“DFC 365“ Conference, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro was held on October 22, 2019 in Centreville hotel in Podgorica. The Conference served as the occasion to present a year of work of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), a section of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro which is actively engaged in debunking of disinformation and fake news. Additionally, there was a discussion on the key problems and challenges, with a special emphasis on the forthcoming elections, both in Montenegro and in the Western Balkans.

Dr. Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro gave an opening speech and emphasized the importance of the Digital Forensic Center in a fight against undermining of democratic systems.

Kentera said that the Western democracies became too relaxed after the Cold War and it was a huge mistake. According to him, it is high time to shift from defense to offense and take initiative since the year of elections is ahead of us and it will represent a fertile soil for malicious foreign influence. He also added that Montenegro is readier than it used to be to respond to hybrid attacks.

“I believe that we are readier to respond to these attacks than we used to be in 2016 and I think that many things are going to improve. There is a high quality coordination in sharing of the information within the system, but we should also include NGOs, companies and all those who perceive Montenegro as a part of the EU.“, Kentera stated.

Reflecting on the recent messages from Brussels, he emphasized that the region must not be left to wait due to the strengthening of the EU, because, all of those who want to “cover“ this region will eventually do it.

Finally, the President of the Atlantic Council had a clear message for all those who strive to undermine democratic systems:

“You have been trying to accomplish this and you have been successful. Keep trying as much as you want and you can win one or two battles but you will never win a war!”

Milan Jovanović, Analyst of the DFC explained the work of the DFC in his presentation, as presented the publications with accomplishments during the previous year.

According to him, the main target of disinformation was not predominantly the EU, but NATO and Army. Jovanović stated that there were campaigns against the Army of Montenegro which resulted in a belief that we lost our sovereignty with NATO accession. “I am telling you openly that all of this is coming from Russia and has to do with their political agenda“ Jovanović concluded.

Ljubo Filipović, Chief Analyst of the DFC, highlighted that the trust is more important than the truth in this field and that the disinformation is created specifically in this context. According to him, we should not engage in counter-propaganda, but we should check the facts.

“And first, we should check our work, so that we would not become an easy target for the other party“, Filipović said.

Minister of Defence of Montenegro, Predrag Bošković, commended the cooperation between the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and Ministry of Defence of Montenegro and said that Montenegro is readier to fight against these issues today than it used to be during the period before NATO accession. „It is a fact that in 2016, Montenegro was the first country in Europe to experience direct interference of external factors, through the usage of different methods. Among the leading campaigns was the creation of false information. Of course, combined with different cyber-attacks and direct attempted terrorist act in Montenegro“, Minister Bošković highlighted.

U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro, Judy Rising Reinke, emphasized that Russia and the USA have two completely different approaches to Montenegro. According to her, Russia attempts to confuse the public and slow the progress of Montenegro, while the USA offers a support in building of democratic institutions. Rising Reinke commended the role of the DFC in a fight against demonstrating and creating of fake content.

President of the NGO Why not, Darko Brkan, stated that the regional cooperation is the key, given the fact that we speak the same language and without regional cooperation, we cannot go deeply into the matter. He also added that the hiding of information is considered disinformation.

Eto Buziashvili, Research Assistant in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, emphasized the importance of social networks when it comes to disinformation and its creation. She said that the cooperation with Twitter and Facebook is crucial since the deactivation of profiles which coordinately spread disinformation helps us narrow the field for misuse of social media.

The Conference entitled “DFC 365”, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, will take place on October 22, 2019 at the CentreVille Hotel, Podgorica.

Two days long training on “How to assess and counter malign influence in the Western Balkans” started today in the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and will last until September 18.

The training was implemented with the support of the International Visegrad Fund and it was the occasion for analyzing how to assess and counter foreign malign influence in Western Balkans with a particular emphasis on the national plan. In this context, there were discussions about shared experience from beyond Western Balkans, particularly from Czech Republic.

The participants from the Central Europe and Western Balkans region will also address the security issue on social media, how to protect data on personal computer or mobile phone, as well as about what other protection measures there are.

Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) Montenegro is announcing a contest for admission of new members!

