Food as Kremlin’s weapon for spreading disinformation in North Macedonia

Photo: mdr auf Pixabay

The Kremlin’s propaganda road is also open in Macedonia. Disinformation on topics that directly concern citizens and mainly originate from the Kremlin-owned propaganda media is mostly taken from Serbia or pro-Russian media, portals and social networks in English and relayed to the Macedonian audience

The Kremlin’s propaganda road is also open in Macedonia. Disinformation on topics that directly concern citizens and mainly originate from the Kremlin-owned propaganda media is mostly taken from Serbia or pro-Russian media, portals, and social networks in English and relayed to the Macedonian audience


Authors: Elizabeta Stojanovikj, Suzana Andonovikj, Vladimir Petreski


Russian propaganda is strong in the Balkans, especially in the countries of the region that support Moscow or have a significant part of the population that looks favorably on Moscow.

For quite some time, ever since it became a superpower in Europe, Russia has increasingly employed propaganda tools to find new supporters in other countries and advance its geopolitical objectives. Socialist propaganda has failed, but, although free from an ideological background, propaganda against the West and its allies around the world still works today.

The topics are diverse – global and regional, fuelling nationalism, ethnic intolerance and magnifying economic problems. Neither food production nor anything related to food and agriculture in the EU has been spared in the propaganda dissemination.

This segment of the European and the economies of other continents is used when creating propaganda to cause divisions among those whom the Kremlin considers enemies, to provoke anger, fear, anxiety, negative feelings, and mutual violence within hostile countries.

Soviet socialist propaganda was successful in the Balkans because it influenced the whole region to follow instructions on issues of both foreign and domestic policy. While socialist ideology prevailed both inside the Soviet Union and abroad, and was the foundation of Soviet propaganda, today’s Russian propaganda varies according to the intended audience.

For example, propaganda abroad unlike what is propagated inside Russia. The purpose of the foreign propaganda is to undermine, weaken, and harm Western European countries, countries aspiring to join the EU and NATO, according to Maxim Samorukov, an expert on Russian foreign policy. He says that Russia always offers “evidence” for its propaganda and such fabricated “evidence” is abused to influence citizens.

Russia can always find an ounce of truth for its propaganda, and then, abuse that tiny segment of the truth to create a chain of disinformation to influence people. It monitors what is happening in a particular country, finds out what the local problems and conflicts are, and tries to ignite them to weaken the countries’ relationship with the West and make them more focused on their problems and less able to implement coherent policies. For Germany, Russia can capitalize on the rising gas prices as proof that German foreign policy and its friendship with Ukraine are wrong and that Germany should have friendly relations with Russia.

In the Balkans, it can use local interethnic tensions to make the integration of these countries more difficult, Samorukov notes.


The Kremlin’s food propaganda bullets

One of these disinformation fronts is about manipulations and lies related to food and its production to spread fabrications to support the Kremlin’s traditional long-standing narratives that the West is decadent and on the verge of failing, that a catastrophic event is approaching which will destroy us all if we continue to oppose the Kremlin, that the West and the EU are increasingly drowning in stalemate and uncertainty, which is reflected on ordinary citizens.

We are witnessing lies that the European Union will force us all to eat insects, allegedly to protect the environment, that skimmed cricket powders are secretly being added, that fruit and vegetables in the EU and beyond are genetically modified and the European Union has a secret agenda to destroy traditional agriculture.

This kind of disinformation is spread in the Macedonian media space or on social networks. The fact-checking portal “Vistinomer” published an extensive analysis of a published post stating that if you are for the EU, you should eat insects in order not to die, which is full of fabrications and manipulations.

The example of the apples that the Government distributed to students in schools shows that the propaganda works in Macedonia. Information appeared immediately on social media that the apples given to the students were poisoned and returned from Russia. The Ministry of Agriculture immediately reacted to this disinformation noting that the procurement of apples for schools had been made before the ban on the export of apples to Russia due to the brown marbled insect.


Food is also used to shake confidence in the EU

Citizens have a growing fear that the EU intends to destroy traditional food production and switch to synthetic food. Disinformation is spread to Macedonian and Western Balkan citizens that the EU has an agenda to destroy traditional production. Social media users share photos and discuss that the European Union insists on destroying small producers. However, according to official EU data, the plan is for up to 25% of the production to be organic next year.

Member States will have to adopt appropriate programs and harmonize legislation to ensure this percentage of organic production. This production promotes the use of naturally obtained substances, and completely and largely disables the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, preservatives, and additives. In this way, there is no pollution of the soil and water, the spread of diseases is avoided, the welfare of animals is ensured and ecosystems are protected, particularly at the local level.

An outbreak of African swine fever is currently registered in the northeastern region of the country. The disease is devastating for smaller farms. Producers in the region believe this is the EU’s agenda for destroying small farms. Residents say that pigs are deliberately destroyed to import frozen meat from other countries, and believe that governments in the Balkans are involved in a conspiracy to eat artificial meat. They are convinced that healthy livestock is also destroyed, ignoring the forecasts and warnings of veterinarians, professional services, and Macedonian and EU legislation that the disease spreads unless biosafety measures are taken to protect against and suppress the disease. If the measures are not respected, the disease will remain in the area, in the country, and in the neighborhood, and it will take years for the fund to recover. There was a similar understanding of the situation in Croatia and Macedonia. The measures for protection against the disease remain the same, both then and now. The media report that the disease is diagnosed through epidemiological examinations, and not at the will of the authorities in the villages of the northeast, as the breeders say, to eradicate pig production in this part of the country.

The state did not import pork, even though the breeders claimed this, and they received compensation for livestock death losses. The Food and Veterinary Agency has established a three-kilometre protection zone and a ten-kilometre surveillance zone. The same measures are taken in Europe and around the world.

The manipulations regarding the measures taken by the Government to protect against African swine fever do not end here. Coordinated attempts are being made to turn the public against the European Union and the USA by using the infection in livestock, so it is said that the measures are the result of some kind of US agenda, implemented by the EU on the territory of one of its member states – Croatia. But what is not revealed is that pig euthanasia in Croatia is due to an extremely contagious disease, and not because of some global plan to destroy traditional food production and transition to synthetic food. There is no global conspiracy to destroy agriculture, the European Commission’s target is to have 25% of agricultural land under organic farming in the next 10 years. By 2030, the EU should have regulatory instruments in place that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, increase the resilience of agricultural production, improve biodiversity in rural areas, and contribute to the provision of healthy food for a growing world population.


Fabricated stories about “dangerous” food lead to serious consequences

Such manipulations claiming that traditional food is replaced with non-typical food for this region or that traditional agriculture is replaced with artificial or even plastic alternatives (disinformation about the production of plastic rice) cannot always be traced back to the source or associated directly with the Kremlin. This is because the Kremlin often covers its tracks and invests great efforts in disguising the source of the initial disinformation, which afterward spreads on the Internet.

Very often, those who share the Kremlin’s disinformation are not even aware of their origin because they found the disinformation on social networks, shared by a friend or acquaintance whom they trust. The danger intensifies when such disinformation, shared by close acquaintances, friends, relatives, media, and politicians who are trusted, becomes widespread and creates the impression that it is reliable. This can also lead to distrust when it comes to the food we eat, which is of great importance for our health and well-being

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