By Miljan Vešović
"If I ever meet you, I'll blow your brains out. Better not leave the house. Scumbag! I'll bash your head in with fists and bricks, even if it's the last thing in my life."
This is the message that, a few days ago, awaited Montenegrin political analyst Ljubomir Filipović on social networks. This message came after Filipović criticized tennis player Novak Djokovic for his aggressive Serbian nationalism.
A few hours after this message, a new one followed, from another profile. "I know where your daughter lives, there will be blood between her legs" - said the unknown sender to Filipović. Filipović, who does not receive threats for the first time, reported the case to the police. He briefly explained to the media that "he has reported threats to the police several times, but there was no serious outcome." The police, he concluded, "are doing their job, but the Prosecutor’s Office is not."
Filipović is not the only person from Montenegro and the region who criticized exponents of the malignant Russian and Serbian influence, and faced threats and heinous insults. Pro-Russian extremist and convicted war criminal Vojislav Šešelj recently published a book with the title "Montenegrin Wh*re Draginja Vuksanović".
For readers outside of Montenegro - Draginja Vuksanović is a professor at the University of Montenegro, a former presidential candidate and member of the Montenegrin Assembly, known for her critical attitude towards Serbian politics under the Vučić regime.
The National Library of Serbia, which is a state institution, also included Seselj's (if you can call it that) book in its index of available books. Thus, official Serbia directly supported the publication and dissemination of the book.
Montenegrin journalist Jana Vlahović also received threats and insults of the most heinous kind for criticizing the actions of Novak Đoković. Among other things, she suffered a barrage of insults similar to those directed at Vuksanović - Stanković, and there were also requests to ban her from entering Serbia.
Member of Parliament of the Montenegrin opposition, Aleksandra Vuković-Kuč, criticized in the Montenegrin parliament the election of the pro-Russian and pro-Serbian politician Andrija Mandić, convicted in the first instance for attempted terrorism, as the Speaker of the Parliament of Montenegro. Very shortly after her speech in Parliament, photos of a pregnant Vuković-Kuč began to circulate on social networks. The photos were accompanied by comments wishing the MP to miscarry or have an abortion.
A curious case happened to the candidate of the opposition in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Serbia, Đorđe Miketić. In January 2022, Miketić's apartment was broken into and his personal computer was stolen. Miketić reported the break-in to the police. According to Miketić, the Serbian police and the Prosecutor's Office never (almost two years have passed) contacted and informed him about the outcome of the investigation.
In the meantime, Miketić became noted for exposing corruption affairs in Belgrade, in which officials of the ruling (Vučić's) Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) were probably involved. A few days ago, Vučić called Miketić a "human disgrace" on television. The President of Serbia further commented that "Miketić will not wonder much why I am saying this" (that he was a human disgrace), because "he knows what I know about him".
Not long after that, Miketić started receiving, via phone texts, photos from his own private collection, downloaded from the stolen personal computer. The photos were followed by blackmail messages and threats that they would be published. The entire operation was exposed when Miketić, instead of giving in to blackmail, made the controversial photos and threatening messages public.
The well-known expert of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), Ivana Stradner, faced similar attacks in the Serbian media after “Foreign Affairs”, published hers and David Shedd’s article "Russia's Second Front in Europe - The West Must Stop Putin from Provoking Conflict in the Balkans".
Pro-Russian and pro-regime media in Serbia then published dozens of articles about Stradner, who is Serbian-born. In an Orwellian manner, they called her a "former Belgrader" (although the place of birth, in this case Belgrade, remains for life and cannot be "former"). She was also called "little Madeleine Albright who poisons everyone against Serbia with all her might".
Like Filipović, Vuksanović, Vuković-Kuč or Miketić, this is not the first time Stradner has faced insults and/or threats for opposing the malign Russian and Serbian (under Vučić) influence.
Speaking of Ivana Stradner, this expert noticed and commented on the latest example of malign Russian influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. Namely, graffiti appeared in both of these countries, encouraging the mutual killing of Croats and Bosniaks (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Albanians and Macedonians (in North Macedonia).
Graffiti with war-mongering, nationalist and chauvinistic content are unfortunately not unusual in the Western Balkans. Stradner, however, noted that news about these graffiti is often shared by pro-Putin profiles/channels on social networks and applications like "Telegram". This is related to the previous statements of Russian foreign-political analysts about the high probability of the outbreak of conflict in the Western Balkans.
