Elections in Montenegro and BiH: Fake narratives, statements, and research

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The deep one-sidedness of the media, the creation of fake narratives about the participants in the elections, and even entire nations, and fabricated statements and research characterised the election processes in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Due to the way they took place, the General Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina had primacy when it came to regional media reporting, that is, misinforming the public. In contrast, Montenegrin local elections went somewhat under the radar.

Foreign mercenaries and Satanists

The most dominant disinformation narrative during this year’s General Elections campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina was that the opposition candidate for President of the Republic of Srpska, Jelena Trivic, is a “traitor and foreign mercenary”. Within the framework of this narrative, the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the region, offered various unfounded “evidence”. For example, in two cases, documents were published that allegedly prove that the United States of America finances Jelena Trivic – in both cases (1, 2), the American embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed that they were forgeries. Raskrinkavanje.ba wrote more about this manipulative narrative in the analysis you can read here.

Within this narrative, numerous media during the campaign, and in parallel with the events related to EuroPride in Belgrade, claimed that the opposition in Banja Luka was preparing to hold EuroPride. However, the organisation behind this event explained to Raskrinkavanje.ba that this is not only not true, but it is also currently impossible.

When it came to the elections in Montenegro, the narrative was somewhat different – it was directed against the so-called sovereignist bloc, that is, the national Montenegrins. Therefore, you could hear allegations that Montenegro is a disgrace and abnormality and that Montenegrins are Satanists. In pre-election morning programs, it was claimed that Montenegro was not developed like Serbia, that all levels of its society suffer from various turbulences, and the whole story was completed by the pre-election analysis of the fiddler, who in the meantime was promoted to a political analyst.

Fictional statements and research

As in previous campaigns, during this year’s election campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the media also published candidates’ fabricated statements. Thus, it was claimed that the candidate for the BiH Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, called the Serbs “Nazis and fascists”, as well as that the candidate for the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, Faruk Hadzic, said that after the election, it would be forbidden to speak negatively about the president of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Bakir Izetbegovic. In both cases (1, 2), they were completely fabricated statements.

There were fabrications in Montenegro, too – but they were not statements – but public opinion research. Fake research attributed to CDT appeared on social networks, which CDT quickly denied, stating that it did not do any research related to the elections.

Alleged public opinion research about the elections in Budva was also promoted by one of the election participants, attributing it to the Ipsos agency, which had to react and prove that it did not conduct the research. The same agency had to deny a similar claim again the night before the election. This time, their alleged research appeared on Telegram – once again, it was about the elections in Budva, and yet again, it was completely fabricated.

From satire and photoshop to fake news

During the pre-election campaign, disinformation was created through incorrect interpretations of satire or simple photoshop in the media and on social networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus, in one case, some media and users of social networks shared photoshopped posters of the real candidate Semsudin Dedic. In another case, fictional, photoshopped and obviously satirical posters of Senada Nurkic, better known as Maca Discrecija, were presented as real even though she was not a candidate in the elections. The media also claimed that Milorad Dodik warned the Central Election Commission of BiH that there would be large protests if they “steal his victory”. Although the alleged statement and “warning” came from a satirical article, some presented the whole story as real.

Media and social networks in the election campaign

During the campaign, Raskrinkavanje.ba analysed the reporting conducted by numerous web portals in BiH regarding bias towards certain political parties (1, 2, 3). It was found that many of them give space exclusively to certain political actors while they either attack others or do not publish anything about them.

Examples of web portals created before the campaign began were also observed, showing an exceptional bias in “reporting”. Thanks to their content, they revealed why they were actually created (1, 2, 3).

In addition to web portals, social networks were also used for manipulative and disinformative promotion of some candidates and discrediting others. In one case, the Facebook page Bosnjaci was observed, which, after a break in work after having an extremely active period in 2020, when elections were also held in BiH, was reactivated and intensified the promotion of the SDA, and the discrediting of all other parties. In another case, Raskrinkavanje.ba wrote about the Banjalucki Dzokej Facebook page, which was used for the homophobic and disinformative discrediting of Banja Luka Mayor Drasko Stanivukovic. Raskrinkavanje.ba also exposed the “network” of Twitter accounts used to promote SNSD and analysed how much money some media invested in sponsoring their content on Facebook and Instagram.

Other interesting examples and phenomena were also observed, such as the one that the candidate for the BiH Presidency gave an interview to an anonymous web portal during the campaign. All Raskrinkavanja.ba articles analyzing disinformation and manipulations related to the 2022 General Elections can be found here.

Regarding the recently held elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, pro-government media in Serbia have traditionally favoured Milorad Dodik and Zeljka Cvijanovic, the SNSD candidates.

Favouring some and ignoring others

Milorad Dodik’s victory in the presidential elections in the Republic of Srpska was met with enthusiasm by the tabloids, and they announced it even before the official results.

Thus, on election day, Informer wrote that Dodik’s opponent, Jelena Trivic, “already speaks like the president of Srpska”, but that the SNSD “is clear, they are convinced that the winner will be Milorad Dodik”. The day after the elections, the tabloid announced that Dodik “also took the Srpska parliament” and that with the arrival of the results, “the opposition is in an ever-increasing pit”.

A similar narrative was promoted by Srpski telegraf’s (Serbian telegraph’s) web portal – Republika – which wrote on election day that Dodik “never felt more relaxed” because he has an advantage in votes.

Vecernje novosti also rejoiced at Dodik’s victory and described it as a confirmation that he and his party “have the greatest political strength in BiH for years”.

And the fact that they support him is also evident in the birthday greeting that Dodik sent to Vecernje novosti on October 16, which Novosti reported in its entirety. The media were also sympathetic to Dodik’s colleague Zeljka Cvijanovic, who was elected as a member of the BiH Presidency from among the Serbian people. For example, Informer concluded even before the official results that “the matter has been resolved” and that Cvijanovic is a member of the BiH Presidency. Her victory was described by many as “historic”.

In contrast to their support for Dodik and Cvijanovic, the Serbian tabloids practically rejoiced in the defeat of Bakir Izetbegovic, who lost in the race for Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Informer wrote that Bakir suffered a “fierce defeat”, while, according to Republika, he was “completely crushed”. Izetbegovic’s defeat, apparently, was given the most space by Vecernje novosti, which wrote that he “counts only defeats”, that he “saw off the branch he was sitting on” and that “Denis Becirovic swept him”.

Zeljko Komsic, a candidate for the Presidency of BiH from among the Croatian people, did not fare any better in the Serbian media. Thus, for his announcement that he would run in the elections, Alo wrote that he “poked a finger in the eye of the Croats”, and after he won, Informer wrote that “the Croats have gone insane”.
The media in Serbia and Montenegro had a similar approach – write about those closest to you and ignore the “enemy”. Thus, in many media outlets from Serbia, the voice of only one party could be heard, giving the impression that only the Democratic Front or the Europe Now movement are participating in the elections, while if you went on web portals that do not support them, you could conclude that they are not even participating