Disinformation Report: Montenegro in 2023

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In a series of annual country reports, SEE Check gives a comprehensive overview of the disinformation landscape across the region.


This report is a contribution of Raskrinkavanje.me, a fact-checking newsroom run by the organization Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) based in Podgorica, Montenegro. 

Raskrinkavanje was established in 2018 and it is a signatory of IFCN since 2019 and EFCSN since 2023; Meta’s Third party fact checking partner in Montenegro since 2020, and a member of various regional networks and initiatives, including SEE Check and Anti-Disinformation Network for the Balkans (ADN-Balkans). Raskrinkavanje is a leading platform in analyzing disinformation in Montenegro, combining fact-checking and expertise in media with its parent organization’s expertise in election and malign foreign influence in order to combat antidemocratic narratives.

The report is based on Raskrinkavanje’s direct experience in the areas of fact-checking, reporting, research and analysis. It reflects the newsroom’s viewpoint and emphasizes the events and phenomena that the fact-checker finds relevant for the overall information environment in the country.

Disinformation Topics and Narratives in Montenegro

Even though the majority of Montenegrin citizens support the country’s path towards EU integration, the anti-EU narrative remains strong. Various disinformation is used to portray the EU in a negative light within this narrative frame: EU and NATO are accused of being responsible for the Russian aggression on Ukraine; the EU is painted as being on the brink of falling apart, or as being hostile towards Montenegro by trying to reinstate visa regime for its citizens. The EU and/or specific Western countries and institutions are also accused of “destroying traditional values” and “enforcing LGBTIQ values”, or incorporated into conspiracy theories about plans to “depopulate the Earth”, manifested in various bizarre claims like the one that EU is forcing its citizens to eat insects as a way to harm them. 

Conspiracy theories about “depopulation” are related to other recurring disinformation narratives about large scale sinister plots attributed to various actors. Some are imaginary – such as the “world government” or the “cabal” that was present in the QAnon narratives, while others are real people, like Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab, accused of plotting against the entire humanity. Schwab and the World Economic Forum, an organization he founded, have recently emerged as primary targets of such conspiracy theories, being accused of trying to decrease the number of people on Earth in favor of the rich (in some versions, by using forced vaccination against Covid-19), or being supporters and/or descendants of the Nazis. 

Narratives promoting climate change denial have gained particular momentum after the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey and Syria, as well as wildfires in Hawaii. Natural disasters triggered viral “explanations” of these events based on false claims and conspiracy theories: a special kind of “tectonic weapons”, or the famous HAARP, were said to have caused the earthquakes; some falsely reported “a strange light in the sky” above Turkey and some even blaming NATO for the earthquake. Unusually strong and destructive storms that have hit several countries in the region during 2023, were also used to propagate unfounded claims about made-up “weapons” being used to create extreme weather.

The year 2023 was a major election year in Montenegro. The citizens voted in presidential (held in March and April) and parliamentary elections (held in June), as well as elections for the new local Government in Podgorica in 2022, Nikšić 2021, and parliamentary election in 2020.  which saw the continuation of the election campaign for four years straight.  Multiple disinformation narratives followed the elections, the dominant one being that the pro-Serbian parties and candidates were their actual victors. This narrative was often pushed by fake polls that supposedly indicated “real winners” (however, this tactic was employed by various actors on different sides of the political spectrum). A narrative that the DPS (Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, founded and led by former long-term President and Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović) will provoke conflicts if they lose, has also appeared around election time. It was supported by false claims about “chaos” happening on election day, including stories about alleged arrests in the capital of Podgorica, physical attack on its mayor Ivan Vuković, threats against one of the presidential candidate, supposed caravan of DPS supporters moving towards northern part of the country to buy votes, etc. All of these and other similar stories were published in Nacionalist (The Nationalist), a right-wing website which promotes Serbian nationalism. 

Actors Contributing to the Spread of Disinformation

Websites with most content rated as manipulative by the Raskrinkavanje team, i.e. the most dominant proliferators of disinformation, are Borba and IN4S, right-wing oriented websites with a strong pro-Serbian and pro-Russian bias. These websites are publishing opinions of their regular writers such as former mayor of Cetinje Jovan Markuš and Serbian historian Aleksandar Raković who are often spreading disinformation. Another prominent source of disinformation are Serbian tabloids Kurir and Večernje novosti, both featuring separate columns for Montenegro news, where disinformation and/or for biased reporting on social and political issues in Montenegro, appear on regular basis. Additionally, tabloid Alo has opened its own branch in Montenegro and it publishes similar content as the abovementioned sources. 

