A recent parliamentary election in Montenegro may have attracted little notice outside the country, but it will have outsized repercussions for the international order. Strongman President Milo Djukanovic has been in power for nearly 30 years at the helm of his pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists, which lost its bid for reelection in the Aug. 30 vote, although Djukanovic will stay president until 2023. Taking the Democratic Party of Socialists’ place is a pro-Russian and pro-Serbian-led alliance, which has given Moscow an ally not just within NATO, but potentially within the European Union. It’s high time the EU wakes up and does something to stem Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creeping influence in the Balkans.

The newly formed coalition of opposition parties set to lead the small Balkan state have notionally agreed to continue Djukanovic’s pro-Western tilt, but that is unlikely to stop the festivities in the Kremlin. After all, the new coalition’s first goal, according to one of its leaders, is to lift the country’s sanctions on Russia. And although much of the Montenegrin public may be cheering the end of Djukanovic’s autocratic rule, the happiness is likely to be short-lived. Their small nation is just the latest Balkan domino to fall toward Moscow.

Read the full story co-authored by research fellow at the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Milan Jovanović, at the LINK.

Russia has never accepted nor gotten over Montenegrin NATO membership and it will never do so, evaluated Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

Appearing on the TV show Sofrovizija of the Radio and Television of Montenegro on the occasion of the third anniversary of Montenegro’s membership in the Alliance, Kentera said that Russia continues fighting tooth and nail to undermine our country.

We saw the attempts of Russian interference in 2016 and the interference became very intense in the last couple of months. Now, Serbia is being used for Russian goals and it is attempting to do something that is not suitable for a neighboring and friendly country. Both Moscow and Belgrade need to get over a fact that this behavior needs to stop since Montenegro chose its path which will strengthen democracy and rule of law, Kentera specified.

Speaking of the regional stability, Kentera stated that it would be ensured only when Serbia and Bosnia become part of the Alliance.

Serbia is a very important country for the region. In the previous period, Serbia had many military exercises with NATO members, but this is not discussed in the media since their officials want to create an image of closeness to Russia. When the government in Serbia changes, this situation could also change overnight and I hope that one day we will talk about Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as member states, not so much because of NATO itself but because of the permanent security of our region.

According to Kentera, the benefits of Montenegrin membership to NATO are numerous, starting from the stronger internal security to the higher number of foreign direct investment.

Besides this, the fact that Montenegro is sitting at the same table with the countries which decided on its future in 1999 is crucial. We cannot end up in being in a conflict with these countries again, with someone else debating on us. We have a voice now and the equal right to participate in the decision-making process of NATO, Kentera said.

Strategic mistake, as he added, was to choose the Eastern European market as the main market for Montenegrin tourism.

We should have never chosen only one side. Look at Croatia, Spain and Italy. All of them are NATO member states. Compare their tourism with ours and that will tell you everything. They also have guests from Russia but not to the same extent as we do, Kentera concluded.

Russia is trying to slow down the integration processes on the Western Balkans and surpasses the other countries in interfering in the internal and foreign political course of the region, assessed the participants of the online conference organized by NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (StratCom) from Latvia.

The participants of the conference were Milan Jovanovic from the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and Dimitar Bechev, professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, who presented the report „Russia’s Footprint in the Western Balkan Information Environment”.

Jovanovic reminded that the Atlantic Council of Montenegro is one of the co-authors of the report published by StratCom, stating that more than 11,000 articles published by Sputnik Serbia were analyzed during 12 months.

 „We detected nine main narratives. The West is usually depicted in a negative context while Russia is presented as a savior and defender of Orthodoxy in the region. NATO is presented as an aggressive organization, which is expanding its presence near Russia’s borders. Sputnik wants to rewrite Montenegrin history, presenting the decisions adopted on Podgoricka Skupstina (Podgorica Assembly) from 1918 as legitimate and the expression of the will of the majority of the citizens“, Jovanovic specified.

Russia, as he added, cannot accept the Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the region, therefore, it is striving to hinder the integrations.

 „That is why the stronger presence of the EU, NATO and the USA is needed in the following period, in order to prevent the malign influence of Russia and China“ Jovanovic said.

Bechev assessed that Russia perceives the Balkans as the „soft underbelly of NATO“, through which it could harm the West.

„Politics of the West is directed towards the EU and NATO integration of the Balkans. Russia doesn’t have a successful politics to prevent that, it only creates obstacles by influencing certain leaders and political parties in the Balkans. The main Russian goal is to slow the integration process“, Bechev said.

The participants of the Conference agree that Russia uses the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen its presence in the Balkans, but they also assess that other countries are much more successful at this.

