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News 21 Dec 17

Serbian Movement Suspects Govt 'Trolls' Over Hate Campaign

Members of the opposition 'Let’s not drown Belgrade' movement suspect trolls linked to Serbia's ruling party are behind the wave of Facebook attacks on them.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
One of "Let's not drown Belgrade" protests. Photo: "Let's not drown Belgrade" Facebook page

An opposition group in Serbia says it believes the ruling party is behind a mass of newly launched Facebook pages that insult and threaten the "Let’s not drown Belgrade" movement, which intends to run in March's local elections.

One post asks residents of the Belgrade municipality of Novi Beograd to give the movement’s activists "a warm welcome" when they come to the neighbourhood. Other posts feature insults directed at the activists, including a homophobic slur.

The pages refer to "Let’s not drown Belgrade" and their symbol, a yellow rubber duck, exclusively in negative tones. All of the pages started posting content between November 30 and December 11.

Post in one of the groups declaring "open hunting season" on the yellow duck, which stands for the "Let's not drown Belgrade" movement. Photo: Facebook screenshot

"These are several similar pages led by the same authors, linked with the SNS, who are investing a lot of money into this campaign," said "Let’s not drown Belgrade" activist Radomir Lazovic.

Lazovic told BIRN that this "new wave of pressure" began after his movement, originally set up to oppose the controversial Belgrade Waterfront project, announced that it will participate in the Belgrade local elections in 2018.

In correspondence over Facebook, the representative of one of the Facebook pages claimed that they are not violent and denied being affiliated to any political party.

"Incidents are not our objective or the means we use. Perhaps [they are] a deterrent, obviously," said the representative, who confirmed that his group of 15 to 20 activists runs five pages that attack "Let’s not drown Belgrade".

He told BIRN they considered the opposition movement part of the "global project" of billionaire George Soros, who is painted as a malign political influence by Serbian pro-government tabloids, as he is also in Hungary.

Soros is also targeted by the pages, one of which featured a photo of a Nazi officer it claimed was Soros, who is in fact of Hungarian Jewish origin. The photo has since been taken down.

Of the total of five pages, the two most popular have over 5,200 and 1,600 likes. However, most visitors do not seem to have a high opinion of them, and leave negative reviews and comments.

"Another page of the Progressive Party’s youth," said one reviewer. "Hey, if you have to go trolling, have some style, why do it so obviously[?]," says another.

According to Lazovic, the attacks on "Let’s not drown Belgrade" follow the same pattern: Progressive Party officials speak against them in "pro-regime media", then the internet "trolls" follow up on social networks.

"Why is the police not reacting to the numerous threats ... that we receive? We report to the police whenever our security is threatened but no reaction comes from them," said Lazovic, adding that the police did not react in over 30 cases.

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