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.
Shooting of two Serbs on Serbian orthodox Christmas Eve in Kosovo
Time line, reactions and preceding tensions
On Serbian orthodox Christmas Eve, January 6, two young men of Serbian nationality, cousins Stefan Stojanović (11) and Miloš Stojanović (21), were shot in Gotovuša (Alb. Gotovushë), near Štrpce (Alb. Shtërpca) in Kosovo. They suffered gunshot wounds; one was shot in the hand and the other in the shoulder. Both injured are out of life danger.
Initially, the information about the wounding of S.S. (11) and M.S. (21) by, as stated, an Albanian, was presented by the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Government of the Republic of Serbia.
The Office for Kosovo and Metohija reported the news that at the time of the attack, the children were walking by the side of the road and carrying the Badnjak (an oak branch that is part of the custom for Serbian Christmas celebration) when the assailant opened burst fire on them. “We are talking about an obvious attempt to kill innocent Serbian children who were bothering him only because they were carrying Badnjak and thus clearly showed that they are Serbs. Although several eyewitnesses saw the registration number of the vehicle from which the shots were fired, the local police let the vehicle go. This kind of attack is a direct consequence of the anti-Serb policy of Aljbin Kurti, who with his behavior and actions encourages all those who want Serbian blood, even on Christmas. We demand an urgent and decisive reaction from the international community, and the Office for Kosovo and Metohija will provide the families and the injured with all the necessary assistance.”
The Kosovo police, after reported news by the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, announced that they received information at around 3:19 p.m. that “today in the village of Drajkovce, in Štrpce, there are two people – one about 11 years old, and the other about 31 year, injured from firearms by unknown persons who were in a moving passenger vehicle that was moving from Štrpce in the direction of Uroševac and then drove away from the scene”. In a further press release, they stated that the Regional Department of Investigation, after checking the injured persons and their ages, determined that the injured persons were 11 and 21 years old and that all actions were taken by the police, the order police, and then police investigators and forensic experts of the Regional Investigation Department came to the scene, by the authorization of the prosecutor of Basic Court Uroševac (Alb. Ferizaj), who began the investigation. After intensive investigation, The Uroševac Regional Police very quickly arrested the suspect A.K. (33 y/o) of Albanian nationality. Regional investigators found and then confiscated a firearm (gun) with which it is suspected that a crime has been committed.
However, the wounding of two young men on January 6th should be seen as an isolated event. The Court of Uroševac sentenced the attacker of Stefan and Miloš, Azema Kurtaj, to custody for 30 days, and the attack was qualified as attempted murder. Kurtaj is also charged with criminal acts: causing general danger, as well as unauthorized use of weapons. Observing this event in any other way can only lead to deepening of tensions and deterioration of inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo.
Due to insufficient information about the incident itself, contradictory statements appeared.
The mother of the boy Stefan Stojanović, Zorica Stojanović, stated on January 7 that they were injured when they were hit by a ricochet. “He shot on the road, on the asphalt; he didn’t shoot at them (the young men) and besides my son, another young man was wounded. Thank God he is fine, alive and healthy,” said Zorica Stojanović.
Mayor of Štrpce and vice-president of the Serbian List Dalibor Jevtić wrote on his Twitter account “A.K. SHOT at a group of Serbs who were carrying the Badnjak, this is what eyewitnesses say and this is stated in the official reports of the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office. Stefan’s mother in a state of shock did not have all the information. Don’t abuse her agony, whether the bullet ricochets or not it was attempted murder.”
The next day, the mother of the wounded child, Zorica Stojanović, stated for Radio Television Gračanica that she was in complete shock that day, and in order to calm her down, they told her that her child was not shot directly. In a conversation with her son, she came to the conclusion that he and his cousin were shot on purpose and that they were lucky that everything ended only with injuries.
Harsh condemnations from Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija followed after the discovery that the suspect is an off-duty member of the so-called Kosovo Security Forces. The condemnations of the act also came from Kosovo official which was almost invisible in Serbian media.
The Minister of Defense of the so-called Kosova Armend Mehaj announced and confirmed on his Facebook account that the suspect A.K. is member of the so-called Kosovo Security Forces. Mehaj said that the suspect “will be dealt with according to the regulations and laws in force in the Ministry of Defense and the security forces”. Armend Mehaj expressed his sincere regret and wished a fast recovery to the wounded young men.
This event was followed by protests of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija, a blockade of the Uroševac-Štrpce road near the village of Gotovuša, condemnation by the international community and officials from Pristina. The harshest condemnations came from Serbia, and this incident was portrayed as “another one in the series of dreadful incidents demonstrating the gravity of conditions in which Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija live every day.”
Pro-government media and media close to the authorities did not report the statements of officials from Pristina. On the same day, Aljibin Kurti announced on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, condemning the wounding and saying that “Kosovo police is maximally engaged in the performance of their duties in order to protect the lives and property of everyone without distinction.” Vjosa Osmani also condemned this event.
Certain members of the show business took advantage of this event. Rapper and former participant of the Zadruga reality show Milan Janković Čorba visited the wounded and upset Stefan Stojanović (11) in the hospital, brought him a Christmas present and took that opportunity to take a photo with the wounded boy and share that photo on his Instagram account with the description “Christ is among us little one. Merry Christmas! We are your new brothers :)”. On Tuesday, January 10, a humanitarian evening was held in the Belgrade club “Narodna priča” called “You are not alone”. This event was attended by numerous pop singers, including Goga Sekulić, Ljuba Perućica, Sale Tropiko, Gabrijela Pejčev and many others. According to the organizers, all income from this event will be given to the Stojanović brothers as a form of support for their bravery.
The preceding tensions
During the last month and the tensions in Kosovo and Metohija, which arose after the arrest of a former member of the Kosovo police, Dejan Pantić, on the Internet portal of the Russian news agency Sputnik in Serbian language the statement of the ambassador of Russia in Serbia Aleksandar Bochan-Kharchenko about these events was conveyed. He stated that the situation in Kosovo is on the brink and “is very reminiscent of what is happening in Ukraine.” The same portal reported the statement of Oleg Morozov, a member of the State Duma from “United Russia”, who says that Russia should stand up in defense of Serbia’s rights. Oleg Morozov says that the collective West is vitally interested in preserving Kosovo as an anti-Serb base and that this is the source of the conflict.
Ambassador of Russia in Serbia Aleksandar Bocan-Kharchenko made a statement for the Russian news agency TASS on the occasion of this event. He declares that the support of the West leads to the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and in the unrecognized Republic of Kosovo and that “Pristina radicals, led by the local Prime Minister Kurti, continue to encourage Serbophobic sentiments under the passive eye of the West.”
These claims are part of a pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign blaming the West for the escalation of tensions in Kosovo in December 2022. Neither Washington nor Brussels is behind the current events in Kosovo. The EU and the US are working hard to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina and calm the current tensions. Also, the pro-Kremlin media is using the current events in Kosovo and Metohija to divert attention from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Due to the tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, there is a fear that a conflict in the Balkans would be actually convenient for Russia, and besides Bosnia and Herzegovina, the relation between Belgrade and Pristina is the most unstable. Zoran Dragišić, a professor at the Faculty of Security, declares for Blic that “if a larger-scale conflict were to occur, for example, in Kosovo, the West would have to deal with two conflicts in Europe, which means that aid to Ukraine would be less” and believes that Russia is trying to cause a war in the Western Balkans.
Author: Tanja Plavšić