YATA is a very significant pillar of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, with its young members who participate in numerous activities in Montenegro and abroad, including various visits to relevant institutions, meetings with ambassadors, attending schools and seminars as well as participating in international conferences.

Atlantic Council of Montenegro is educating members of YATA in order to form a team of young people who will be able to contribute to these activities and to take part in the activities on the international level.

If you are ready to present your ideas and initiative and if you want to become a member of our team, send your motivation letter and CV to the following e-mail address: [email protected]. Applications are open until September 30, 2019 for candidates between 18 and 30 years of age.

Become a member of YATA team!

2BS FORUM – a flagship event of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro is a leading International Forum in SEE.

Next year’s 2BS Forum will be held on June 04-06, 2020. At the same time Forum will celebrating its 10thAnniversary and thus mark a decade of its efforts to impact, change and shape new and tactical thinking and provide answers for regional and global burning challenges.

2BS Forum provides perfect blend of interesting ideas, panel sessions and interviews which enables great and engaging discussions that will never leave you without hot and compelling food for thought.

It will bring to Budva great number of regional and global actors, among others a number of key decision-makers, governments representatives, experts and other key foreign policy and security policy stakeholders from the spheres of diplomacy, business, academia, and media.

Mark the date in your calendars and join us in our efforts to make this region a safer and more prosperous place, able to contribute to global challenges in the future.

Dr István Balogh, Deputy State Secretary for Security Policy and Political Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, together with his delegation members, met with the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Dr Savo Kentera and his team. On that occasion, they discussed the mission and projects of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, activities that it implements through its three centers and future challenges.

Delegation also visited the Digital Forensic Center whose mission is a fight against disinformation and strengthening of the society’s resilience to this increasingly common phenomenon. They stated that the elections which will take place next year in Montenegro and the region will be the ideal target for malicious foreign influence and that the DFC is facing a year full of hard and devoted work to suppress it, i.e. to reveal it. When it comes to this phenomenon, they pointed out that a good cooperation between NATO member states is of a key significance.

The meeting was a great opportunity to establish agreement on a future cooperation and on exchange of experiences and expertise with Hungarian institutes which engage in similar issues. As it was concluded, strengthening of a cooperation is crucial.

Conference entitled “Geopolitics in the Western Balkans: Regional Outlook”, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria to Montenegro and Konrad Adenauer Foundation was held today, June 27, in hotel Ramada in Podgorica.

In their opening speeches, Dr. Igor Lukšić from the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and H.E. Ms. Meglena Plugtschieva, Ambassador of Bulgaria to Montenegro, highlighted the importance of these gatherings for the Western Balkans, emphasizing all the challenges that it is currently facing and it will be facing in future. They are convinced that the principle of dialogue is the most important segment in order to overcome the barriers from the past but also – in order to finally make the region a part of the European Community and NATO. They agreed that Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia have a difficult path before them in order to implement all the Chapters but the progress is visible and all countries are striving hard to strengthen democratic values.

Mr. Andrija Nikolić, President of the Committee for International Relations and Emigrants of the Parliament of Montenegro also addressed the participants and said that he is exceptionally satisfied that the issue of geopolitical situation in the Western Balkans has been initiated and that this conference is actually an excellent opportunity for the representatives of prominent institutions from the region to exchange their opinions.

H.E. Ms. Iliana Yotova, Vice-President of the Republic of Bulgaria specified during her keynote speech the proactive approaches which could be used to combat the key problems that are troubling the Western Balkans and also defined where do the countries stand right now concerning these problems. She reflected on the enlargement policy of the EU and emphasized that it cannot be implemented without Balkan countries. Vice-President of Bulgaria is in the official visit to Montenegro and on that occasion, she put emphasis on the progress that our country is making in the field of Euro-Atlantic integrations, especially because it has already become a NATO member state. She added that she is aware of the visible efforts that Montenegro is making through the process of the EU accession. She also mentioned the biggest challenges concerning Belgrade and Pristina, resolving of a name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia, complex political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a role of the international organizations in determining of all hardships which complicate their function in the valorization of democratic values.