„Russia tried to use the coronavirus, but others did it much better, China first of all. When it comes to fighting the coronavirus, Russia doesn’t provide good results within its borders, and this is the reason why it couldn’t launch such a narrative. Contrary to Russia, China is present everywhere in the world, but Beijing doesn’t openly interfere in regional security issues, such as Kosovo. China opposes Kosovo’s independence, but it doesn’t express it as loudly as Russia“, Bechev stated.

As he said, NATO and the EU above all are the Western Balkans’ key partners in fighting the Russian influence.

„The Union must increase its economic assistance and the number of development projects for the region, because Russia can’t be its competitor in that field. With the new economic crisis, the Balkans are about to face after the pandemic, it is necessary that the EU adopts such stance“, Bechev said.

On the other hand, Jovanovic assesses that strengthening media literacy is the best way to strengthen a country’s resilience against the foreign influence.

 „The best way to prevent fake news spreading is to be media literate, and the excellent example of that can be found in the Baltic states, which introduced media literacy as a compulsory subject in their schools“, Jovanovic said.

The coronavirus consequences will be enormous but alliances such as NATO and the EU can give the best response to these challenges, despite their slow initial reaction, was assessed by the participants of the online conference of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro (ACM). They added that the Western Balkans need to be in focus of the Brussels administration, otherwise, China and Russia will use this opportunity.

The participants of the live conference on the ACM Facebook page were Savo Kentera, President of the ACM, Fabrizio Luciolli, President of the Atlantic Treaty Association and of the Italian Atlantic Committee, Damir Marusic, representative of the Atlantic Council of the USA, and Bosko Jaksic, journalist from Serbia.

Kentera stated that this COVID pandemic changed our lives in more than one way.

“With the Western democracies struggling to contain the virus and its consequences, many have praised Chinese response strategies of the other authoritarian regimes in tackling the crisis. Both China and Russia have seized the momentum to emerge as international benefactors sending medical equipment, supplies and human resources to the countries affected by virus”, Kentera assessed.

Speaking of the situation in the USA, the country which is currently most affected by the virus, Marusic said that the quarantine in the USA will last at least until the end of May. He also thinks that not sufficiently strong central government in Washington represents the additional problem to the USA in this situation and adds that the virus will definitely affect the upcoming elections in that country.

 “Everything is discussed through the lenses of the virus. What I find astonishing is the fact that the Democrats drew back and let President Trump do what he wants. They are probably just waiting for his mistakes to gain their political points. But it is wrong to think that the virus can be defeated only from the center, everything is left in Trump’s hands which could go against the Democrats in the end. I understand why they are doing this, but it is a very risky policy” Marusic stated.

Fabrizio Luciolli assessed that the virus did not attack people only, but the multilateral organizations such as the UN, the EU and NATO.

“It turns out that we have two different Europes within the Union. Italy, Spain, Greece and France have been on one side for long while on the other side are northern countries led by Germany. Italy has been absolutely alone for so long. Russia and China used this. Pandemic will cause great economic problems. Each Italian will have EUR43 thousand of debt which will be a huge challenge” stated Luciolli.

Clear tactics of Beijing

 Commenting on the aid from China which has been sent all around the world, Bosko Jaksic said that the tactics of Beijing is clear and is just an introduction in their attempts to strengthen economic and political position after the pandemic.

 “Russia launched the narratives that it is successfully fighting the crisis, aiming at undermining European institutions. Pressurized by China, the EU did not criticize Beijing in its last report. It’s understandable since the economic trade between China and the EU was more than EUR1 billion. China does not want to take the blame but is sending the aid with the intention to strengthen its political and economic position after the pandemic”, states Jaksic.

Working many years as a journalist and editor of the foreign policy editorial of the Belgrade’s „Politika“, he reminded that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, when talking about fraternal relations with both the Russian and Chinese Presidents, praised particularly the aid coming from China and Russia.

 “I’m not sure about Vucic’s intentions. By such behavior, he maybe wants to attract greater aid from the West. Vucic counts on the West’s help to resolve the issue of Kosovo, but he doesn’t want their help in strengthening independence of the institutions and freedom of the press. The coronavirus helped him in the sense of strengthening his power like Orban in Hungary, but the opposition is quiet and the parliament didn’t work up until recently,” Jaksic stated.

Speaking of the situation in the region, Jaksic assessed that the Western Balkans has become the epicenter of the new disinformation campaign. He added that even though NATO has built up democratic processes in the region by Montenegro’s and North Macedonia’s joining, China and Russia are increasing their activities.

