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Countering Foreign Malign Influence in Central Europe and the Western Balkans

February 21st, 2022 13:21

Glob­sec, a Slo­vak think tank, has pub­lished a study on the sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to malign for­eign influ­ence in eight Cen­tral Euro­pean and West­ern Balkan coun­tries, iden­ti­fy­ing key fac­tors enabling for­eign influ­ence across the region. Accord­ing to the Glob­sec study:

Feb­ru­ary 2022  This brief con­sti­tutes the final out­put of the GLOBSEC Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty Index, a project that mapped sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to for­eign malign influ­ence in eight Cen­tral Euro­pean and West­ern Balkan coun­tries (Czechia, Hun­gary, Slo­va­kia, Bul­gar­ia, Roma­nia, Mon­tene­gro, North Mace­do­nia and Ser­bia). The pri­ma­ry aims here are to (1) sum­ma­rize the key fac­tors enabling and facil­i­tat­ing for­eign influ­ence across the two regions and (2) iden­ti­fy com­mon points of resilience and sug­gest prac­ti­cal rec­om­men­da­tions and best prac­tices for inter­na­tion­al stake­hold­ers.  For­eign malign influ­ence rep­re­sents both a cause and con­se­quence of weak and vul­ner­a­ble soci­eties and gov­ern­ments. Even in the absence of inter­fer­ence from Bei­jing or the Krem­lin, Cen­tral Euro­pean and West­ern Balkan coun­tries would still be strug­gling with cor­rup­tion, state cap­ture, the ero­sion of press free­doms and attacks on civ­il soci­ety. These vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, indica­tive of demo­c­ra­t­ic fragili­ty, are present to a vary­ing degree across all stud­ied coun­tries. For­eign inter­fer­ence, there­fore, should not be under­stood as the sole expla­na­tion (nor as an excuse) for all defi­cien­cies present in the pub­lic sphere in the region. That said, for­eign actors, undoubt­ed­ly, are eager to exploit any sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty present. Like a virus mak­ing the most out of a weak immune sys­tem, malign actors can, owing to these short­com­ings, sab­o­tage demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es and/or dimin­ish the pro-West­ern ori­en­ta­tion of respec­tive countries.

Read the full study here.

The study iden­ti­fies the fol­low­ing key fac­tors as play­ing an impor­tant role in facil­i­tat­ing malign for­eign influ­ence across Cen­tral Europe and the West­ern Balkans:

  • Post-com­mu­nist legacy
  • Pan-Slav­ism
  • Role of the Ortho­dox Church
  • Infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments affect­ed by ram­pant dis­in­for­ma­tion and infor­ma­tion manipulation
  • Deeply embed­ded cul­tures of corruption

The study pro­vides the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to counter malign for­eign influ­ence across Cen­tral Europe and the West­ern Balkans:

  • Be present in the region
  • More com­mu­ni­ca­tions about the func­tions and activ­i­ties of the EU and NATO
  • Local­ized PR and strate­gic communication
  • Enhance sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness among civ­il servants
  • Encour­age open com­mu­ni­ca­tion about hybrid threats posed by Rus­sia & China
  • Devel­op sus­tain­able finance mod­els and make qual­i­ty jour­nal­ism avail­able in local lan­guages free of charge
  • Sup­port inde­pen­dent qual­i­ty media and civ­il society
  • Lim­it the capac­i­ties of social media plat­forms to ampli­fy hate and dis­in­for­ma­tion content
  • Remind soci­eties of their con­nec­tions to the West