Speaking in the framework of this thematic session, Dr. Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro emphasized the importance of unity in the Alliance during all the challenges that it is facing. Also, he agreed that the progress has been achieved on a path towards the EU and that NATO membership only accelerates this process for Montenegro. He considers NATO membership the greatest success so far but also warns about Russian influence which is not getting any weaker in the Western Balkans. He reminded us about Russian implication in the parliamentary elections 2016 and added that the citizens of Montenegro and countries in the region are in denial if they think that this will stop here. Russia is still doing everything in its power to influence the key decisions for the development and improvement of the countries of the region. In addition, he stressed that the EU needs to have a clear vision and strategy for the enlargement, but also when it comes to the future of the EU itself, which is not the case right now. A lack of leadership with a clear vision on the EU political scene is evident and this could leave the consequences. If the EU does not consolidate itself as soon as possible and does not take a clear attitude concerning the enlargement of the Western Balkans, some other countries such as Russia and China will not lose the opportunity, they will use it and then it will be too late for Europe.

Prof. Dr Nano Ružin, Rector of the FON University, North Macedonia said that he is satisfied with the resolving of the Greece-North Macedonia name dispute and defined it as a historic moment for these two countries while Prof. Dr Zoran Dragišić from the Security Studies at the Univeristy of Belgrade said that the current situation Serbia-Kosovo is complicated but he believes that a dialogue is a key solution.

Dr. Arian Starova, President of the Atlantic Council of Albania and prof. dr. Sead Turčalo, Professor on the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Sarajevo gave their opinions on the pressing issues and challenges that Western Balkans is facing. Starova reflected on the efforts of Belgrade and Pristina and suggested the improvement of relations between two countries, but, there is still a lot to be done, according to him. Turčalo highlighted the dominant disagreements on the political scene of BiH and said that this country is making the intensive efforts towards the Euro-Atlantic integrations. Dr. Besfort Rrecaj, President of the Euro-Atlantic Association of Kosovo pointed out to the commitment of Kosovo in order to improve the relations with Serbia, but also, to the lack of EU efforts in the key political issues of this country.

The goal of this conference was to analyze the geopolitical development and its influence on the Balkans, or, to recognize the regional positions and interests.

Conference under the title “Geopolitics in the Western Balkans: Regional Outlooks“, realized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation will be held on June 27 in hotel Ramada in Podgorica.

On the occasion of the second anniversary of Montenegro’s membership in NATO Alliance, the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Dr. Savo Kentera, said that ” by joining NATO, we left a mark and created an image of stable and democratic country which can only contribute to the strengthening of the whole region’s stability”.

Dr. Kentera believes that citizens will see the benefits after about five years – “When we will see tangible results in the development of infrastructure, substantial reforms of system institutions that are yet to come, strengthening of the rule of law, the fight against organized crime and corruption, etc. All this requires time and we cannot expect visible results overnight, and the period of two years after the membership is truly too short to see great results and progress in these areas,” he said.

However, the greatest gain so far is the fact that Montenegro is sitting at the same table as the most powerful countries in the world and deciding on the burning global issues with an equal voting right, and when it comes to the direct benefits, he mentions that the increase in foreign investments doubled:

“The investors who are interested in investing long-term are coming to this region. They needed security, investment safety, they needed to have protection before the courts and to be sure that corruption is reduced to the minimum. They needed to know that they can exercise their rights in the same manner as in other countries.”

Changes in the type of guests coming to Montenegro are prominent: 

”Today, we are experiencing, in my opinion, the return to the golden age of Montenegrin tourism, the age when season lasted six months and when the majority of our guests were from Western countries. This came as a result of increased security, or tourists’ sense of security, because they are in a country which is a member of NATO”, he said.  

Also, Dr. Kentera reflected on Montenegro-Russia relations and mentioned the attempted terrorism on the day of parliamentary elections in 2016.  He said that ”this dramatic event has now only shifted, i.e. took a different form. This is not reflected in the possibility of them attempting a coup any time soon, but in the fact that they are trying to influence the public opinion in an underhand, sophisticated manner, through various media outlets, by creating a distorted image of the situation in the country”.