Lavrov’s statement, a continuation of the Russian pressure on Montenegro

Kentera also agreed with these assessments, indicating that Montenegro wants to live by standards that are promoted by the Western system of value and not by authoritarian regimes’ rules, such as Chinese and Russian. He added that Russia is neither giving up on the Balkans, nor on Montenegro as its sphere of interest. Kentera reminded that this was showed by the latest statement of Russian Diplomacy Chief Sergey Lavrov, who said that he hoped the Montenegrin government would be left by those pursuing Anti-Russian politics.

 “Such statement is neither friendly nor diplomatic. We can see 2016 recurrence, when before the attempted coup we witnessed similar statements coming from Moscow. The newest statement is coming without any provocations from Montenegro’s part, but neither this nor any other statement will influence our European path; it will only strengthen our position in NATO. We seek stronger rule of law and democracy, and I don’t think that China or Russia are offering them, on the contrary,” Kentera stated.

Marusic assessed that a stronger role of the EU will be the key to the Western Balkans, despite the crisis caused by the pandemic. He stated that the Balkans must continue to be in the Brussels’ focus, if the Union wants a stable region.

Luciolli estimated that instead of “communion”, during the crisis the Union has seen strengthening of individual national approach, commenting on the NATO’s reaction as well.

“Even NATO, as well as the EU, didn’t act swiftly at the beginning. This is understandable because of its complex organization, which is both a political and a military alliance. Now, the only such multilateral organization, which does the job properly and which gives the results on the field, is NATO,” Luciolli said.

The Atlantic Council will continue to organize similar online conferences on current affairs in the upcoming period.

Atlantic Council of Montenegro has been closely monitoring the situation and developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. After careful deliberation, we have decided to postpone the 10th edition of 2BS Forum.

The wellbeing, health, and safety of our participants, partners, and staff is our highest priority which is why we believe that the best way to move forward is to postpone the 2BS Forum.

The new dates will be defined in due course.

Please make sure to monitor our official website www.2bs.me and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with our announcements and developments.

2BS Forum Team

The modern age has brought us into a new reality where social networks and media create and promote narratives and information that undermine the legitimacy of not only Montenegrin but also societies around the world.

The current situation regarding the Law on Freedom of Religion has deepened the crisis in relations between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin state. This has resulted in an intense disinformation campaign, and consequently a lack of trust in the media, with the crucial question being – who to trust?

In such conditions, working with young people, high school pupils and students is crucial in the fight against disinformation. Therefore, Digital Forensic Center of the ACM organized a two-day workshop for young people who were interested in training. The aim was to teach participants more about the pervasive phenomenon of disinformation – how to combat this phenomenon, what psychological aspects are behind the disinformation campaigns, what is the modus operandi of campaigns seen across Europe and the world etc.

Lecturers Darko Brkan from Raskrinkavanje and Milan Jovanovic from DFC, after providing participants of this two-day training with theoretical knowledge, demonstrated practical exercises. The participants were educated on how to find information in order to check the accuracy of texts through open-source tools, how to determine geolocation, and finally how to write text. After that, the students did specific exercises on their own.

Participants were also instructed how to make a good lie by taking information that is not easy to verify. Media types (public and private agencies, public, commercial and online media, social networks) were highlighted. Phenomena of bots and trolls, misinterpretations of terms, and distinctions among them were also discussed.

Also, concrete examples were presented on how the creation of disinformation can be grounded in political interests, and often in money.

Conclusions and recommendations:

  • Emerging forms of media manipulation are: fake news, spreading fake news, spin, disinformation, fact manipulation, pseudoscience, conspiracy theory, biased reporting, censorship.
  • In the domain of credibility, professional media must have a published impressum, contact, data, as well as ownership and publisher information, form, content and must be transparent.
  • Participants showed a high level of media literacy, answering correctly to over 83% answers of the given quiz.
  • Participants demonstrated the ability to put theory into practice through a series of successfully completed exercises in various fields.
  • According to the participants, the approach of focusing on the practical and interactive part, along with teamwork, is what really raised the workshop to a higher level.
  • A long-term process of raising awareness in the field of media literacy among the youngest, as well as strengthening digital literacy, as a resistance to disinformation is needed in Montenegro.
  • It is agreed that the subject Media Literacy should be an integral and obligatory part of the secondary school curriculum.
  • The participants expressed their interest in further workshops on various topics, such as the impact on the media when writing and publishing text, the detailed presentation of open-source tools, or a workshop that would address security and safety on the Internet.

