Disinformation-19: challenges to the EU’s influence in the Western Balkans

Research Paper by Ana Cojocaru

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As COVID-19 rages on, the EU, Russia and China vie for the most compelling narrative in the Western Balkans.

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Abstract

As the world was shaken by the novel coronavirus pandemic, three actors – the European Union, Russia and China – confronted in an attempt to consolidate their soft power in the Western Balkans. Using aggregated search engine data, this paper analyses the visibility coronavirus-related aid provided by the three has had among the general public in the region. Although the EU provided the largest amount of aid, this went almost unacknowledged by the Western Balkans population. Russia, on the other hand, generated massive amounts of interest, whilst China fell somewhere in the middle. The European Union and its member states need to consolidate their public diplomacy strategy, especially when it comes to communicating to the public. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic marked a proliferation of disinformation in the Western Balkans. Serbia appears to be the most affected by this phenomenon, most likely due to stronger links (including media) to Russia. The EU needs to step up its efforts in countering online disinformation, including by enhancing fact-checking efforts and cooperation with the national press.


About the author

Ana Cojocaru is a PhD student at the National University of Political Science and Public Administration (SNSPA), in Bucharest, Romania. Her research focuses on the Europeanization process in the Western Balkans, with a case study on Kosovo*. Other interests include the rule of law and migration.