When it comes to the question of whether the number of those against the membership reduced in the meantime, Dr. Kentera emphasized that his personal opinion formed during the conversation with those who were against, is that the majority came to terms with the fact that Montenegro became a member of NATO: 

”They accept this fact as something we will have to live with, so let us see how can we benefit from it. It is a similar situation to that in 2006, after the referendum. As time passes, I am sure that the number of those refrained from or against the membership will reduce, because everyone will realize the benefits the membership brings”- he concluded. 

DISINFORMATION AFFECTS ALL SOCIETIES; IT IS NECESSARY TO ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING

Modern civilization created what could be the weapon of mass destruction of society, and we do not know what will happen and what circumstances we can excpect in 15-20 years. This is one of the messages conveyed during the last panel discussion under the title ”Age of disinformation: learning resilience and living with lies” within To Be Secure (2BS) Forum in Budva. 

The panelists said, among other things, that disinformation affects all societies, and that disinformation is just the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, critical thinking should be encouraged through media literacy campaigns.

Robert Pszczel, Senior Officer for Russia and the Western Balkans of NATO PDD thinks that when speaking about disinformation, one has to put them in a certain context. 

”This is a part of a widespread disease. Disinformation is oftenly connected. Awareness of all this has just been created. Different actors have different responsibilities. The youth is overfocused on media platforms”, he said.

He appealed for investigative journalism, stating that a good investigative journalist is a rare sort in this part of the world. 

”Televison remains very important”, said Pszczel.

Arnis Šnore, Deputy Director of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, said that they consider this issue one of the means of a wider hybrid environment. 

 To realize where we stand now and what we have to do in order to become more resilient is the most important thing, according to him.

”Tradicional media must adhere to the laws, they are responsible if they publish lies. The same thing should apply to platforms, they do not make the exception simply because they are ”platforms”. They are gaining profit, and that is exactly why their responsibility is greater” said Šnore, who also evaluated that we are currently fighting the consequences of the information.

Rufin Zamfir, Program Director of GlobalFocus Center in Romania said that disinformation is ”just the tip of the iceberg”.

”That’s what keeps me awake. The fact is that disinformation and propaganda are the most visible in our societies, but subversion is something we cannot see. The relations between the business world and the politics is troubling. We often believe in lies, since they reflect our own covictions and fill the gaps we wish have been filled”, stated Zamfir. 

Part of the issue, as he said, is not the result of disinformation campaigns, but also the result of false information or misinformation. 

”And here the critical thinking that needs to be encouraged by media literacy campaigns takes effect.  It is something that affects the society as a whole”, he said. 

Zamfir stated that media reporting in Serbia is not the result of Russia’s actions. It is the result of the regulation of the Governement and the President Aleksandar Vučić. 

Nicolas de Pedro, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft, said that we are far from fully understanding the challenges we are facing and that fact is alarming.

”We are connected 24/7, information is the beating heart of our lives, we use social networks, we created the thing that can be the weapon of mass destruction of the society. We have no idea what will happen and in what circumstances we will find ourselves in 15 or 20 years. We shoud bare in mind that disinformation is not a domain, it is something which affects all societies. This is not the issue of two or three media outlets, this is a phenomenon influencing the society“, stated de Pedro. 

Russia knows how to use the system for undermining, and we need to create a strategy that will help us fight it, he explained.

“I think that we are far away, that we do not have the proper understanding of the problem, it is difficult to develop a strategy because of the nature of challenges and threats. In the foreseeable future, we will lack the most powerful asset, and that’s the narrative”, said de Pedro.

Tomáš Kriššák, Project Coordinator of Open Society Foundation in Bratislava, said that sometimes he has to stay awake the whole night just in order to prevent disinformation. 

“They keep us awake. Every day we wake up and see a new media scene created by an ocean of information, some of which are toxic. The great challenge and the problem is the impact on our lives and society. We are reprogramming a new civilization. We are the worst version of ourselves, “said Kriššák, who also identified the amount of information that is in fact disinformation as extremely problematic.

He stated that social platforms were made by a man, and everything made by a man can be used in a good and a bad way.

”We should teach people how to use the platforms properly. It is understandable to say that in this period the platforms may make mistakes, but after years of existence, a determined action that implies a better way of moderating has to be undertaken. Take for example Facebook moderators, who are quite unprofessional”, said Kriššák