Ilustration. Photo: Succo/Pixabay

Smear Campaign Against Critics of Kosovo Ruling Party Condemned

Civil society groups, activists and diplomats have jointly condemned what they call the organised targeting on social media of critics of Kosovo's ruling Vetevendosje party.

Civil society activists, experts and politicians across the Western Balkans have condemned an online smear campaign, mainly on X (Twitter), targeting individuals from Kosovo and Serbia who are critical of the current Kosovo ruling party Vetevendosje.

“Such attacks are wrong, damaging and should not be tolerated,” the regional network of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights said in a joint declaration supporting their former activist and advisor on the Western Balkans for the European Parliament, Djordje Bojovic.

On March 8, 2024, Bojovic wrote on X that “a number of bots (and then not only bots), mainly from Kosovo, started a coordinated online campaign stating that I have denied the [war] crimes committed in ’98-’99 [in Kosovo] and that I am unfit to be the advisor to [European Parliament rapporteur for Kosovo] Viola von Cramon”.

He added that he had “been working on Serbia-Kosovo relations for more than 12 years, bringing hundreds of young people from Serbia to Kosovo and vice versa”.

“I have never denied any crime committed by Serbian forces, or in the name of the [Serbian] people I belong to. On the contrary, for years, we have been at the forefront of organising Srebrenica genocide commemorations in Belgrade and other actions, as for instance in 2015,” Bojovic continued.

After supporting Bojovic, the co-founder of the Kosovo-based NGO Sbunker, which mainly publishes expertise and op-eds, Agon Maliqi, said he also became subject to a similar smear campaign.

“Yesterday after tweeting about a sophisticated Kosovo-based bot network which happens to target anyone critical of the [Kosovo] govt, I got the full vile trolling treatment. It was entertaining to learn a lot about myself and see the process of character assassination unfold in real time,” Maliqi wrote on X, posting screenshots of some of the posts targeting him.

In its reaction, YIHR added that they “deeply believe that young people have the right to ask questions they are interested in, to express their opinions, and to question dominant narratives imposed by the political elites. Their role in dealing with the past is also to build a democratic culture that is inclusive, and allows conversations that respect the victims. Young people who participate in our programs have the right to engage in debates with stakeholders and ask questions”.

“YIHR will always stand with young people in our visiting programs asking difficult questions and engaging in debates with politicians and institutions,” it continued, describing the smear campaign as an attempt to stop dialogue in the region.

Former Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga also became targeted by a campaign after she showed her support. “This organized lynching against civil society activists in Kosovo and friends of Kosovo through social networks is unacceptable. It is an infringement of free speech and the values ​​on which we are committed to being built as a society,” Jahjaga wrote on March 11.

Dan Ilazi, head of research at the Kosovo Center for Security Studies, said that unlike many other politicians who, according to him, “have tucked their tails in, former president Jahjaga shows leadership in difficult times and when it is most needed, standing up in defence of democracy and against trolls who cause the greatest damage to the country and help Russia’s hybrid war against Kosovo”.

Former Kosovo Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi, who is highly critical of the current government, recalled that Jahjaga was the first woman President in the Western Balkans, saying: “No doubt, these are organized bots instigated – as in past – by the ruling party.”

The German ambassador to Kosovo, John Rohde, also joined in support, saying: “It is indeed very disturbing when democratic activists like him are groundlessly attacked and made victims of a smear campaign.”

Flutura Kusari, senior legal advisor at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, said: “What is happening in Kosovo is very dangerous – real people with fake accounts on social media attacking everyone that they don’t like, esp journalists and activists”.

Kosovo government spokesperson, Perparim Kryeziu, went to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon denying there are governmental bots targeting civil society and politicians critical to the government.

“Our government has never and would never engage in abuse of power by sponsoring online trolls. We deny the allegations by (EU rapporteur to Kosovo) Viola von Cramon, with whom we regularly communicate via official channels. We urge her and others not to endorse conspiracy theories against a democratic government,” Kryeziu wrote.

13/03/2024 - 15:33

13 March 2024 - 15:33

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