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.

  • American presidential elections & Turkey
  • The West and the rest (anti-Western narratives)
  • EU & migration

Presidential elections

The Hungarian pro-Russian fringe media has had a special focus on the US presidential elections, since the Kremlin has a vested interest in the race. It is obvious that presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump is following a rather “isolationist” approach, and would likely strike a reconciliatory tone with Putin, while Hillary Clinton is expected to follow President Obama’s harder stance on Russian military interventions.

 

Picture on the left: “Clinton is very stupid.”

Thus, pro-Russian propaganda does everything in its power to discredit the current and future Democratic leadership. President Obama is accused of visiting Hiroshima Japan without apologizing for the drop of the atomic bomb in WWII, preventing Saudi Arabia being sued by the victims of the 9/11 attack against the World Trade Center, finally supporting homosexual propaganda among minors.[1] Hillary Clinton is portrayed as a “puppet master” in collaboration with Hungarian born American investor, George Soros who conspire to establish American-friendly puppet governments all over the world, which would inevitably lead to the termination of nation-states.[2]

In contrast, Donald Trump is portrayed as open to international talks, he would even sit down with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un to talk about nuclear proliferation.[3] The absurdity and political rationale behind such Russian expectations is showcased by an actual North Korean editorial backing Trump for president as well.[4]

Another article bashes Clinton for accusing Donald Trump of recruiting for the Islamic State by making irresponsible statements about the Islamic world.[5] The Kremlin’s interest in the presidential race is best exemplified by the international gossip that “the outcome of the race is in Putin’s hand”, since the Russian intelligence managed to obtain 20.000 hacked e-mails from the private server Clinton used to operate as Secretary of State under President Obama.[6]

Turkey

Given the perpetual Russian military involvement in the Syrian conflict, international tensions between pro-Assad Moscow and pro-rebel Ankara are here to remain for a longer time. Pro-Russian propaganda has revisited the old claims about Moscow’s proofs of Turkey trading with the Islamic State or assisting jihadist in general.[7]

Picture: “Do they bring charges against Turkey for trading with the Islamic State?”

Another line of the propaganda attacks Turkish domestic issues like President Erdogan vying for a Sultan’s position by revoking parliamentary immunity of Turkish MPs or penalizing another Turkish youngster for speaking out against Erdogan.[8] Ankara’s credibility in the EU-Turkey migration deal is also on the line, because the Turkish president threatened to end the deal without European visa provided to his citizens. At the same time the propaganda accuses Turkey of deliberately sending only ill or poorly trained asylum seeker to the EU.[9]

The West and the rest (anti-Western narratives)

The issue of NATO and its missile defense shield in Eastern Europe still present a popular topic in “alternative” circles. When it comes to Romania and its participation in the missile defense enterprise, president Putin had remarked that “if people living in this region did not know what it means to be in Russia’s scope, today, we are forced to introduce certain measures that will ensure our security.” [10] The headline of one “article” poses a question whether Russia can survive an attack by Washington and continues by claiming that a nuclear war with Russia is quite likely to happen in an upcoming year.[11] It will be a culmination of a long-term US strategy that––started slowly with the economic sanctions––to prevent Russia from becoming a superpower. [12]  Russia is being targeted by the US because of its independent foreign policy. It became the enemy number one after it disrupted the plans of the US to attack Iran and Syria and occupy Crimea. The situation escalated further after Russia was forced to intervene in Eastern Ukraine.[13]Another article also discusses the upcoming “big war”. It quotes Gen. Leonid Ivashov who says that Europe is essentially an American colony governed by the puppets installed by the US. The headline of the article reads that Russia will not come on Europe’s rescue again (liberate the Europeans again), suggesting that Europe is once again under foreign occupation but this time, instead of the Nazis, its liberty is being taken away by the US. [14]

In line with this delusional “understanding” of the international order, NATO is constantly being enlarged and is slowly but surely creeping towards Russian boarders. There was news that the Alliance had revoked the 1997 treaty that, among other things, prohibits it from stationing nuclear weapons in the new NATO member states. Not only is NATO possibly planning to station nuclear weapons in Georgia, but its very enlargement is also in violation of the “mythical” promise––that the Alliance will not expand further East––that was allegedly given to Gorbachev in 1990 that NATO won’t expand further to the East. [15]

