Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Serbia thus far, and the government quickly responded with a series of measures that raise concern about the balancing of public health and democratic freedoms in a state that for the past year has been described by observers as slipping into authoritarianism. Serbia’s declaration of a state of emergency includes nation-wide curfews, instituting phone surveillance, deploying the military to restrict freedom of movement, and closing the borders to foreigners, except for medical professionals from China. As Europe battles the pandemic, the Serbian President declared that Serbia would establish closer ties with China through an exchange of Chinese medical experts and equipment. Furthermore, the Elections Commission postponed indefinitely the parliamentary elections that had been slated for April 26, adding more uncertainty to the process, which had already been marked by public concerns around electoral integrity, media freedom, and the opposition’s call for a boycott.
As misinformation floods citizens, Serbia’s independent media prove the most important sources of objective information amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The Belgrade-based Crime and Corruption Reporting Network KRIK is an investigative reporting center with the mission to support hard-hitting investigative journalism as a tool against corruption. Since 2015, NED has supported KRIK’s efforts to raise awareness about the links between government corruption and organized crime through investigative reporting. By partnering with other media and watchdog organizations in the region to trace the connections between corruption in public institutions and criminal activity, KRIK promotes a culture of accountability in Serbia.
KRIK’s subportal RasKRIKavanje is a leading source for debunking fake news in Serbia. Now KRIK has been fact-checking media coverage of the pandemic, as well as covering the government’s response to the crisis, on the RasKRIKavanje COVID-19 live blog. With over a half-a-million monthly readers, and dozens of monthly re-publications by the leading Serbian daily newspapers and portals, KRIK continues to inform the public and hold Serbian officials to account in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
In September 2019, NED’s board of directions approved the continuation of support to KRIK’s investigative reporting with a multiyear grant.