Kosovo is exposed to disinformation and narratives from Russia and China aimed at inciting inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, criminalizing NATO, undermining public trust in Euro-Atlantic integration, and portraying the United States negatively, states a report titled “Whirlpool of Lies”. The report, prepared by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and supported by the European Union, was published on November 27.
The analysis identified 44 articles as materials spreading foreign propaganda, including 14 publications intending to harm Kosovo’s state security. The report also mentioned hundreds of other materials related to the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report comes shortly after warnings from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Russia seeking to provoke conflict in the Western Balkans.
The EU has expressed concern, and the U.S. State Department told Radio Free Europe that Russian influence in the Balkans hinders the path of states towards Euro-Atlantic integration. State Department said that this very influence shows the urgency of the work that Washington is doing to fight Russian influence.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, on November 19, also spoke about Russia’s goal to ignite “a crisis within the European Union’s borders” and “divert attention from NATO”.
The report revealed narratives portraying Western support for the Kosovo Security Force (FSK) as an attempt to back an Albanian war against Serbs.
In northern Kosovo, tensions have increased since late May, with local Serbs opposing newly elected Albanian leaders. In September, a group of armed Serbs attacked the Kosovo Police, leading Kosovo to blame Serbia, which denied involvement.
Another identified narrative in the report is against integration into the European Union, attempting to portray the EU negatively for Kosovo.
Regarding the Chinese narrative in Kosovo, the report indicated the promotion of the United States as something negative, emphasizing high crime rates and law enforcement problems. It also highlighted the promotion of health information in China and the portrayal of China as a developed country whose products should be purchased.
According to the report, the media in Kosovo lacks standards for handling the Chinese narrative.
The report, spanning 102 pages, also addresses the encouragement of violence and hatred between religious communities in Kosovo.
It underscores that Kosovo is vulnerable and lacks the capacity to counter disinformation from Russia.
During the report presentation, Tomas Szunyog, the head of the EU Office in Kosovo, stated that Kosovo is affected by external influence and propaganda against integration efforts toward the European bloc.
“The report shows that Kosovo is affected by external influence and propaganda against integration, which broadly aims to prevent Kosovo’s integration into the EU and NATO. We know that the majority of Kosovo citizens are in favor of Kosovo’s integration into the EU, over 90 percent, and we are grateful. We must maintain these figures,” he said.
Szunyog emphasized the need for a strategy for media education, highlighting the lack of critical thinking when the audience encounters false news.
“The report highlights that in some cases, the media has become creators and amplifiers of disinformation. Due to the widespread use of the internet in Kosovo and the use of social networks, distributors of false news have found social media platforms as fertile ground to advance their mountainous agendas to create confusion among audiences about which news is true and which is false,” he said.
He also warned that the media has spread dangerous narratives that could escalate tensions in Kosovo.
“Another important finding of the report is that the media has spread disinformation about the outbreak of war between Kosovo and Serbia. These narratives are dangerous and can incite tensions. Today, Europe is challenged by nationalist and far-right policies. As a multiethnic society, Kosovo should not allow itself to be influenced by nationalist disinformation,” he added.
The report, the first of its kind in Kosovo, was prepared from November 2022 to April 2023 and recommends actions for national institutions and media.
Recommendations include capacity building to counter disinformation, early education programs on false news, financing and addressing disinformation, and politicians refraining from using false news as a means to attack opponents./The Geopost/