Serbia is facing pressure and blackmail from the European Union – this is how the Center for Contemporary Politics defined the dominant narrative in media coverage of Belgrade’s dialogue in Pristina.

According to the CSP research, one of the most important topics for the media in Serbia, when it comes to the relationship between Serbia and the EU, is the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with the mediation of the European Union.

As they pointed out, this process was one of the most important drivers of media coverage of the European Union, since this topic attracts the attention of all media, and is often marked in public discourse as key to joining the European Union.

The analysis shows that the media report on the dialogue neutrally, but also that the largest number of news items are the statements of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, who appears as a central figure in the events held.

Maja Bjeloš, a researcher at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP), says for EWB that pro-government media were consciously contributing to building and nurturing the cult of the current Serbian president as protector and savior of Serbs and “Serbian shrines” in the former Yugoslavia.

“The mere glorification of the president and his personal “Kosovo battle” clearly indicates the absence of social dialogue on Kosovo and the fact that dialogue on important political and social issues is not conducted through the republican assembly,” Bjeloš explains.

According to her, through the media, the government in Serbia also wants to normalize the unconstitutional conduct of the president – that is, one person (independent body) makes all decisions in the state and asks about foreign and domestic policy – which indicates the degree of authoritarianism and capture of state bodies and institutions, but also societies on one topic.

Dušan Milenković, President of the Steering Board of the Center for Social Dialogue and Regional Initiatives (CDDRI), states for EWB that Vučić has completely taken over the resolution of the Kosovo issue for himself but notes that the fact that most media are under the control regime.

“That is why they usually place an identical narrative on issues that are important to the regime. As for the way in which they represent his participation, in 2019, CDDRI identified two narratives that are placed by parts of the regime – one is rational and he always goes with Vučić. The fight for Serbia fits into a rational narrative, assumes a difficult position in which Serbia finds itself in this process, and announces difficult compromises. The second narrative is emotional, placed by other regime officials together with certain tabloids “, Milenković explains

He adds that the reality of the negotiations is much less dramatic than it is presented, due to the fact that many demands towards Serbia have been known for a long time, and the dialogue has been dead in the last year or two.

Is the EU blackmailing Serbia?

In its research, the Center for Contemporary Politics estimates that the media notice that Serbia is facing pressure and blackmail from the West when it comes to resolving the Kosovo problem.

“This narrative mostly comes from the President of Serbia himself, when the pro-government media portray him as someone who successfully resists all pressures and wins in rounds of dialogue as in martial arts matches,” the CSP analysis states.

Bjeloš points out that the officials want to create an image in the public about the threat of Serbia from an external factor that works against national interests.

She adds that the current government in Serbia wants to show the citizens that it is a difficult negotiator on the issue of Kosovo and to prove itself as a patriotic government that will not “betray Kosovo”, i.e do something that most citizens do not want.

“In that context, the role of the President of Serbia is especially important, who tries to prove to the citizens that he works to defend national interests and make key decisions in impossible conditions, which creates the expectation that citizens should support him and be in solidarity with him instead of condemning him. They reconsider his decisions, that is, to hold the government and the president accountable for the decisions they make,” says the BCSP researcher.

Citizens disappointed in the dialogue

The citizens of Serbia are mostly informed about the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but also about the situation in Kosovo, through television, public service, but also a few pro-government media, which, according to our interlocutor, speaks of the government’s power to shape citizens’ attitudes.

According to Bjeloš, after almost ten years of negotiations, many researches show that more than half of the citizens of Serbia are not familiar with the content of the dialogue.

“Apart from the huge ignorance about the dialogue process, there is also confusion regarding the expected goals and outcomes of the dialogue. The BCSP survey from October 2020 indicates the existence of conflicting opinions about Kosovo and dialogue among the citizens of Serbia, ie that the citizens want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia, but it is unacceptable that Kosovo Albanians have a more significant role in public life; then they support the dialogue process even though they do not know what the goal of the authorities in Belgrade is in the negotiations with Pristina, and at the same time they do not feel any benefit from it and think that the dialogue has not changed anything in mutual relations “, says Maja Bjeloš.

She concludes that all this results in an increase in disappointed citizens in a dialogue process that serves the elites more instead of contributing to the improvement of relations between Serbs and Albanians.

The research also presents the biggest “peaks” – the days when the media reported the most on the EU. This analysis can provide insights into which topics contribute the most to media coverage on the EU. Also, key topics were presented and analyzed, such as the EU facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the European Commission 2020 Report on Serbia, the Summit in Zagreb, and how the media reported them, and what narratives the media created.

“Analyzing media coverage of the European Union is extremely important, bearing in mind that Serbia’s EU accession is one of the most important proclaimed strategic goals of Serbia in recent decades, taking into consideration the lack of support for this process and that the scepticism about its success has reached worrying proportions,” it is stated in research.