In the Balkans, disinformation has always been the honey of distrust in governments and institutions marred by corruption and lack of transparency.
In Serbia, to find False newsJust open a tabloid that regularly predicts an imminent war. International conspiracy theories abound by enemies near and far in a region where politicians have mastered the art of distracting attention from the economic problems that have been chasing them since the wars of the 1990s.
Zoran Radovanovic, a retired professor of epidemiology at the University of Belgrade, said that anti-vaccine theories spread “easily where confidence in authority is weak.” “In the Balkans, after 30 years of decline, people do not trust the authorities, including the medical authorities.”
Listen to “rumors”
The contrast with Titoite of Yugoslavia, which overcame the last major smallpox epidemic in Europe with a massive vaccination campaign in the 1970s, is stark.
According to Professor Radovanovic, suspicions about the vaccine have developed over the past five years, initially as a reaction to the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine falsely related to autism.
As a result, in 2018 the country recorded a sharp increase in measles cases.
According to a study published by The Lancet, Serbia is among six countries in the world that between 2015 and 2019 recorded a “significant increase” in the number of those who believed vaccines were unsafe.
Across the Balkans, suspicions are spread by a handful of doctors, some of whom are followed by tens of thousands of people on social networks.
They promote the purported benefits of walking barefoot for 15 minutes a day or post links to articles about the supposed dangers of new vaccines.
In Serbia, the Twitter account of right-wing psychiatrist and politician Jovana Stojkovic has been closed after spreading disinformation about vaccines amid attacks on immigrants and the gay community.
“Either the doctors do not know much, they do not educate themselves, or they deliberately remain silent about the negative aspects of vaccination,” she told France Press. Rejecting the label “against vaccination,” she says it supports “freedom of choice.”
In 2017, doctors filed a complaint against Dr. Stojkovic for “spreading panic” by claiming that unvaccinated children “would be taken from their parents” and by spreading falsehoods about vaccinations themselves.