Analysis of the Narrative: “The West is punishing Serbia”: Kosovo’s candidacy in the Council of Europe and the UN Resolution on Srebrenica

Published on:

April 2024.

As part of the program Regional Initiative to Combat 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.

“The West is punishing Serbia”: Kosovo’s candidacy in the Council of Europe and the UN Resolution on Srebrenica

April in Serbia, in the context of the foreign policy actions of Serbian officials and messages for the domestic public, was marked by the topics of Kosovo’s candidacy for membership in the Council of Europe and the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the genocide in Srebrenica.

At the same time, the leading pro-government media, along with the pro-Russian media, in the context of reporting on these events, systematically promoted the previously established anti-Western narratives about the pressures of the (political) West on Serbia and the stigmatization of the Serbian people, as well as anti-opposition narratives.

Voting in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the recommendation for the admission of Kosovo

At the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 16, the absolute majority of the present deputies from European countries adopted a positive recommendation for the admission of Kosovo into the organization. Deputies voted by majority in favour of the report of Dora Bakoyani, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, in which a positive opinion is given and Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe is recommended.

After the positive attitude of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to complete the accession procedure to the Council, the Committee of Ministers needed to make a final decision on the admission of Kosovo at its regular annual session, which did not happen in May due to Pristina’s refusal to seriously begin the process of forming the Union of Serbian Municipalities.

Serbian officials invested capacity in lobbying against the positive decision in the Parliamentary Assembly and the domestic pro-government and pro-Russian media in texts and analyses regarding this decision very harshly condemned the Western countries and the Council of Europe, building on the well-known anti-Western narratives.

Sputnik Serbia, the domestic service of the Russian state media, wrote that “Serbia has finally learned the truth about Europe” and that “it must not surrender to this ghost”, and about how Serbia warned the collective West that “they are going the wrong way…by of international law.” Sputnik‘s interlocutors emphasized, in the context of decisions in the Council of Europe, that it was a “demonstration of the power of the Western world”, “a kind of punishment to Serbia for its independent and consistent policy”, and that this event was a humiliation for Europe because rejection of own principles.

At the same time, the most influential pro-government tabloid Informer,  reported that “the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was embarrassed like never before in history.” Elements of entrenched anti-Western narratives can be seen in a series of Informer articles on the attempts of the “political West” to use the geopolitical situation for Kosovo to gain more and more support and attributes of independence and in the statements that “defeats on other fields are being tried to justify in Kosovo by violating international law.”

A similar pattern of texts, about the violation of international law and the undermining of the principles of the European order, was also present in other media, such as Alo and Večernje novostiAlo conveyed the statement of the new Prime Minister of Serbia, Miloš Vučević, that “the recommendation that the so-called Kosovo’s membership is approved, a continuation of the festival of hypocrisy and another nail in the coffin of international law.” “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided to begin the destruction of the legal, political, moral and every other order in Europe… this is not just an attack on Serbia, but dynamite placed in the foundations of the whole of Europe” – this is the thesis highlighted by Večernje novosti.

Relatedly, RT Balkan, a service of the Russian media in the Serbian language, dealt with the reasons for the vote of the representatives of certain countries in the Council of Europe – primarily Greece, with the apostrophe that it was “ready to do dirty work for the West” and that it was “trying to prove that it thinks in a way that Europe is thinking of.”

On the other hand, in the author’s text transmitted by the portal, there is a particularly negative focus on another Western country – Germany – which is claimed to have played a very significant role in the recommendation on Kosovo’s admission to the Council of Europe, where the author states that “one cannot fail to notice the multiple cynicism.”

The negative anti-Western reporting regarding the vote of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the latter period has been slightly mitigated since the decision on the possible admission of Kosovo was not on the agenda of the session of the Committee of Ministers in May. This practically means postponing the completion of the entire process until the next annual session of this institution.

Voting in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the Resolution on the genocide in Srebrenica

Since mid-April, the subject of the Resolution on the genocide in Srebrenica, which would be proposed for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly, has been an actual topic in the public eye. The co-sponsors of the resolution proposal were initially Germany and Rwanda, and the representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the UN were involved in its drafting, but without the consent of the authorities of the Republika Srpska entity. The Resolution calls for the memorialization of the genocide and condemns its denial.

Originally planned for early May, the vote in the UN General Assembly was postponed for approximately three weeks to complete and harmonize the text. The content of the document does not contain concepts such as “genocidal people” or “collective guilt”, nor does it explicitly mention the state of Serbia and its citizens, although the Serbian authorities and pro-government tabloids misused those facts.

The Serbian authorities decided to actively oppose the adoption of the Resolution, and launched a diplomatic offensive in the UN, in which the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, was also involved. The topic of the Resolution on Srebrenica and the struggle of Serbian diplomacy against it dominated, it seems, exclusively, in the domestic media in the second half of April, serving to promote the President of Serbia and anti-opposition narratives in the context of the pre-election campaign for local elections, as well as anti-Western narratives about the intentions of the USA and the leading European countries to stigmatize the state of Serbia and the entire Serbian people.

The way of reporting and promoting anti-Western narratives is illustrated by the publication of the Informer entitled “They want to hang the burden of a genocidal people on us to justify their defeats!” They are losing on all world fronts, so in Serbia they see a sacrificial lamb.” The same media emphasized in numerous articles about these events that it was “a political manipulation to put pressure on Serbia so that it would admit who knows what,” emphasizing that “the collective West continues to implement its interests in this area…and that Germany’s role throughout the process adds salt to Serbia’s wound,” relayed statements that it was the Western imposition of “the most difficult moral, political and legal qualifications for Serbia and the Serbian people.”

To impose on the domestic public and internal needs the interpretation of “Western motives” behind the proposal of the Resolution, the media insisted that the goal was the revision of international judgments and the initiation of requests for the payment of compensation or the cancellation of entity status in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Republika portal indicated that “this speaks of a synchronized action with the desire of some of the most powerful European powers to deliver the final blow to Serbia.” Alo writes “They are making a genocidal nation out of the Serbs to abolish the Republika Srpska,” with claims that it is a political action by the West, to raise the question of the legitimacy of the Republika Srpska.

The domestic services of the Russian state media, Sputnik and RT, have also systematically used anti-Western tones in the narrative campaign associated with the proposed Resolution on Srebrenica. In an author’s text on the Sputnik Serbia portal, entitled “Is the West afraid of an upheaval in the Balkans after Russia’s victory”, it is suggested that a new round of politicization is taking place “for the sake of putting pressure on the Serbian corps” and that “by re-actualizing the story of Srebrenica, we want to cement the existing order.” “Illustratively, RT Balkan reports that the West aims to “discredit the Republika Srpska, as an ideological preparation for the abolition of its original powers…(a) in the second step of demonizing the Serbs.”

Observing how the pro-government media used the activities of the President of Serbia in the foreign policy fight against the adoption of the Resolution for internal campaign use, it is noticeable that anti-opposition narratives were also targeted, to further discredit the opposition ahead of the local elections on June 2. Alo published a critical article entitled “Shameful: the opposition…attacks Vučić because he fights against the resolution on genocide.” Likewise, Informer wrote about how “the people of Đilas (opposition leader Dragan Đilas) are looking forward to the resolution on Srebrenica,” while President Vucic is “fighting for Serbia.”

Author: Igor Mirosavljević