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.
Between the period 1 – 15 June, 2016, the Pro-Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary focused on discrediting NATO and Western media reporting on Kremlin’s politics. A small part of the Hungarian propaganda focused solely on the Brexit campaign. Pro-Russian propaganda clearly aimed at:
- Portraying NATO as an irrational aggressor before the Warsaw summit to discourage further defensive measures taken by the organization.
- Framing recent NATO redeployment and defensive systems as preparations to war or invasion of CEE countries to alienate local electorate from self-defense.
- Disorienting CEE audiences by claiming that local or Western media are a shop window of Western intelligence agencies, other secret government interests.
- Assisting the pro-Brexit campaign outside of Great Britain which might prompt local referendums on European membership to follow suit.
NATO: from military provocation to nuclear apocalypse
With the Warsaw Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) approaching in two weeks, disinformation campaign targeting activities of this institution gets more and more intense. The narrative is increasingly aggressive and the pro-Kremlin propaganda is trying to dismiss accusations of its own provocative behaviour by denigrating its adversaries –although Russian military ultimately also warns of a nuclear counterstrike in retaliation to Western provocations. Even more obvious is the effort to dismay of the disastrous and often almost fatalistic consequences which NATO actions might have for Europeans and Americans alike: waging real or propaganda war against Moscow, preparing an invasion against Russia or fellow Baltic states and the list of false military threats goes on.
NATO is being portrayed as an irrational aggressor who either wants to see Russia destroyed or wishes to provoke a war in order to distract from its own problems and failures.[i] Several Czech websites published an article in Slovak language in which the author called NATO “the US an Anglo-Zionist empire” and said that the US needs to enter into a conflict with Russia, no matter if cold or hot, because of its deep economic recession, which is why NATO is allegedly trying to conquer Eastern European countries by mostly economic and information means.[ii] According to the Czech and Slovak propaganda, Poland and the Baltic States are going to be invaded by NATO during the end of June.[iii] One Slovak outlet even claimed that the US “dreams about Putin’s funeral”.[iv] A Hungarian article attacks Poland for requesting an additional four NATO battalions to be stationed in Poland and the Baltic states. They cite pro-Russian Polish Change party leader, Mateusz Piskorski, who is currently under arrest for alleged spying for Russia, about Poland being controlled by the U.S. to request “foreign troops”, thus Washington is using Poland to legitimize its military presence in the region.[v]
Picture on the left: “German intelligence service will become a CIA branch” Picture on the right: “Preparations for war with Russia in full swing: German secret services will be completely officially taken over by the CIA. Western media are under its thumb for quite some time now. Ukrainian lie and European reality. How much time until the invasion?
Paul Craig Roberts, who appears very frequently on Czech pro-Kremlin websites, accused the West of leading a softer “propagandistic war” against Russia, threatening it with military expansion and preparing an invasion. He presents the situation in Ukraine as an already well- known example of a “Western coup” orchestrated by the US.[vi] The preparations for war do not consist only of military provocation. Several Czech and Slovak articles informed that the German government prepares a transfer of its intelligence services under the leadership of the CIA.[vii]
Pro-Kremlin media also highlighted that not all the European countries cooperate with NATO voluntarily. Slovakia was mentioned the most, on Czech and Slovak websites alike. According to them, the Slovak army is getting under the dictate of NATO and Slovakia loses its sovereignty.[viii] One of the most popular Slovak conspiracy websites said that Slovaks are being pit against Russia.[ix]
Finally, the Kremlin is also flashing its military might. President Putin said to “Mark my word, I will run over Europe in a matter of hours,” another article points to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s announcement that American warships will be countered by Russian naval forces on the Black Sea.[x] The most fatalistic articles warned against the upcoming nuclear apocalypse. Several websites claimed that the US is preparing war with Russia because of its mineral resources and that the NATO operations in Eastern Europe serve as provocations and as a vanguard before the real attack, to which Russia would be forced to answer with nuclear counterstrike.[xi]
Picture on the left: “Khrushchev and Kennedy The current situation is different. The NATO has settled in next to Russia’s border. Although Russia has not issued NATO an ultimatum, but it will take care of its borders according to the expansion of NATO.” Pictureon the left: “Mark my word, I will run over Europe in a matter of hours.”
Western media: propaganda controlled by secret services
Since there are multiple important issues for the Kremlin on the current international agenda (for example, prolongation of the EU/USA sanctions, Brexit, NATO summit), the pro-Russian propaganda does everything in its power to distort Western media and public opinion in these questions.
The propaganda basically undermines trust in major Western media infrastructures and specific CEE mediums. Ultimately implying that Russian propaganda equals Euro Atlantic public communications, consequently truth is relative and only a matter of opinion instead of facts. It reaches its goal either by claiming that Western media is manipulated by political interests or presenting specific examples of Western propaganda. One Hungarian article asserts that all articles in the German press are simple copies of pieces produced by Western propaganda news agencies serving the USA, the EU or NATO.[xii] Several Czech and Slovak sites claim that the Code of Conduct of Facebook, Twitter and Google against hate speech is used in fact to delete those articles which are not in line with the “current propaganda” “within 24 hours”. This system is supposedly a “deadly agreement between corporations and red commissioners “or maybe the European Commission against freedom of expression.[xiii]
Picture on the right: “European freedom of speech is threatened by media giants.” Picture on the left: “The big news media is controlled by Western intelligence agencies.”
