Russian "Soft power" in Balkans - propaganda, disinformation, threats, and "Night Wolves"

Russian "Soft power" in Balkans - propaganda, disinformation, threats, and "Night Wolves"I had a chance once to spectate an impressive procession on the Sofia-Burgas road: in front - a police car with a flashing light followed by a group of bikers in black leather outfit on menacing roaring motorcycles, covered with the Russian tricolour, club signs and other attributes of "Night Wolves". Local motorists slowed down, cautiously clinging to the desert side of the road - no one of the surrounding towns and villages came out to welcome them with flowers and bread with honey (instead of salt dear guests are offered honey according to the Bulgarian tradition) welcome the members of the known, perhaps, now all over Europe after last year's controversial march to Berlin biker club from Russia.

The current voyage called "Slavic world", "wolves" have decided to carry out on the Balkans. According to their own statements, "to strengthen the dialogue between the Slavic nations, to remind about the age-old friendship between the people and of common pages in history". However, the start of "peaceful" motocross on Bulgarian land was marked by a scuffle between supporters and opponents of Russian bikers, and in the capital city they were greeted by a small crowd of 50 fans and five times bigger crowd of opponents. Mass fight between them was prevented only by the police.

The rest of the Bulgarian population has simply not noticed the spiritual impulse of Russians on motorcycles for a dialogue about the friendship of people and historical memory. Could it be otherwise in that atmosphere of selective advocacy when the semi-official Russian media rarely mentions the Balkans from Romania to Slovenia, and with mostly dry and negative connotations?

Romanian authorities, not noticing the plight of their own people only care about how to extend the presence of US and NATO military on its territory. In Belgrade, Serbian citizens allegedly protesting against the government's policy of accelerated entry to the EU. Bulgaria’s electric capacity is on the verge of collapse due to the failure of Bulgarians to finish nuclear power plant with the help of Russia. In the centre of Sofia, unknown has again painted a monument of Soviet soldiers and the local authorities, through inaction condoned criminals, insulting the memory of the liberators.

No need to wonder to such information policy - in fact its tone is set in the Kremlin and Smolenskaya Square. To recall the gas pipeline "South Stream", when at the highest Russian level Bulgarian officials were accused of disrupting the project, losing the important detail: Bulgaria is part of the European Union since 2007, where there is a fiddly law for "Gazprom" about the division of commercial interests of an energy supplier and transporter and their end users.

Another example of edifying teachings of the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed to the neighbouring country reminds of times of long ago perished imperial grandeur. Only had the Bulgarian Parliament to create a temporary commission to investigate the intervention of Russia and Turkey in the internal political processes in the country (by the way, it still hasn’t started working), accusations followed from Moscow claiming that the Bulgarians lost their memory and have forgotten who freed them from the Turkish yoke and fascism.
Russian "Soft power" in Balkans - propaganda, disinformation, threats, and "Night Wolves"

And what a storm broke out in the Russian deputy about inviting Montenegro to join NATO! One of the vice-premiers, demonstrating a strange kind of wit, knowledge of Soviet literature classics, and not caring about the consequences of their words offended the sovereign state, calling it "a bad boy, who was called into bourgeoisie". Other officials of the State Duma were keeping up, as well as the Government and the Presidential Administration, frightening small Balkan country to have a lot of trouble.

Deliberately distort historical facts, unilaterally assess the current international events, to frighten and threaten the neighbouring states - has become the dominant feature of Moscow's foreign policy style. Its propaganda flow through the pro-Kremlin media harms the country’s status which is seen to the rest of the world, and inside the country creates a perverse view of the world. For example, only 4 per cent of Russian citizens this year has named Bulgaria as friends of Russia (10% was in 2013).

Well, the situation is not to benefit Russia. If in Bulgaria among the older generation it is common to know Russian language, though almost forgotten in the framework of the school program, the current youth are more focused on learning English, French and German languages, intending to get a higher education in not Russian but in European universities.

There was a case that I had an opportunity to observe in the Bulgarian airport. Young luggage packer (by the way, only passengers of Russian airline wrap their suitcases to avoid thefts) refused to take payment in euros from the tourist from Russia. Aged Russian man was getting angry, started swearing and aggressively shoving money. "Only Lev" - calmly insisted Bulgarian. "But its euros, not your useless paper!" - said Russian passenger. In response, young man generally refused to provide service.

Russian "Soft power" in Balkans - propaganda, disinformation, threats, and "Night Wolves"Russian propaganda work with the opposite effect, not only in Bulgaria. One Serbian professor and political scientist who I am familiar with once remarked in conversation that - yes, in Serbia there are yet those who consider Russia as an ally. However, their numbers diminished considerably in recent years. The reason for that - compulsive Moscow assurances of friendship, in reality - neglecting Serbian interests and supporting nationalists since Yugoslav wars, the consequences of which the country is committed morally and politically to overestimate and overcome. Among the young people - he is well aware taking his son as an example- the former pro-Russian sympathies are gone: we supposedly understand fathers and forgive their admiration for Moscow, but we are closer and more interested in Europe.

Tight aggressive Russian propaganda, greed and one-sided information on the situation in the Balkans, together with such manifestations of "soft power", such as the “Night Wolves" have been steadily reducing Russian latest sympathizers. And it is certain that these methods and actions cannot compete in Bulgaria, with numerous signs on the objects of social and cultural destination, at bus stops, on the city shuttle buses: built, rebuilt, purchased with funds or with the assistance of the European Union.
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