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Russian propaganda finds fertile ground in Serbia

#Russian #propaganda #finds #fertile #ground #Serbia

After 12 years together, it was Russian propaganda that finally ended Liubov Maric’s marriage to her Serbian husband.

The Ukrainian admits she struggled, but after February’s invasion of Ukraine, things began to turn around when her husband lapped up massive amounts of Russian propaganda.

The man she once fell in love with is unrecognizable, she said, even forbidding her son from listening to Ukrainian folk music, which she described as the work of “Nazis.”

“I was hoping for support and understanding, but he started blaming everyone except the Russians,” Maric, 44, told AFP.

Shortly thereafter, she packed her bags and returned to Ukraine despite the war.

The Kremlin’s propaganda has found a willing audience in Serbia, where simmering hatred of NATO and the US has led many to side with Moscow.

While most of Europe has tried to crack down on Russian news outlets, they thrive in Serbia, where even state-backed media often parrot the Kremlin line.

“I think the truth is somewhere in between, but no one is reporting it. So I follow both Russian and Western media and try to read between the lines,” said Dario Acimovic, a 27-year-old graphic designer.

“They (the West) cut off the Russian media from hearing the other side. The result is just hysteria.”

– Putin’s “divine status” –

Under the rule of President Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian media were increasingly forced to conform to the government line, while the few remaining independent media outlets faced continued pressure from the authorities.

In the run-up to the war, two days before the invasion, Serbia’s leading tabloid Informer printed numerous gushing articles praising Vladimir Putin, along with a front-page story headlined “Ukraine Attacked Russia.”

“Serbia’s pro-government propaganda channels have created Putin’s personality cult, even surpassing that built around Vucic,” said Dinko Gruhonjic, associate professor of journalism at the University of Novi Sad.

“He enjoys a practically divine status,” he added.

According to the latest opinion poll by the Belgrade democracy watchdog Crta, two-thirds of the population feel “closer” to Russia.

Three quarters of Serbs also believe that the Kremlin was forced to go to war “because of NATO’s expansion plans.”

The same poll found that 40 percent of the population supported abandoning the country’s long aspiration to join the European Union and instead allying itself with Moscow.

“Pro-government media have a clear positive attitude towards Russia, neutral towards the EU and negative towards Ukraine,” said Vujo Ilic, a researcher and one of the authors of the survey.

“Russia is the alternative that will be shown to voters to prove that Serbia can do it without the European Union,” he added.

The cultural and historical ties between the two predominantly Slavic and Orthodox Christian countries stretch back centuries and mean that many Serbs are open-minded towards Russia.

In the capital, Belgrade, T-shirts with Putin’s face on them are sold at souvenir kiosks, while the letter Z – which has become Russia’s symbol for the invasion – has been painted on walls across the city.

– “It’s not true what they say” –

The scars of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 during the Kosovo war remain a bitter wound for many.

“I don’t trust the Western media,” Tihomir Vranjes, a 73-year-old pensioner, told AFP.

“I remember what you wrote about Serbs during the wars. We were portrayed as animals. Since it was not true then, what they say about the Russians is not true today.”

Coverage of the war and consumption of news from Russian sources did not go unnoticed, and the Ukrainian ambassador in Belgrade raised his voice in protest, saying that “the citizens of Serbia are not properly informed”.

But staying up to date with accurate news about the war is not always easy in Serbia.

Even for a Ukrainian like Maric – with access to first-hand accounts from home – it is difficult to navigate the deluge of misinformation and outright propaganda in Serbia.

“Your propaganda is so efficient that after five minutes of reading I start questioning myself,” she said.

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#Russian #propaganda #finds #fertile #ground #Serbia

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