Analysis of the News: “Russia’s first reaction to the riots in front of the Belgrade Assembly”

December 2023.

As part of the program Regional Initiative for combating disinformation “Western Balkans Combatting disinformation Center: Exposing malicious influences through fact-checking and Analytical Journalism“, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Russia’s first reaction to the riots in front of the Belgrade Assembly

After the parliamentary and local elections in Serbia, the opposition parties launched protests due to several electoral irregularities, which were proven by international and domestic observation missions. Misuse of public funds, media dominance of President Aleksandar Vučić, negative campaign and expansion of parties also marked the pre-election campaign period, according to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The main narrative of the pro-government tabloids, as well as the Russian state media in Serbia after the elections, is that the evaluations of international observers are not objective and that the criticism comes only because the government in Serbia did not change in the way the West wanted. Opposition protests are described as an attempt at revolution and a new Maidan in Serbia. Such narratives are further supported by statements from Russian state officials.

“The West is trying to destabilize the situation in Serbia,” said the spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, on the night when opposition protests in front of the Belgrade City Assembly turned into a conflict with the police. Zakharova assessed that the collective West’s attempts to destabilize the country’s situation with “Maidan” techniques are “obvious”. Sputnik Serbia also reports the statement of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, who thanked the Russian security services for the information they shared with Serbia.

The Russian ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, with whom the Serbian president met the morning after the protest, said the Maidan in Serbia would fail. Kharchenko praised the Serbian service for responding “very efficiently” to attempts at such scenarios.

In addition to the statements of Russian state officials, representatives of the authorities in Serbia also spoke about the protests as an attempt at Maidan in Serbia. The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, said that there will be no Maidan in Serbia, while the Mayor of Belgrade, Aleksandar Šapić, said that everything that happened resembles the beginning of the Maidan, “just the last episode of its kind, and emphasized that otherwise nothing will matter anymore, no one is in power, because we can lose the country”.

For years, pro-government tabloids have attributed labels about the new Maidan to any protests, as well as to the actions of the opposition and critics of the government in general. It is an interpretation of events that aims to delegitimize the demands expressed at those protests, and everything is attributed to a conspiracy organized against Serbia from the West.

The term “Maidan” is used to describe the events in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014. While Ukrainians call the Maidan the Revolution of Dignity, for the Kremlin, the Maidan is an event in which the West overthrew the pro-Russian government in this country. Such a Kremlin view of this event is represented in the statements of high state officials of Russia and Serbia, pro-government media and the ruling parties in Serbia. With the narrative that the protests were organized from outside, the government is trying to discredit the protests of citizens and opposition parties.

Author: Sofija Popović