Earlier this week, it was brought to our attention that a new-ish Russian-language portal calling itself Balkanist.ru exists. Its primary aim appears to be the publication of propaganda for the dictatorship of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, with a particular emphasis on slandering leaders of ongoing anti-government protests in the country, as well as protest participants — events we have covered extensively on social media. What is particularly interesting for us is that Balkanist.ru’s apparent mission is in direct, conspicuous opposition to that of our own, original Balkanist Magazine. Since our launch in 2013, we have chronicled the rise of the regime and its steady consolidation of power, which has evolved into what is today an ideologically vacant, colonial-like occupation of the entire country.
It’s not surprising to us that a pro-Vučić propaganda site would use our name and brand to publish well-constructed lies in Russian. For years, the regime has sought to eliminate each and every independent voice the country has left. It has a variety of tools at its disposal to accomplish this. One of its most well-worn tactics is spreading confusion and lies about critics. The purpose of publishing under the name Balkanist in Russian is to confuse readers at home, in Russia and elsewhere into questioning our sincerity, what and who we support, and what and who we believe. In this way, they hope to, at a minimum, diminish the impact of any future criticism (and there will be future criticism – a lot of it). They also know that we are critics not only of the Vučić regime, but of the European Union and NATO. Unlike Vučić’s ministerial choices and economic policy, our editorial line is not dictated by the US embassy. This makes the name Balkanist a logical vehicle for the dissemination of Vucic’s lies in Russia.
According to information on the Balkanist.ru website, the publication’s editor-in-chief, Oleg Bondarenko, has served as an advisor to Aleksandar Vučić.
In Serbia today, paranoia reigns. It’s how the government controls the country. By creating the impression that every individual or institution with a dissenting public political opinion is perhaps not to be trusted or not who they say they are, Vučić has made it very difficult to organize any meaningful alternative to his rule. More than anything else, the regime is terrorized by the idea of people trusting each other.
We are currently conducting an in-depth, international investigation into the actors behind the Balkanist.ru website, and have already compiled a tremendous amount of information. We plan to publish the results of that investigation soon.
In the meantime, we are asking our readers to donate to Balkanist now if they can. We are a tiny, independent, self- and reader-funded publication with zero institutional support. The rip-off Russian-language Balkanist already has a larger staff than we have ever had. Every donation means a tremendous amount in a media and political environment as bleak as Serbia’s, and we need your support now more than ever.
Thank you for reading, and for your trust,
Lily Lynch, editor-in-chief, Balkanist Magazine