Specific accounts of Western media manipulation include the Slovak public television and radio channels allegedly feeding the citizens with pro-Western propaganda financed from compulsory “racket”.[xiv] Robert Fico leader of SMER and Slovak PM is claimed to have said that they had to fight during the last elections hostile media financed and supported by “foreign agents” and embassies of foreign countries – thus confirming the fringe pro-Russian media conspiracy theories. Another Czech articles point out the hearing of Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State, before the US Congress which has revealed American training camps organized for European journalists.[xv] According to the propaganda, even journalists who fled from Russia are supposed to be trained here, then return back to their country, to write about Putin and to disrupt Russian Federation from the inside.
Picture on the right: “Victoria Nuland openly revealed that the US has training camps for journalists in Europe to write against Russia! Well, that’s a surprise! (CZ subtitles).”
Moreover, pro-Russian sites claim not only that Western media is just as manipulative as the Russian, but set the Russian media as an example of objectivity. In fact, the USA and the West as a whole are losing the global information war with Russia because Russia Today news outlet has all but mastered the art of journalism and public relations and, despite fierce opposition, is gaining popularity around the world.[xvi]
Brexit: regaining sovereignty under the EU
Brexit, despite being a quite important and ongoing issue in international media, is featured extensively only in the Hungarian Pro-Russian media. It is quite clear that the pro-Russian narrative is on the side of UKIP and Nigel Farage. On the one hand, the articles inform about the success or lead of the Brexit campaign in Britain.[xvii] On the other hand, they try to picture the pro-European camp and David Cameron deceiving the voters into remaining in the EU. One article clearly states that Farage has won the Brexit debate over Cameron, however the mainstream British media tried to keep quiet about the result of the event.[xviii] The articles also reiterate the arguments lined up for Brexit: appealing to the national pride, controlling the flow of migration from within the EU etc.[xix] The divide over the issue in the British domestic politics is reflected in the propaganda as well. According to an article, the English government is falsely promising to re-negotiate the freedom of movement and border control with the EU if the country were to remain part of the Union.[xx] Another piece claims the British parliament is making preparations for the post-Brexit period.[xxi]
Picture on the left: “Farage has beaten Cameron in yesterday’s debate.” Picture on the right: “A marvelous earthquake: the British tabloid with 1.6 million copies (The Sun) encourages exit from the EU.”
A wild conspiracy theory is presented by Világlátó claiming that the Bilgerberg-group and George Soros are all planning the next financial collapse which might be the event of Brexit – still, it is hard to distinguish whether the propaganda is arguing for or against Britain leaving the union in this particular case.[xxii]
Edited by Lóránt Győri, Political Capital Institute; Péter Krekó, director at Political Capital Institute; Jakub Janda, Deputy Director at the European Values Think-Tank; Veronika Víchová, analyst of Kremlin Watch Program, European Values Think-Tank; Milan Šuplata, senior fellow at GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Adam Petrikovič, GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Milan Nič, Research Director at GLOBSEC Policy Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by the Slovak Atlantic Commission and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. © GLOBSEC Policy Institute
[vii] http://www.zemavek.sk/articles/view/nemecka-spravodajska-sluzba-bnd-pobockou-cia, http://svobodnenoviny.eu/nemecka-zpravodajska-sluzba-se-stane-pobockou-cia/, http://protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz/politika/2501-pripravy-na-valku-s-ruskem-v-plnem-proudu-nemecke-tajne-sluzby-prevezme-cia-uz-zcela-oficialne-zapadni-media-ma-pod-palcem-davno-ukrajinska-lez-a-evropska-realita-kolik-casu-zbyva-do-invaze.htm,http://www.novarepublika.cz/2016/06/pripravy-na-valku-s-ruskem-v-plnem.html
[xi] http://www.parlamentnilisty.cz/arena/monitor/Hrozi-jaderna-valka-s-Ruskem-Za-pul-roku-zemre-800-milionu-lidi-zaznelo-varovne-od-Babise-440524, http://www.novarepublika.cz/2016/06/hrozi-jaderna-valka-s-ruskempocitejme.html, http://www.czechfreepress.cz/valky/hrozi-jaderna-valka-s-ruskem-za-pul-roku-zemre-800-milionu-lidi-zaznelo-varovne-od-babise.html
[xv] http://aeronet.cz/news/video-victoria-nulandova-na-plnou-hubu-prozradila-ze-usa-maji-v-evrope-vycvikove-kempy-pro-novinare-aby-psali-proti-rusku-no-to-je-prekvapeni-cz-titulky/, http://www.novarepublika.cz/2016/06/v-nulandova-otevrene-o-penezich-na.html