The main agent of malignant Russian and Serbian influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina - the president of Republika Srpska Dodik, who is increasingly calling for the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the unilateral secession of the Republika Srpska - also contributes. All this creates the climate for the conflict in the Balkans, which Russia desires, to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The flood of aggressively nationalistic and chauvinistic content directed at opponents of Russian influence and aggressive Serbian nationalism is not met with an adequate response by state institutions. In Serbia this is, of course, expected. As Vučić's statement about Miketić shows, the institutions there encourage the dissemination of such content themselves.
However, there is no adequate reaction in Montenegro either. The Filipović’s description that, in the case of threats addressed to him and his family, the prosecution is not doing its job, has already been mentioned. It is interesting, however, that the same Prosecutor's Office indicted the columnist of Antena M and the distinguished Montenegrin historian, Boban Batrićević. The reason for indictment has been the criticism that Batrićević directed in his column to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC).
The column published on Antena M contained harsh but justified criticisms of the activities of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. Justified, because it is already widely known that the SOC is one of the main centers for the spread of malignant Serbian and Russian influence in the Western Balkans. What is important, however, is that the column did not contain any insults or threats. However, according to the Prosecutor's Office, the column represents a "violation of the Law on Public Order and Peace".
Threats to Filipović remained, for now, without stronger reactions from Montenegrin state officials. The same happened to insults against MP Vuković-Kuč and her (then unborn) child. Montenegrin officials did react to the insults addressed to Professor Vuksanović-Stanković (Sešelj's "book"). Reactions, however, focused on the misogynistic aspect of Seselj's insults. That is indisputable. However, it is also indisputable that Šešelj has not insulted Vuksanović-Stanković only because she is a woman, but because her actions represent an obstacle to Russian and Serbian plans in the Western Balkans.
There was no reaction to that aspect. And the (intentional or unintentional) relativization of insults by neglecting their political aspect actively helps the malign Serbian and Russian influence, because attention is diverted from exposing it.
In her extremely informative and important book, "Putin's Playbook", one of the leading experts on Russia in the American public sphere and a former high-ranking member of the American intelligence community, Rebekah Koffler defined, among other things, the Soviet/Russian intelligence doctrine of "active measures" (активные мероприятия). It is intelligence work "designed to unbalance, subvert, discredit or neutralize the adversary in order to advance the Kremlin's strategic goals and disrupt the opponent’s”.
Active measures include, among others, disinformation, blackmail via compromising information, intimidation and even assassinations.
Koffler further explains that, for the purpose of conducting "active measures", Russia uses intelligence operatives, companies or organizations under the Russian government’s control, as well as "agents of influence". Agents of influence can be Russian citizens who covertly work for the intelligence services or “unwitting” ones – not recruited by intelligence services but targeted because of their ideology which aligns with the one of Russia.
From everything known so far, the conclusion emerges that the Russian intelligence services are constantly targeting the Western Balkans with "active measures", that the Serbian intelligence, with which the Russians have been cooperating for a long time, have largely taken over the Russian doctrine of "active measures" and regularly use it, and that the Western Balkans, and especially Montenegro, are riddled with Russian and Serbian, willing or unwitting, "agents of influence".
This is especially due to the fact, about which a lot has been written - that the security sector in Montenegro is full of pro-Serbian and pro-Russian elements. Today, the media reported the statement of one of those - the commander of the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit of Montenegrin Police, Knežević. Knežević gave an interview to the strongly pro-Russian internet media outlet IN4S, in which he stated that he would "die for Serbia and Republika Srpska" and threatened political opponents.
"Agents of influence" and the "active measures" they implement can be divided into two groups. This without getting into whether someone is fostering the spread of malign Serbian and Russian influence intentionally/knowingly or unintentionally/unknowingly.
The first group consists of open supporters of Russian and/or Serbian nationalist policies. These are individuals, political parties, media, non-governmental organizations and (probably the largest part) of the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church who openly spread pro-Serbian and pro-Russian propaganda. When the goal of Russia and Serbia is the destabilization of Montenegro (and it is) - that is what they are doing. They are also widely used to spread fake news and disinformation. On social networks, they are the "foot soldiers" who hurl insults and threats like those sent to Ljubomir Filipović or Aleksandra Vuković - Kuč, - thereby implementing the “active measure” of intimidation. Blackmail via compromising information – please read about the aforementioned case of the Serbian politician Miketić.
The second group consists of politicians, media civil sector activists who help spread the malign Russian and Serbian influence by relativizing the threat from it. For example, the current President of Montenegro Milatović, the former Prime Minister of Montenegro Abazović (both known for their publicly documented, very sycophantic attitude towards the President of Serbia Vučić) and journalists, intellectuals and analysts gathered around the media concern "Vijesti" are "pros" for this.
