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Antisemitism Remains a Key Obstacle to Democratic Transition in Western Balkans

April 21, 2021

Washington, DC – A new report from the International Republican Institute (IRI) states that although explicit antisemitism does not dominate political or social discourse in the countries of the Western Balkans, it continues to play a role in the media and online platforms. Antisemitism is on the rise around the world and often serves as a bellwether of growing extremism, and intolerance more broadly.

“Our exhaustive research shows that despite the notion that all appears to be well between the small minority of Jews living in the Western Balkans and their neighbors, antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories continue to be present and are weaponized in local political fights,” said IRI Senior Director for Transatlantic Strategy Jan Surotchak. “Progress has been made, but more work needs to be done.”

The report states that antisemitic narratives in the Western Balkans are not substantially divergent from those of other parts of Europe and contain familiar themes and conspiracies about Jews controlling world markets or intentionally developing COVID-19. In addition to conspiratorial content, the report found that vulgar antisemitic language was common and capable of sparking violence. More specifically, references to the Holocaust were often used as proxy for criticism of crimes of one ethnic group against another.

The report focused on seven countries:  Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Locally-based IRI partners monitored online media spaces in these countries and analyzed the contents. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, and their comments sections published between January 2019 and May 2020 were also reviewed. In total, over 9,000 online media pieces were reviewed.

This publication was conducted as a part of IRI’s Beacon Project, which seeks to better understand and improve responses to disinformation and state-sponsored meddling in democratic processes. It identifies dynamics that allow manipulation tactics to thrive, to improve the resilience of democracies to those tactics. This was IRI’s first effort to apply its effective monitoring methodology to study antisemitic narratives, and the extent to which they are an entry point for manipulation by malign actors.

“We are hopeful that this report will continue to shine a light on the negative impacts of hatred and bigotry,” said Surotchak. “All parties must work together to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism wherever it remains.”