A meeting with the Canadian Delegation was held today in the Atlantic Council of Montenegro. Members of the Delegation were: Michael Kaduck, Kristina Mastelica, Brian Ebel and Nathalie Niedoba. The issues discussed were the latest happenings in Montenegro, especially the current situation or, the Law on Freedom of Religion. Additionally, the work of the Digital Forensic Center, which is actively engaged in countering disinformation and fake news, was presented, as well as the research on the current disinformation campaign. The President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Savo Kentera, pointed out that it is very positive that Canada showed interest in Montenegro and the region, which is the indicator that we are not alone.

At the press conference, held in the premises of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro on January 28, 2020, Milan Jovanovic from the Digital Forensic Center presented the new research concerning the current disinformation campaign. The goal of the presentation was to display quantitative and qualitative results, with reference to the key examples of disinformation, media narrative analysis but also to modus operandi of these campaigns.

According to him, during the last three months, 35000 articles and posts concerning directly the Law on Freedom of Religion were posted on social media.

„The campaign is coming from Russia and Serbia. It is completely indicative that during the last three months, out of 35 000 of articles which concern this Law, 20 000 is coming from Serbia, therefore it can be concluded that someone is intentionally forcing particular content which is gaining in popularity“, Jovanovic said and added that around 9 000 pieces of information came from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Jovanovic said that it is crucial to determine the key groups and individuals who are posting fake news on this subject through social media analysis.

As he said, in their research the focus was on the concrete examples of disinformation in order to present everything that a disinformation campaign implies, not just fake news and disinformation.

Jovanovic explained that this includes calls for violence, radicalization of comments, using of children for political and propaganda purpose.

He stated that the presentation represents a summary of everything that has been done during the last three months.

„I think that no platform, media or social network is excluded from this campaign. Facebook, as the biggest social network, together with the media represents the largest source of information but, unfortunately, the disinformation as well“, said Jovanovic.

Jovanovic said that the analyisis of the modus operandi of disinformation campaign in Montenegro indicates that the same was used in the SEE countries, Ukraine and Western countries.

„If the campaign in the above-mentioned countries is initiated by Russia using the same modus operandi, we can conclude that this campaign is coming from the same address“, Jovanovic said.

As he explained, the problem of disinformation cannot be easily solved, otherwise, this problem would be neutralized in the much more developed countries and societies.

“I think that we should always work on ourselves, this is the best answer to the question „how to be resilient to disinformation? “. We need to check the sources of information and not to believe in everything that is being posted“, Jovanovic said.

He said that the protests organized due to the Law on Freedom of Religion were of a spiritual character at the beginning, but meanwhile, they started receiving political dimensions.

„At the beginning, the protest had a spiritual character which is reflected in the lack of any propaganda material, flags or other nationalistic landmarks. Now, everything that we see implies that the litanies are getting political character“, Jovanovic said.

According to his words, it is necessary to devote more attention to the education of children, so, the state authorities should make more effort in that sense. He also added that the arrests cannot be used in a fight against disinformation.

The NATO Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) is organizing the Conference entitled An Integrated Approach to NATO Communications which is taking place in Brussels, on 23 and 24 January 2020 and is bringing together the experts from think tanks and academia together with government officials and communicators, as well as representatives from industry and culture. The Atlantic Council of Montenegro is also taking part in this high-level Conference. The goal of this Conference is to take stock of the latest political discussions in London and to chart out the communications implications for the next months and years.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro, together with the Faculty of Law, University of Montenegro and with the support of NATO PDD organized the Workshop on preventing online radicalization of youth in Montenegro which took place on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at the Faculty of Law in Podgorica.

Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Dražen Cerović, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Montenegro and Dragan Pejanović, State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and National Coordinator for P/CVE gave effective welcome speeches.

When it comes to younger generations, there is a growing need for more proactive and comprehensive approach to the fight against online radicalization. Therefore, this workshop served as a great opportunity for young people to gain the skills, necessary knowledge and capacities to identify online manipulation and radicalization as well as to identify the ways to fight back this phenomenon.

The workshop built upon the momentum in which we mark the Human Rights week and emphasized the need to focus on human rights promotion as this boosts resilience of affected communities, builds their confidence in institutions of the system and ability for them to feel appreciated and free to express themselves and fully participate in public and political life of their society.

“Understanding radicalization”, “How to curb online radicalization among youth”, “Legal framework in the prevention of the violent extremism” are some of the main topics which were covered by interactive discussions whose participants were Jelena Fuštić, Project Coordinator at the Forum MNE, dr Adis Balota, Professor at the Faculty for Information Technologies at the Mediterranean University and Dražen Cerović.