GLOBSEC Policy Institute’s bi-weekly overview of conventional and social media discourse in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia monitors propaganda and disinformation attempts, as well as democratic responses in the on-going information war, in order to increase awareness about this recently emerged challenge and promote fact-based discussion in Central Europe.
In August the propaganda in Central Europe focused on a multitude of complementary narratives on topics such as Brexit, TTIP, Turkey, and migrant relocation. All these issues have been used as crucial arguments in the framework of the anti-EU campaign. However, the topics that resonated the most in Central Europe are following:
Central European heads of states to attend Kremlin-funded conference
The attendance of the president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, at the Dialogue of Civilisations forum was announced via Parlamentní listy. The news was further promoted on a Twitter account of the presidential spokesman:
Tweet by Czech president Zeman spokesman: “We can expect a lot of rage: Milos Zeman is going to the event of Putin's acquaintance Yakunin again. Along with him Fico and Orban”.
Mainstream and alternative media wrote about the possibility of Miloš Zeman, Viktor Orbán and Róbert Fico participation at the Rhodes Forum, an annual Dialogue of Civilisations forum, organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute founded by an oligarch close to Putin, Vladimir Yakunin. The outlets state that the Czech president would like to talk about the “renewed Brussels' pressure to accept Muslim migrants” with the two prime ministers.
The founder of the World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations" is Vladimir Yakunin, Russian businessman, former president of Russian Railways, friend of Vladimir Putin and a former high-ranking KGB official. He was placed onto the US sanctions list in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict. While, it is not surprising, that not many leaders of NATO member states visit and support the Dialogue of Civilizations events, Zeman, Fico and Orban have pursued good relations with Putin.
Immigrants threatening the citizens of Central European countries
As Hungary slowly prepares for the referendum on the plan of the European Union to relocate refugees in Europe using quotas, its government started an “information campaign”. Huge influx of immigrants to Europe, the rises of crime rates, sexual assaults or terrorism are the primary narratives used by disinformation outlets. While some media outlets state that “mosques are in fact military bases” and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán called migrants “poison”, the liberal politicians are portrayed as wanting terrorism.
Fico, Orbán and Zeman meet on several points in their stance towards the migration issue. While Slovak government has filed a lawsuit against the EU for the mandatory quotas last year, Miloš Zeman has become the voice of Hungarian anti-immigration propaganda. Not only was President Zeman quoted saying that the rules of owning weapons must be less strict in light of the terror threat, but he also stated recently that the “current migrant wave is rooted in the craziness of Americans”.
Sputnik CZ: Hungary on Brexit wave or what are the benefits of direct democracy?
Enough dictate from Brussels. Another country will hold a referendum!
Pro-Kremlin outlets in Central Europe also continued to disseminate the antagonistic narrative of immigration and highly praised the Hungarian referendum. Czech InStory reported that “the Hungarian President János Áder had enough of the EU dictatorship” and the Czech version of Sputnik, online news service established by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya, quoted Hungarian professor calling for more direct democracy.
The more obscure disinformation outlets further copied the rhetoric of anti-immigration parties. In some cases, these outlets were used by extreme right-wing parties to spread disinformation on the alternatives to the EU and to promote the alleged plan of the Netherlands to leave the EU and cooperate closely with Russia.
Some of the most influential pro-Kremlin disinformation media outlets also spread the notions of continuous “Islamization” of Europe or “biased labelling of Russia” as an aggressor. While one of the outlets stressed that the upcoming referendum in Hungary will motivate other countries to follow their example, Marian Kotleba, leader of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, known for his stong pro-Russian sentiments had already tried to capitalize on the instability after Brexit referendum and had started to collect the signatures for the referendum to leave the EU.
Edited by Katarína Klingová, GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Daniel Milo, senior fellow at GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Veronika Víchová, analyst of Kremlin Watch Program, European Values Think-Tank; Jakub Janda, Deputy Director at the European Values Think-Tank; Lóránt Györi, Political Capital Institute; Patrik Szicherle, Political Capital Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
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The opinions stated in this report do not necessarily represent the position or views of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute or the National Endowment for Democracy. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the authors.