This is the greatest threat to Kosovo today. Such threats, such as propaganda, disinformation, cyber-attacks, have been present for several years in Kosovo for a multitude of reasons. At the top of the causes is the non-resolution of disputes with Serbia, which continues to produce political crises in the country.

"The 4 Ds approach"

Serbian and Russian narratives aimed at discrediting the West and shifting blame for crises involving themselves can be analyzed and broken down with the 4D model, developed by British researcher at the Atlantic Council's DFRLab, Ben Nimmo, in his study of Russian intelligence operations during the annexation of Crimea. The 4D model consists of dismiss, distort, distract and dismay.

The first approach is to dismiss the charges. Serbian and Russian narratives are constructed by denying the accusations, or denigrating those who make them. We find this in several statements by Serbian and Russian officials, who attack Prime Minister Kurti or the approach of the United States of America to the situation in the north of Kosovo.

The second approach is information distortion . Serbian officials or media and Russian officials or media do this to serve their anti-Kosovo, anti-NATO and anti-EU narrative. One of such examples were reports about the alleged preparation of Kosovo for war, or the public statements of state officials accusing the West of the unjust intervention in Kosovo in the late 90s. These propagandas have been repeated over the years by the Serbian and Russian media, as well as various officials of both countries.

The third approach is to distract or deflect attention by accusing the other of the same thing. For example, the propaganda that the Government of Kosovo with its actions is inciting armed conflict.

The fourth approach is the propagation of dismay, warning of movements intended to intimidate others. Serbian President Vucic threatened to introduce the army into Kosovo, provoking war.

This DS model helps to analyze and break down misinformation, to make it more understandable for every citizen.

False Narrative in different channels

The main narrative of Russian and Serbian disinformation during mid-December 2023 was that the European Union and USA is provoking a new war supporting Kosovo and making pressure to Serbia, to sever Serbia's ties with Russia and China. This is an example of the hybrid war that Kosovo is facing. When statements of different political actors in Russia and Serbia are analysed, it is obvious the link between their statements, and also how the media is being used, because same false narrative is disseminated through media channels, such as RT or Telegram. For instance, in 13th of December, the Kremlin was once again involved in the production of disinformation aimed at Kosovo. Initially, the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Botsan-Kharchenko, stated that it is a mistake to think that Russia does not have time to deal with the developments in Kosovo and accused Western countries of supporting Kosovo. Then, the prime minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, emphasized that they have arrived at the edge of the armed conflict due to the actions of Kurti and the inactions of KFOR (a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo) and EULEX (The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo). This statement was accompanied by another statement from the Kremlin, this time it was Maria Zakharova of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who, in her Telegram profile, added that the situation in the north of Kosovo is a projection of the EU, attacking it the EU and the West. In the same narrative, Russia Today propagandizes that the West is using the situation in Kosovo to sever Serbia's ties with Russia and China. In a television broadcast, RT continues with the anti-NATO narrative by conveying the message that the escalation of the situation in the north is caused by NATO. Various disinformation about the mobilization of the Serbian army for intervention in Kosovo, or questioning the peaceful role of KFOR soldiers in the management of the situation, is endless on Telegram. Different Telegram users disseminated disinformation related to the situation in the North of Kosovo, mostly to create fog about what is going on and to reinforce the narrative that a new war could start between Serbia and Kosovo.

Blaming NATO and the EU for the tension of the situation in the north of Kosovo, is the main narrative of RT (Russia Today) with the inaccurate information that it distributes in different countries through its channels in different languages. In Azerbaijan, Sputnik reported that the US is provoking Serbia to start a military operation . Another Russian television channel, 1TV, accused the West of organizing the events in the north of Kosovo. In this whole misleading and manipulated information trend, in November 2022, Russia opened the new RT channel in the Serbian language, to add one more tool to the hybrid war on Kosovo.

On the other hand, the Serbian press continued with various misinformation. "Kurir" and "Alo" were referring to the Croatian operation "Storm", propagandizing that Kosovo is planning to remove the Serbs from the north of Kosovo. According to "Informer" , "KFOR may be pushing Kurti to go wild and persecute the Serbs", meanwhile "Kurir" accuses the West of silence regarding Kurti's behavior. Finally, Prime Minister Kurti stated for the "Guardian" that the removal of the barricades could result in casualties, while this statement of Kurti was distorted in Serbia. The daily, "Alo" had the headline "Disturbing: Kurti openly announces that he will kill the Serbs" on the front page . The same distortion is made by Serbian state officials , Prime Minister Brnabic , Vucevic and Petkovic. This combination of public statements by representatives of Serbian state institutions with disinformation circulating in the Serbian media is a typical example of Serbian state-sponsored propaganda .

What should Kosovo do?

Kosovo's institutions must commit to first of all creating their own narrative, denying Serbian and Russian disinformation and propaganda, as well as debunking Serbian and Russian tactics. For this, the anti-disinformation agency is a must in our country. In order to create the narrative, the institutions of Kosovo can also choose the form of “alternative narrative” which has three pillars: positive basis, proactive distribution and is not an answer to other narratives, but a proposal of something else. However, in some cases, it must also choose the form of “counter-narrative”, which means dealing directly with propaganda, tactical responses to new ideas and requires careful fragmentation of the audience targeted by the propaganda.

Alternative narrative, as a ‘soft’ approach, could be used by Kosovo institutions, when it comes to the war and NATO intervention (the aerial boming campaign against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War). For instance, the deeper meaning of the war and NATO intervention. This narrative articulates the story of an intervention, that is not just military, but that has its roots in humanism. In this narrative, NATO was a reflection of problems created by Yugoslavia during 90’s, and the intervention was the solution for some of those problems, such as to halt the humanitarian catastrophe that was then unfolding in Kosovo.

Kosovo should have an anti-disinformation agency, composed of experts in the field intertwined with officials of several key institutions, from the government, the assembly, the presidency, the field of security, economy, etc., which would deal primarily with disinformation and Serbian-Russian propaganda. This agency could also be engaged in unraveling Russian and Serbian tactics, researching and analyzing propaganda, disinformation, deliberately distorted narratives, which would create insight into the spread of propaganda and disinformation, which continue to spread unchecked and connections between Serbian or Russian media and other propaganda channels remain undisclosed. Also, this agency, through various activities in society, would distribute the necessary knowledge to society, so that they do not fall prey to Serbian-Russian propaganda.

Standing idly by in the public sphere leaves the possibility for the citizens of Kosovo to be even more accepting of pro-Serbian and pro-Russian propaganda from different sources of information, in different languages. Passivity in the public information environment means that our society is exposed to disinformation about the situation in the north of the country, as well as to foreign propaganda spread intentionally to sow divisions in society, not only in inter-ethnic relations.

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Background illustration: Photo by Photocreo Bednarek from Adobe Stock license