Facts and figures against disinformation campaigns

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Experts from South East and Western Europe discussed the path of the Western Balkans to EU and NATO accession and the role of media during the process

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Experts from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia came to Sofia upon the invitation of the KAS Media Program South East Europe and the Sofia Security Forum to discuss the media and information environment of the Western Balkan countries, to analyse its impact on the NATO and EU accession priorities and to formulate recommendations

Experts from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia came to Sofia upon the invitation of the KAS Media Program South East Europe and the Sofia Security Forum to discuss the media and information environment of the Western Balkan countries, to analyse its impact on the NATO and EU accession priorities and to formulate recommendations

Many Western Balkan countries are striving for EU and NATO accession. This requires not only reforms, but also widespread public support. In South East Europe, there are various internal and external factors that create an information environment against EU and NATO accession which is negatively impacting public opinion. This happens through fake news, disinformation campaigns as well as political parties and non-governmental organisations that intensify these negative tendencies.

On 4 July 2018, experts from Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia came to Sofia upon the invitation of the KAS Media Program South East Europe and the Sofia Security Forum to discuss the media and information environment of the Western Balkan countries, to analyse its impact on the NATO and EU accession priorities and to formulate recommendations. The public rhetoric for and against the European and transatlantic structures was also debated. The contributions of the lecturers will be summarised in individual country reports in the upcoming months and published as a book.

Bulgaria as partner of the Western Balkans on their way to the EU

After the expert meeting, an international conference followed. Security experts, journalists, ambassadors, policy advisers and representatives of academia were invited to discuss the effects of propaganda and disinformation and the necessary countermeasures.

The conference was opened by Thorsten Geissler, Head of the KAS Media Program South East Europe, and Yordan Bozhilov, President of the Sofia Security Forum. Geissler commented on Bulgaria’s role as a political decision-maker during the EU presidency and as a partner of the Western Balkans on their way to the EU. Bozhilov presented the results of the expert meeting and explained the objectives of the initiative as well as the intended publication.

Presentation of the results of the Bulgarian EU presidency

Monika Panayotova, Deputy Minister for the Bulgarian EU presidency, reported on the key priorities of the country during the mandate and the results which have been achieved. She put a special focus on the connectivity with the Western Balkans in terms of infrastructure, communication, education and the European future of the region. Panayotova gave as good examples the signing of a cooperation treaty between Sofia and Skopje and the Western Balkans Summit in May 2018.

During her own presentation, Sophie Eisentraut, political adviser to the Munich Security Conference, emphasised that it was important to take action against the Russian propaganda. One possibility was to increase media literacy. Eisentraut added: "We must support media freedom to neutralise propaganda and disinformation." In her opinion the EU should better communicate its values and goals and promote itself.

Sanda Svetoka from the NATO Stratcom CoE presented Russian disinformation activities in the Baltic States and Poland, as well as a new study comparing anti-NATO propaganda in the Balkans and the Baltics.

Jesús M. Pérez Triana, security expert from Spain, explained the linguistic difficulty for propaganda in his country due to the global spread of the Spanish language. In his view in countries with local languages disinformation campaigns are easier to spread.

The President of the Bulgarian Foundation for Humanitarian and Social Research (HSSF) Dimitar Vatsov presented the situation in Bulgaria. He said that outside-directed disinformation activities could be used by political parties and groups in order to assert their own interests.

The discussion was moderated by Mila Serafimova from the Sofia Security Forum.

The NATO spokeswoman Irina Novakova took part in the following discussion with the audience. She commented that counter-propaganda was not an effective measure against disinformation. It would be much more effective to tackle propaganda with facts and figures.

Author

Manuela Zlateva

Publication series

Event Reports

published

Bulgaria, July 5, 2018