Their favorite tactic is to divert attention from the malign Russian and Serbian influence with a fictional story of "two nationalisms" (Montenegrin and Serbian) - the truth is that aggressive Montenegrin nationalism does not exist. Another narrative that is often put forward is the claim that the threat from Belgrade and Moscow was exaggerated by the "former regime", which wanted to divert attention from corruption affairs. This despite the indisputable fact that the malign Russian and Serbian influence, if nothing else, was for a long time underestimated, not exaggerated, by the former ruling coalition.
Unfortunately, some Western officials also fell for these stories, and not only related to Montenegro. Let's remember the statements that came from the West that corruption was a bigger problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina than nationalism. Those statements, which are about as accurate as the one that a cancer patient has a bigger problem with the flu, he just got infected with, than with cancer, was music to the ears of Russian and Serbian officials, as well as intelligence officers.
A few examples of how "active measures" work in Montenegro. Let's remember Novak Djokovic from the beginning of the text. Djokovic has been actively promoting aggressive Serbian nationalism for a long time - thus he falls under category of a willing or unwitting agent of Russian and Serbian influence. Due to his worldwide fame, the fact that he is undoubtedly the best tennis player of all time, as well as the sympathy he has garnered in certain conservative circles in the West due to his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, he is very effective as an agent of influence.
Political/security analyst Ljubomir Filipović criticized Djokovic because he recently appeared on the tennis court accompanied by a nationalist Serbian song calling for the annexation of Kosovo and Montenegro by Serbia. According to information received from the media, the person who sings that song, Danica Crnogorčević, also sang at the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Serbian intelligence service BIA. There she sang a number calling for the return of the Serbian army to Kosovo.
The husband of the aforementioned Crnogorčević is a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church - known to the public for his extreme pro-Russian views and support for Russian aggression against Ukraine. The connections between Djokovic and the Serbian Orthodox Church have long been documented - especially with the late archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church Amfilohije, whom Djokovic called, among other things, "a shining star for the Serbian Orthodox people." The same Amfilohije, known for his statement that NATO is a "satanic organization", was the main guest at the promotion of the book of the former Russian intelligence officer Leonid Reshetnikov, who was identified by the regional and world media as one of the main organizers of the coup d’ etat attempt in Montenegro in 2016.
The judge who first-instance convicted GRU operatives and their agents in Montenegro for the attempted coup d'état is now under fire from the media (including the "Vijesti" concern). Those media are using details from her private correspondence (text messages) to compromise her. One of the main goals of Russian "active measures" in Montenegro is an attempt to dispute the fact that Russian operatives organized a coup attempt to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.
The coup attempt was not only detected and proven by Montenegrin judicial institutions, but also by officials and intelligence services of Western countries (among others, the USA and the United Kingdom), as well as the media from those countries. Even Aleksandar Vučić himself admitted in 2016 that there was an attempted coup. Agents of Russian and Serbian influence in Montenegro do not care about that now. For the Russian services, discrediting the facts established by Western intelligence and other institutions is, of course, a bonus.
As already mentioned, the current President of the Parliament of Montenegro, Mandić, is one of those convicted in the first instance for attempting a coup d'état under Russian directives. Yesterday, the same Mandic actively worked to destabilize Montenegro and incite ethnic tensions. He did this by requesting a change of the Constitution of Montenegro to give a special status to Serbian language (according to the Constitution, official language is Montenegrin, while Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian are also in official use).
On the same day when Mandić raised tensions with requests to change the Constitution, President Milatović attacked the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency. This is despite the fact that this institution is one of the few that received a positive evaluation in the European Commission's annual report on the accession negotiations between Montenegro and the EU. A few hours after Milatović's attack, there was a violent incident in the Parliament of Montenegro that was caused by former Prime Minister Abazović (now MP).
This is all happening at a time when Montenegro elected the seventh judge of the Constitutional Court, and Prime Minister Spajić and the opposition reached a compromise on the way to conduct the population census. Thus, some of the EU's key conditions for further progress in the accession negotiations have been met. One cannot know for sure, of course, whether everything is connected. But it is hard not to wonder whether the situation in Montenegro seemed "too stable" to Vučić in particular - so the agents of influence set out to destabilize it – the quicker the better.
However, the reason for specific political moves is less important. The bigger problem is the following - "active measures" and hybrid warfare often precede open war. That's how it was in the Balkans in the 1990s. That's how it was in Ukraine. The president of that country, Zelenski, has recently publicly warned that he has knowledge that Russia is preparing to provoke conflicts in the Balkans. Putin has the support of Serbia and Vučić for such actions, because they share the same goal - destabilization of the region. There is still no adequate reaction neither in the region, nor by Western countries. Conclusion: peace and stability in the Western Balkans have never been more fragile and uncertain.