All of these websites are publishing highly politicized disinformation or manipulative content with a clear bias in favor of pro-Serbian political parties and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, or the president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić and other political figures in his orbit. Most, if not all of such websites, also display pro-Russian bias when reporting on geopolitical topics and particularly on war in Ukraine. 

Tactics and Techniques Used to Spread Disinformation

A common tactic by which disinformation is spread, employed by almost all web portals in Montenegro, is taking unverified and often extremely politically biased content from social media pages and presenting it as news (1, 2), or treating Facebook/Twitter statuses as legitimate statements or press releases.

Another technique points to possible coordinated cross-border efforts of several aforementioned politically and ideologically aligned websites – Serbian tabloids on one side and pro-Russian and pro-Serbian media in Montenegro on another – where one of such sources publishes a false or manipulative claim and others share it in a matter of minutes.  

The election campaigns were followed by a particular manipulative tactic to influence public opinion: making up opinion polls and publishing their supposed results everywhere from profiles on social networks (usually those related to political parties), to online media and parties’ official websites (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Some of the fake polls were falsely attributed to foreign embassies, others to legitimate polling agencies, all of which have denied conducting them. However, there was even a case where an entire polling agency was made up. Sources such as Alo, Kurir, Večernje novosti, IN4S, Borba and Adria, not only published the “results” of its non-existent opinion polls, but also claimed that the made-up agency has polled over 300.000 Montenegrin citizens.  

Events Instigating Spread of Disinformation

Political turmoil and prolonged election process were the primary triggers for disinformation in Montenegro. One event stood out in terms of both spread and the effects of disinformation in the presidential election: an attack on then presidential candidate and the current president of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović, at a campaign convention in Cetinje. Milatović was attacked by protestors, but several media outlets reported that he was not, despite videos showing the attacks; or that his associate carried a gun which turned out to be false. The protests themselves were fueled by a rumor that, in 2021, at the time of protests against the inauguration of the new head of Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Milatović had said “So what if 10 Montenegrins are killed (in protests in Cetinje)?”, even though there is no evidence that he ever made such a statement. 

Parliamentary election was held after the presidential election and followed by a continuous stream of manipulative reporting of Serbian tabloids and TV stations close to the Serbian Government. The intensity of disinformation was, however, smaller compared to the presidential election. 

On the other hand, the population census that followed the parliamentary election became a major political issue that strengthened polarization and divisions in the country and instigated strong disinformation campaigns by nationalist parties and media outlets, predominantly Serbian tabloids and their Montenegro-based counterparts such as Borba, IN4S and Alo online. The census was postponed several times since 2021 – first because of the Covid-19 pandemic, then because of the elections and, in 2023, because opposition parties have called for boycott – to be finally conducted in December 2023. The dominant narrative coming from these sources was one of historical revisionism, claiming that Montenegrin nation doesn’t exist and that it was “invented by communists” in former Yugoslavia. Various false and manipulative claims were used to back that narrative, one of the most common being the recycled falsehood that, before Yugoslavia came to existence, 95% of people in Montenegro declared as Serbs. However, the census from 1909 that is referenced as evidence for that claim, never gathered data on nationality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). In a “modern version” of similar claim, nationalist pages such as “Bunt” had falsely claimed to possess leaked results of the census, showing a rise of Serbian population in Montenegro. 

Antidisinformation Update 

In May 2023, CDT organized a regional conference on disinformation in Podgorica, called “Are there fair election in the disinformation era”, where leading regional journalists, fact-checkers, politicians, heads of institutions and others took part,  trying to share the experiences and find a way to better combat disinformation. 

Fact-checkers from Raskrinkavanje have held two separate trainings for journalists in Montenegro in order to introduce them with fact-checking tools and share the knowledge on disinformation.  

In September, Digital Forensic Center (DFC) had their annual DFC 365 conference in Podgorica with regional experts on disinformation. In November, EEAS held their EU-WB Media literacy conference in Podgorica, an important event that gathered European media experts, journalists and decision makers and had a strong focus on fighting disinformation and foreign information manipulation.   

Legislation Overview

Media laws in Montenegro do not treat disinformation in any way, but the Media strategy for 2023-2027 calls for amending them for more efficient combat of this phenomenon. The country’s first Media strategy was adopted in October 2023 by The Government of Montenegro and it foresees a creation of National media literacy council that will plan and oversee the activities for advancing media literacy in Montenegro, as well as a network for combating hate speech, online harassment and disinformation. There are no other provisions related to combating disinformation in the strategy.    

This report is published within the project “SEE Check Network – Fighting Disinformation and Misinformation Through a Network of Fact-checkers” funded by the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author(s), and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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