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 monthly analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.
Europride 2022: The Target of Anti-Western Narratives
Europride, a pan-European manifestation of the LGBT community, took place in Belgrade on September 2022, based on the application that the organizers, with the support of the Government, submitted three years earlier. During the summer, the event became one of the main political topics in the public eye. It was scheduled for the second week of September, and as the date approached, part of the media used the topic to spread homophobia and anti-Western narratives.
During the summer months, several protest marches (“lity”) of citizens against organizing Europride were held, in which, among others, representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as extreme-right and pro-Russian organizations participated. On August 27, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, announced that the Europride walk, the central manifestation of the event, will not take place due to the Serbian Government’s assessment that it represents a security risk. This announcement caused numerous negative reactions from the opposition, civil society and representatives of the European Union and the United States, and then counter-reactions from the right-wing opposition, organizations and the media.
A week earlier, the owner and editor-in-chief of the pro-government tabloid Informer, Dragan J. Vučićević, announced in the media the ban of Europride, stating that it was not the time for it and that publicizing that topic was part of a “special war” (against Serbia).
However, unlike most other cases, pro-government tabloids and anti-government (mainly online) right-wing media this time did not participate with equal intensity in spreading anti-Western narratives. In this case, anti-government sources took the lead, which can be explained by the fact that power holders were assigned responsibility for organizing Europride. Therefore, it was hard to expect that the pro-government tabloids would criticize them on the occasion of that event.
However, the pro-government media also partially found an angle on this topic that simultaneously presented the West in a negative light and President Aleksandar Vučić in a positive light. On August 30, Informer published Vučić’s statement that the Government’s decision to ban Europride will be respected, even if “Biden, Putin and Zelensky” called him. A day later, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Serbia out on his Twitter account to allow the event to take place.
On the same day, the pro-government portal Večernje novosti announced that the opposition is “Threatening Vučić because of the gay parade,” quoting a text from the portal Nova about the pro-Western opposition’s announcements that they will go on the streets on the day of the Pride Parade regardless of the announced ban.
The largest part of the narrative about opposing Europride, however, was spread by online right-wing portals, among which were Srbin.info, Slavija.info, Vaseljenska, Iskra and Pravda. All of these media outlets have previously been recognized as anti-Western, pro-Russian and sources of fake news.
These portals used established attacks on Europride and the LGBT population in general, using, among other things, news taken out of context. One of the most common attacks was that the gay population endangers children and traditional family. Thus, on August 17, Srbin.info shared an unsigned clip from social networks in which a group of children was holding LGBT flags under the title “Coming soon? Creepy video of children’s gay parade in Canada (VIDEO)”. No context was provided for this event. It did not include any elements of insulting religion or nudity, which are otherwise a common part of attacks on LGBT prides. In addition, no participation of children in Europride in Serbia was either announced or planned.
One of the author’s texts published on the Slavija.info website on this topic was written by Zvezdan Ristić, a member of the right-wing movement “Ljubav vera nada” (Love Faith Hope). He also fiercely criticized Europride as an attack on family values.
Ristić, among other things, referred to the statement of Serbian Orthodox Church bishop Nikanor, who on August 13 cursed all participants of Europride and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. He also stated that he would “use a weapon if he had one,” which is why an NGO filed a criminal complaint against him.
“Many think like Bishop Nikanor, but he came out first to say what most believers think.” You have no right to endanger our children, their mental and physical health, as well as their awareness of which religion they belong to and what that religion preaches! … We won’t give you our children! We will not give you the church! Don’t try! Don’t even think about it! A Serb has always been ready to die for his family and faith if necessary!”, wrote Zvezdan Ristić in his author’s text.
Other media also reported on the events from this angle. “THE PEOPLE GATHERED: The lity for the defense of Serbia, families and children from LGBT has begun (PHOTO/VIDEO)” was the title of one of the protest walks, held on August 14, published by the Pravda.rs portal.
These media often pointed out the number of citizens gathered at the “lity” and the alleged non-reporting of pro-government but also critical media about them, which did not correspond to the truth, because the portals Radio-Televizija Srbije and N1 television reported about the event.”A huge number of people gathered at the lity, blocking the central streets of Belgrade.” People are sending a clear message: we don’t want a gay parade and the Occupation of the West! Of course, the regime media, as well as the pro-Western media, are silent about this event, even though it is an extremely massive gathering,” the Slavija.info portal reported on August 14. After Aleksandar Vučić’s announcement that Europride will be cancelled, Srbin.info reported the news under the title: “THE PEOPLE ARE SCARED Vučić: Canceled Pride Parade in Belgrade”.
One of the main attacks on Europride was also that it was the agenda of the West that forces Serbia to organise it. In this sense, this narrative represents one of the most direct and clearest anti-Western narratives in Serbia in recent months.
“Let them not walk before our eyes.” Here’s the European Union, so let them walk there,” one of the priests allegedly said after the “lity” held on August 14, Vaseljenske reported.
On August 14, the Iskra portal transmitted the text of archpriest Jovan Plamenac of the Serbian Orthodox Church in which he labelled “LGBT ideology” as part of the “new-pagan Western globalist value system of life, contrary to the Christian one.”
“Europride in Belgrade is a manifestation of the power of Western globalism over the Serbian people, who, in the vast majority, live with their spiritual and cultural being in the Christian value system of life,” wrote Plamenac.
On the occasion of the questioning of Bishop Nikanor by the police after his statement on August 13, Srbin.info announced, and Pravda.rs reported, that “Aleksandar Vučić and the globalist LGBT tyrants that he represents are intensifying the hunt for Bishop Nicanor of Banat and the SPC.”
“Sodomites played a little bit, because a curse can never be a crime.” On the other hand, USAID holds the judiciary, prosecutor’s office and media in Serbia, so any persecution is feasible. Of course, with Vučić’s blessing,” Nikanor wrote, as reported in this text.
This narrative gained special momentum after Vučić’s announcement about the cancellation of Europride. One of the reactions came from the reporter for Serbia in the European Parliament, Vladimir Bilčik, who stated that he hopes that the event will still be held and that a clearer picture will be known in the coming weeks. Srbin.info reported this statement with the headline “Who took the money?” implying that a change of decision is expected as a result of bribery. The same medium reported in a negative tone about the meeting of Prime Minister Brnabić with members of the European Parliament, where the possibility of holding Europride was reported.
Europride, as expected, proved to be a fertile ground for the spread of anti-Western values and narratives, according to already fairly established matrices. The event was primarily presented as an attack on the family and as a “dictate from the West”, primarily from the European Union, towards Serbia, where the “people” are against its organization.