Elections are all around. The year 2017 witnesses some of the most important elections when European people decide not only on the future of their countries, but the whole European Union. Apart from the French elections that we focused on last time and where the pro-Kremlin websites in Central Europe clearly have their favourite candidate, there will also be a general election held in Germany this September. Do fringe media sharing pro-Russian narratives have an agenda there as well?
The Czech-language version of official Russian website Sputnik is not afraid to report that the Kremlin is being suspected of meddling with other countries’ elections, Germany not excluded. Although it mentions the “Russian meddling” in quotations marks with lingering regularity (1, 2). Parlamentní listy, the most popular manipulative website in the Czech Republic, often reports on the pre-election polls, summarizing the prospects for Angela Merkel’s CDU, but also for Martin Schulz and his SPD, or the right-wing populist AfD party.
Since the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is an important figure in international politics, she is in the centre of attention of all media sources, the serious ones just as much as the dis-informative ones. Hence, it does not have much noticeable value to see how many times she is mentioned in the articles and reports in comparison with other candidates. It is also still quite early for sophisticated campaigning. Instead, we focused on the messages and narratives slowly created around the candidates in the overall context.
The incompetent Chancellor
If we should describe the portrayal of the current German chancellor by the pro-Kremlin websites in one phrase, it would probably be “disconnected from reality”. She is often described as full of illusions about what the world actually looks like, incapable of reasonable action, gullible and submissive to evil forces. For these sources, she represents most of the things they consider being wrong.
One of the most tumbling stories published on disinformation websites were the discussions of Angela Merkel with British secret services. The news came from German magazine Focus and later on got a lot of attention from the US website Breitbart as well. It was interpreted as Ms. Merkel does not believe her own German intelligence services and therefore has to go to Britain for advice, that she “relies on foreign intelligence services more than on her own.”
The pro-Kremlin websites demonstrate her incompetence by her stances towards the situation with migrants in Germany, with her dealings with Turkey or opinions about European integration. The InStory website reported in disbelief that Ms. Merkel mentioned that migrants might also be beneficial for Germans and also stated that she probably “does not know what is happening around her”, because she believes in the future of cooperation within the European Union. Similar messages have been spread by Svobodné noviny with the reference to the article of the Gatestone Institute known for publishing inaccurate reports.
According to Parlamentní listy, the Turkish president Erdogan “wipes his ass” with the Chancellor and claims that her “political instincts failed”. Sometimes she is also presented as aggressive towards the Czechs and other Europeans. In an otherwise accurate and objective article summarizing Ms. Merkel’s statements on the German TV channel ARD, Parlamentní listy used a suggestive title: “Merkel: I don’t want to threaten anyone. But…”. In the article we find out she actually really refuses to threaten the Member States with stopping European subsidies. Parlamentní listy also do not use a very rich set of illustration pictures, when it comes to the German Chancellor.
The aggressive bureaucrat
After Martin Schulz returned from the post of the President of the European Parliament and became the to the domestic arena and became the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, disinformation websites seemed a little confused about what kind of candidate he might be. In sum, there are two lines of arguments surrounding him. The first focuses on his domestic policies. Several websites commented on his “outrageous” leftist suggestions with titles like “This is impossible. Look what Martin Schulz plans to implement” or “Four years on support. Imagine what reactions there are to Martin Schulz’s suggestions”.
The second line focuses on the temper of Mr. Schulz. He is often portrayed as being aggressive, scolding his colleagues and rivals. Much attention has been given to his sharp reaction when he expelled the Greek MEP from Golden Dawn for calling Turks “wild dogs”. Nová Republika called his move “despotic” and stated that it proves that there is “typical Nazi blood” circulating in him. Parlamentní listy, in their distinctive matter, informed that Martin Schulz “lashed out” at us with the directions to accept refugees. Overall, according to pro-Kremlin sources, the election of Martin Schulz would be a step from bad to worse.
Disidents from the right
If there is anyone on the German political spectrum who does not seem to be complete and utter evil for the pro-Kremlin websites, it is the Alternative for Germany, the party that based its programme on tough stances against refugees and migrants. Since even these sources cannot deny that the support for AfD is not that high, they are mostly focusing on the fact that they are being attacked and unjustly treated. They are portrayed as fighters against corrupted establishment who are under horrible pressure from the elites and the aggressive public.
A lot of reports turned out after the Party congress, highlighting the aggressiveness of the alleged fanatics and anti-fascists which attacked the members of the party and caused havoc and destruction. Generally anyone who opposes AfD’s stances is being described as a radical or somebody much worse than the right-wing populists. The state security system has been accused of being unjust towards them, not punishing the “leftist attackers”.
Small hope from bavaria
It is also notable that Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Bavarian CSU colleagues of Angela Merkel’s party, got more attention from the Czech disinformation websites than for example Sahra Wagenknecht from the leftist opposition Die Linke. He deserved it mostly by visiting Moscow and criticizing the sanctions system against Russian Federation. Parlamentní listy also highlighted his “sober” opinions about how to deal with the migration crisis, but portrayed him as a lonely ranger calling for systemic solution but being blocked by the Bundestag.
Whatever comes from germany, it is not going to be good
So far there is no noticeable effort to push some specific candidate from Germany in a way the pro-Kremlin websites push Marine Le Pen related to the French elections. It is partly given by the fact that the elections are coming only in September and it would be to soon for a comprehensive campaign, but also partly because there is no real ally with chances of real competition with Angela Merkel who would also be friendly with Russia. The AfD party would be the logical choice but their support is currently not very high.
The message that is much more clearly spread is merely that everything what is happening on the German political scene is somehow corrupted, incompetent, aggressive towards Central Europe, even on the edge of Nazi practices. The only politicians with sober and realistic views are going to be either ignored or even worse, physically attacked and blocked by the state. In the end, whether Angela Merkel or Martin Schulz wins, it is going to be bad for us either way.