Pro-Russian media in Montenegro after joining NATO

Hana Semanić

June 21, 2019

A 2017 BIRN article entitled “Novi medijski blok – Rusiji sa ljubavlju”[1] (New media block – Russia with love) mentions a large number of pro-Russian media outlets in Montenegro, especially websites that have been or still are active regardless of the country’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although some expected that the pro-Russian tendencies, mostly supported by about 30% of Serbs living in Montenegro, would decrease after joining NATO, it did not materialise. The above mentioned article states that only in 2017 in Podgorica, five new websites were registered – Ujedinjenje, Nova Riječ, Magazin, Princip and Sedmica. Such media, whether electronic or printed, have a common characteristic - promoting the official politics of the Kremlin or, in other words, opposing to Montenegrin membership in the NATO and the European Union, and contradicting the leading political structures in Montenegro, all with the support of pro-Serbian parties in the country. Today, however, Internet browsers show that of the five websites mentioned above, only Sedmica (www.sedmica.me) is still in operation.

The most explicit medium that proudly advocates pro-Russian politics is the openly Russophile IN4S (www.in4s.net), well established not only in Montenegro and Serbia, but in the whole region. Another example is the DAN daily, which today has a generally anti-Western orientation, although it previously served as a loud opponent of Montenegrin membership in the NATO, and supported the pro-Russian sentiments in the country. Opinions of the public as well as professionals are divided over Vijesti (www.vijesti.me). Ištvan Kaić, a media analyst, recently interpreted the results of a research showing that in just two months in early 2019, Vijesti published 751 articles, pieces of information or texts about Milo Đukanović, of which 80% were negative, and only 2% neutral.[2] Therefore, some analysts place Vijesti among declaratively pro-Western portals, while others believe that this medium perceives the Russian influence of DAN and IN4S in a completely different way.

During the coup attempting to bring down the government of Milo Đukanović ahead of the parliamentary elections on 16 October 2016, pro-Serbian and pro-Russian media wrote in great detail that Montenegro should implement an anti-Western foreign policy supported by Russia. Otherwise, the main motive of the coup was a violent overthrow of the country’s government to prevent its entry into NATO. The pro-Serbian and pro-Russian media were the first to report on the coup and all that followed, led by the Serbian branch of the Sputnik agency and the aforementioned IN4S and followed by the daily newspapers Dan and Vijesti.

When talking about newspapers in Montenegro, the above-cited BIRN article mentions the monthly edition of Ruska riječ (Russian Word) which is issued by Rossiyskaya Gazeta in Moscow and printed and distributed together with DAN, a daily newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, written in Serbian (Cyrillic). The editor of DAN claims that this initiative came directly from Russia, and that DAN was only responsible for printing and distribution. Unlike newspapers published in Russian, pro-Russian media in Montenegro, as well as in the former Yugoslavia in general, seem to have much more influence when published together with domestic electronic or print media, mainly because of the language and already established local authors and journalists.

Given the large number of Russians in Montenegro who have bought property or started businesses during the past ten years, it should not come as a surprise that the country already has Russian-language newspapers and radio stations, and that children have the opportunity to study in their mother tongue or join Russian sports and cultural organisations that operate in Montenegro. Thanks to the visa-free regime between the two countries, the Russians are the second most numerous tourists in Montenegro after the Serbs, regardless of the tightened relations after the attempted coup and Montenegro’s entry into NATO.

The latter event opened up a sharp divide in the Montenegrin public between those who were undoubtedly in favour of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and those who still consider it the wrong move of the country’s foreign policy because it distanced it from Russia. The Russians cleverly use the empty space between these two extremes and strengthen their presence through opportunities arising in the world of media. They are justifying their actions using historical ties with Montenegro, established during the reign of Peter the Great, by fraternal relations between the two Orthodox countries as well as the numerous Russian diaspora with permanent residence in Montenegro.

The gap in the public was also apparent in the context of the recent judgement of the High Court in Podgorica in the so-called “trial of a century” concerning the “coup” in Montenegro. The trial lasted a year and a half and involved Russian intelligentsia, leaders of the Montenegrin opposition and Serbian citizens. Part of the public has, from the very beginning, agreed with the arguments put forward by the government and the prosecution, while others believe that everything is a farce. It is more than clear that the final judgement will not change the public attitudes that have long been formed. The High Court issued a first-instance verdict of about 70 years in prison for all 13 people accused of attempted terrorism on the day of the coup in October 2016. According to the BBC in Serbian, the highest sentences were passed on Montenegrin opposition leaders of the DF party, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, who were sentenced to five years, while Russian citizens Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov were sentenced to 12 and 15 years in prison respectively.[3]

This is another story that confirms that the Balkans is a place of heated arguments. In this case, in a media clash between pro-Russian and pro-government media. It seems that the number of pro-Russian media outlets has not increased after Montenegro’s entry into NATO, but the example of the coup shows that there are other ways to influence public opinion. In the time of social networks where information is available at every step, it is very important that the public approaches the news they are presented in a critical way, regardless of where they come from.

 

[1] “Novi medijski blok – Rusiji sa ljubavlju” Balkan Insight, 18 October 2017, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/pro-russian-montenegrins-publish-new-anti-western-media-10-17-2017

[2] “Kaić: Vijesti samo uz novu vlast mogu da operu biografije” Aktuelno, 13 April 2019, https://www.aktuelno.me/crna-gora/kaic-vijesti-samo-uz-novu-vlast-mogu-da-operu-biografije/.

[3] “Afera „državni udar“ u Crnoj Gori: Po pet godina zatvora za lidere opozicije” BBC News, 9 May 2019, https://www.bbc.com/serbian/lat/balkan-48220767.