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How I Accidentally Spread 'Fake News' And Learned From It

Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska
Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska

Not long ago, during an extensive dive into my e-mails in search of a friend’s address, I came across a story forwarded to me by journalist Remy Ourdan. He invariably picks out the most interesting stories coming out of the Balkans, and the headline immediately caught my attention: Serb President Bans Teaching About Sarajevo Siege, Srebrenica.

I did not realize at the time that I was at the wrong end of my inbox, and failed to notice the dateline of the story. Perhaps I was just too dumbfounded, and puzzled at how the president of Republika Srpska could ban teaching about the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica genocide -- as if these topics were even part of the school curriculum in his entity. After reading the article, I realized that the unsettling past would henceforth not be taught even in classrooms including Bosniak kids in Republika Srpska.

“It’s impossible to use here the textbooks...which say the Serbs have committed genocide and kept Sarajevo under siege,” Milorad Dodik was quoted as saying in the article. I promptly tweeted the story.

The following day, the story had been retweeted several hundred times -- and that's when I noticed that it had been published nine months ago.

Somewhat embarrassed, I was about to tweet an explanation, and an apology for having missed the fact that the Reuters story was from June 2017. But before doing so, I read through the deluge of retweets.

I was fully expecting a backlash for my social-media faux pas. However, to my surprise, most comments -- even those that pointed out that the story was old -- were expressions of concern for a country that refused to deal with its past, and were critical of Dodik.

“When you don’t know your past, it is inevitable to repeat it,” one of the retweets said.

Ivana Cvetkovic made an excuse for me and praised me for reposting the story at a time when Dodik appears to be rearming Republika Srpska.

Many thought that the news was fresh.

Milos Ciric was among the first to notice the time lag, but he generously assumed that the posting of an old story was intentional, in view of Dodik’s ratcheting up of ethnic tensions over the past few months:

Former U.S. diplomat Richard Kauzlarich was among the many who retweeted the article, expressing regret for the support Dodik had received from U.S. diplomats in the past:

Many of the retweeters read the story much in the same light as I had, seeing it as part of a concerted campaign by the president of Republika Srpska to destabilize Bosnia -- a campaign that has intensified over the past few months, with Dodik growing ever bolder in his actions and pronouncements:

Many others expressed similar sentiments, pointing out the dangers of genocide denial:

When it was published, in June 2017, the Reuters article went almost unnoticed. However, thanks to Dodik’s actions and statements over the past few months, it seemed like fresh news and generated an avalanche of comments.

I must still own up to having posted old news.

But the overwhelming response has been yet another reminder that errors can be useful and often lead to new awareness. In this case, “old news” came as a fresh warning of the growing fragility of peace in Bosnia.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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