests of their country’, and that the movement towards the European Union is ‘precisely undermining the country’s national interests’. Although, we repeat, the official policy of Serbia is precisely to become a member of the EU. On that path, the cooperation between the government and the civil sector should not be seen as something bad, on the contrary, this cooperation should exist and, moreover, cooperation of the governmental and non-governmental sectors is necessary in order to respond to the needs of citizens in the best possible way, to implement reforms in the most efficient way, and that would consequently lead to progress and better living standards of all citizens.

At the very end, the news reports the words of a political scientist who, without any basis or reference to the source of the information, assesses that the goal of these grants is to spread anti-Russian spirit in public opinion and create traitors of the so-called “fifth column”.

What the media insists on in news like this is that turning towards the West and pursuing a consistent pro-European policy necessarily means hostility towards Russia. That this is not true is shown by the data that the total export of Germany, one of the largest countries of the Union, to Russia in 2020 was 26.1 billion dollars, while in the same year the total export of Russia to Germany was 14.2 billion dollars, and the volume of trade between the two countries increased by a third during 2021. Although the war in Ukraine and the sanctions that followed significantly affected this picture, things need to be viewed more broadly and in the long term.

Author: Sofija Popović