ANALYTICAL STUDIES

The project team works on 15 analytical studies that provide in-depth investigations and analyses of various aspects and mechanisms of external influences in the Western Balkans.

January 22, 2021

Infodemic, a snap election and a (luke)warm western welcome: North Macedonian identity at stake on Twitter

study iI - Content of disinformation

Disinformation campaigns often result from content published and shared by state-funded outlets or outlets with dubious agendas, unclear ownership and a lack of transparent editorial policies. In the current study, we examine the (news) domains which shaped public discussions in the period surrounding the July 2020 election in North Macedonia using a data set of the most popular daily tweets in the period between February and August of 2020. We complement this analysis with an examination of the most popular hashtags. We use these analyses to determine whether disinformation campaigns were spread through content from (foreign) domains, as well as to determine which topics shaped discussions in the period surrounding the election. The findings show that computational disinformation methods were used to shape public discussions in the period surrounding the election. While the study did not find direct evidence of foreign interference, these were primarily based on content aligned with the geo-political goals of foreign actors opposed to the country’s progress on its Euro-Atlantic integration path. 

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December 3, 2020

Infodemic, a snap election and a (luke)warm western welcome: North Macedonian identity at stake on Twitter

study I - instruments of disinformation

This study brings a new perspective into how domestic and foreign actors’ propaganda methods for disinformation can be used on a social media platform – Twitter. On a case study of North Macedonia, the author studies a period close to the 2020 parliamentary election and builds on the country’s first computational propaganda campaign the #bojkotiram (‘I am boycotting’) campaign on Twitter, which already played an influential role in the 2018 name-change referendum. By applying original botnet identification techniques, the author identifies a large network of users created in the run-up to the election and sympathetic to VMRO-DPMNE, (the country’s right-wing party) as well as to Levica, a far-left party opposed to N. Macedonia’s NATO and EU integration. The study shows that contrary public opinion polls which show that most citizens are pro Euro-Atlantic integration, many of the identified accounts have conflicting message – opposing the name-change while also promoting conspiratorial content and anti-Western attitudes.

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January 15, 2021

Erdogan as an admired sultan or an instrument in political competition?

Locals' perceptions of the Turkish presence in Serbian Sandžak

This paper seeks to fill the gap in research of Turkish policy in the Balkans, providing original insight into Turkey’s engagement in the Sandžak region of Serbia with a special focus on locals’ understanding of the Turkish presence, as well as differences in perception between different ethnic, political, ideological, and interest groups. The article also examines how the foreign factor is being used in political confrontations between political-interest groups in Sandžak. Given its historical, demographic, and geopolitical features, and declared significance for strategists in Ankara, Sandžak region is a fruitful area for exploring Turkey’s foreign policy in the region. Drawing on primary and secondary sources, and data obtained from dozens of interviews with elites and citizens of Sandžak cities and towns, the results confirm the assumed divergence between the perceptions of ethnic Serbs citizens and political elites, and their Bosniak counterparts. However, it also shows that the Bosniak elites are not homogenous in their view of the Turkish presence in solely positive terms and that Turkey’s reputation among the Bosniaks of Sandžak is instrumentalized by local political-interest groups in their mutual clashes.

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December 30, 2020

The Sum of All Fears – Chinese AI Surveillance in Serbia

This paper focuses on the introduction of the Smart City surveillance project in Belgrade, done in cooperation with the Chinese technology company Huawei. It aims to shed light on the ongoing discussions about the use of Chinese technology by Serbian authorities and reviews the concerns shared by some civil society representatives about the use of cutting-edge Chinese technology. It shows that the biometric smart surveillance project has raised concerns about the deterioration of privacy, as well as human rights and freedoms enforcement in Serbia and possible misuse of cameras. The Serbian civil society calls for addressing the existing shortcomings, providing a legal basis for the use of smart surveillance system and conducting further assessment on all related risks. Yet, the general public in Serbia does not share the same concerns as civic activists because it lacks basic information about the scope of the entire project. The Serbian government has classified the surveillance project as ‘confidential’ and avoids any public debates on its potential benefits and risks.

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by Prague Security Studies Institute

November 9, 2020

‘Is the EU Taking Friends for Granted?Partisanship and Support for External Actors in North Macedonia

This paper explores the “East vs. West” debate in North Macedonia and challenges the often shared notion that the majority of North Macedonians are united in favoring the country's Euro-Atlantic integration. By analyzing official survey data, the study shows that while an overwhelming majority of ethnic Albanians is in favour of the EU and NATO membership, ethnic Macedonians are, in fact, significantly split on the geopolitical direction their country should take. In particular, this paper shows that partisanship is an important factor in this divide. It argues that the polarization is at least in part attributable to cueing from party elites, despite the claim by all major parties (including VMRO-DPMNE) that they are pro-Western. 

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October 29, 2020

‘Our brothers’, ‘our saviours’: The importance of Chinese investment for the Serbian government’s narrative of economic rebound

The study analyses how Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has used the country’s increasing economic cooperation with non-Western powers to promote its own ‘winning’ narrative. It argues that under the leadership of Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia has not solely opted for the so-called ‘two-stools’ strategy, perceived as West vs East, but rather focused on having a broader array of allies that it could rely on when needed. The author also brings new insights into how the Serbian leadership has used the topic of economic renaissance in relation to a narrative depicting economic salvation by foreign friends coming to the rescue to further its political power. It is shown that this role, initially played by the United Arab Emirates, was assumed by China in the second part of the 2010s.

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September 1, 2020

THE WESTERN BALKANS: BETWEEN THE EU AND A HARD PLACE

The paper identifies and analyses opportunities and challenges, which the EU is facing in the region as it tries to regain its leverage there. It starts from the oft-repeated premise that of all foreign actors, only the EU has the capacity to gradually stabilize and normalize the Balkans, examines the roots of the acute misunderstanding and miscommunication between EU and Balkan officials and outlines possible recommendations that could help the EU in tackling Balkan challenges.

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September 1, 2020

COVID-19 Raises Geopolitical Stakes in the Balkans

The paper assesses the impact of COVID-19 on different external influences, which have already been steadily increasing in recent years, in the six Western Balkan countries. It offers insights into different forms and levels of engagement by Russia, China, Turkey as well as the US and the EU, establishing a better understanding of their agendas and strategies, and also providing data for future research on and analyses of this topic.

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