The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups

19. June 2023.
The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups 1

A lack of transparency in policy and decision-making in the energy sector is still an issue that hinders democratic processes in Croatia and Serbia – this is the main conclusion of a new regional analysis and two documentary films produced by Gong and the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (IJAV).

The energy crisis caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine revealed the extent of the political vulnerability of countries dependent on the import of Russian gas, bringing to the foreground the tangle of interests that shape the energy policies of the Western Balkans. While Croatia buys its own gas at many times higher prices due to scandalous decisions in the management of the INA company, Serbia, thanks to the energy agreement with Russia, stagnates in its negotiations for accession to the European Union. As part of a long-standing cooperation between Gong and IJAV in promoting anticorruption mechanisms, the analysis "Tangle of geopolitics, hidden interests and corruption: Gas and oil in Croatia and Serbia in the shadow of Russian aggression against Ukraine" documents the detrimental effects of harmful foreign influences on vulnerable democracies, using data journalism.

"The Russian aggression against Ukraine and the fear of energy shortages brought the importance of energy policy and energy independence into the focus of the general public. Our analysis shows the government’s notorious lack of concern for Croatian energy resources, whether it is about its own gas deposits or Croatian refineries," said executive director of Gong Oriana Ivković Novokmet at the Zagreb presentation of project results.

"By selling the NIS Group to the Russian state-owned Gazprom, Serbia has become a voluntary hostage of political and economic malign Russian influence, which is accomplished mainly through NIS. It is a public secret in Serbia that NIS is not only an oil company, but also a branch of Russian secret services (…) And the main goal of Russian presence in the region is the obstruction and direct opposition to the expansion of NATO and the EU," explains IJAV journalist and co-author of the analysis Dinko Gruhonjić.

As complex as these relations are, both partners produced documentary films aimed at presenting the topic to a wider audience. The Zagreb premiere of “Every card a winning ticket (Gas masters 2)”, directed by Silvana Menđušić and “Kese nam NIS-u sestre” by Darko Šper were premiered in Zagreb and Novi Sad, where local audiences were able to participate in Q&A sessions. An important issue that was addressed during both events is that these topics are often "closed" to the public and information is deliberately withheld from the public. Big companies have a huge influence on the media through sponsorships and have the power to suppress journalistic investigations that reveal potential corruption and damage to the public interest.

The films, which are now apublicly available on YouTube, were created as a result of long-term cooperation between Gong and IJAV, who had previously conducted the analysis Energy Sector in Croatia and Serbia Caught Up in Interest Networks and filmed the documentaries Gas Masters and It's a Gas. Earlier findings were also presented to journalism students in both countries and incorporated into Gong's Anticorruption module for citizens.

The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups 2
The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups 3
The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups 4
The energy sector as a hostage of foreign interest groups 5