Another interesting subject of anti-western propaganda revolves around the issue of economic sanctions against Russia. While the European Union prepares to extend the economic sanctions against Russia, pro-Kremlin media aim to reciprocate.[16] Some articles cite German magazine Spiegel mentioning the willingness of the German government to gradually revoke these negative measures.[17] Main Hungarian pro-Russian site, Hídfő discusses Frank-Walter Steinmeier while aiming to inflate the European divide over the sanctions. The issue of sanctions has always sparked controversy, yet the divide had not presented any real obstacle in adopting these measures in the past.[18] Orosz Hírek (Russian News) cites Alexey Ulyukae, Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation who said that the country’s economy has fully adapted to the sanctions and is, thus, capable to easily withstand their intended negative consequences.[19] One report in Hlavné Správy discusses the mixed signals coming from the Central European region. The Russians are thus baffled and are trying really hard to understand the position of Slovaks when it comes to the issue of sanctions. The article comes to a conclusion that Slovaks do not wish to wage a “sanction war” with Russia and would like to have them abolished altogether. However, they have no other choice but to heed to the will of the EU and follow the dictate of Brussels.[20] Another „interesting“ perspective on sanction appeared on the same „news“ platform. The author of the commentary proclaims that the issue of Western sanctions against Russia is considered to be a nonexistent issue of essentially no impact and zero importance in Moscow and that it is in fact an absolutely ridiculous and laughable matter. However, he follows by saying that “all the normal people are aware of the fact”, that if West was not to “help Moscow by introducing the sanctions they would have to invent (introduce) them themselves”. He claims that Russian (anti)sanctions against the West are the best recipe for complex revival of the Russian industry as well as the “achievement of more than 100% security in production sectors of strategic importance. Once again, the mighty Russia has outwitted us all, which is nothing new under the sun and the West knows that very well. But then again––to share the author’s unique insight into foreign policy––“have you ever seen an Anglo-Saxon admitting to being pissed (all) over by a Slav?” [21]

 

Picture on the left: “Dear America, it seems to be the case that you are a bit confused when it comes to geography––this is the territory you are supposed to take care of (top), not this (bottom)––Sincerely, the rest of the world.”[22] Picture on the right: “This actually explains a lot.”[23]

The fact that this year’s Eurovision song contest winner came from Ukraine also made waves in the propaganda circles that quickly dismissed the whole show as “political” aiming to disseminate the weaponized version of decadent American, cultural “soft power” aimed directly against Russia and other conservative countries in Europe.[24] All this is happening in time when Russia is experiencing religious resurrection and spiritual revival in stark contrast to the decadence and spiritual degradation of the “prosperous countries” of West. In words of the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow it is ever more difficult for believers to practice their faith in Western countries dominated by pursuit of money and power. As the headline of the article reads, “Russia is stronger than the West. It has a superpower, a prayer, while the USA responds with faculty of atheism” (at an university in Miami).[25] In respect to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine the issue that attracted a lot of attention in the “alternative” media circles was the releasing of Nadiya Savchenko. The author of one article sees Savchenko’s release as a defeat and show of weakness on side of Russia. While reporting on the sentiments and frustration prevalent among the civilian population, as well as the separatist fighters of the Donbas region, the author mentions that the principle of releasing pathological individuals from prison and issuing them with a license for committing genocide cannot be justified on “humanitarian” grounds. He also adds that although there is a genuine reason to celebrate the return of two Russian nationals who were released in return for Savchenko a question needs to be raised: “How many more will she kill without being punished when she returns to fight?” [26]

Migration

Asylum seekers and migrants coming to Europe and especially the ones who are already here remain as one of the topics mentioned most frequently in pro-Kremlin media. Since the reports concerning migration, which are often controversial, also represent a huge part of content published in serious mainstream media, it is easier to add several half-truths and demonizing exaggerations into the mix of mostly realistic articles without further notice. Monitored websites often distort the single negative reports in order to show their readers how their political elites fail to take care of their well-being and spread disproportionate worries.

During the last two weeks it was possible to track several directions of anti-immigration narratives. The most emotional one was reporting on the sexual attacks and other violent crimes committed allegedly by migrants throughout Europe. An important part of those allegations is highlighting the inability or perhaps even unwillingness of European states to defend their citizens, possibly with a hidden agenda.

Picture: “Sexual jihad and the passivity of European governments”

For example, one Slovak article warned against a so called “Thharush”, a collective rape of a woman by a group of men in public, a Muslim deviation brought into Europe by migrants and employed systematically in order to humiliate and conquer the European society.[27] A Hungarian website published the results of a made-up Austrian statistic which states that about every second convicted criminal has a foreign origin.[28] Sweden was a target of a Slovak website accusing it of underestimating and maybe even detracting criminal behaviour of migrants because of a report issued by the Swedish police explaining the increase of sexual harassment by a different role of women and the culture of drinking alcohol in Sweden.[29] Another article informed that a French plan to start opening centres for rehabilitating radical individuals might be another example of the government trying to “do something dodgy”, suggesting that the motives behind establishing these centres could be very different from the ones the politicians would have us believe, considering France is allegedly among the biggest supporters of terrorism in the Middle East.[30]

Several conspiracy theories about the origins of migration also appeared, mostly repeating the obscure statements about the secret plan of “the New World Order” to eliminate European nations and to create a race of “underhumans” by crossbreeding with Asians and Africans[31] or about the alleged efforts of the European Commission to “Islamise” Europe through the asylum relocation scheme.[32] One Czech disinformation website completely twisted the words of Pope Francis from one of his interviews in which he said that the integration of Muslim migrants into European society is crucial, partly because of the declining fertility rates in Europe. According to the Czech article, the Pope’s statements strongly resemble opinions of Imam Muhammad Ayed who encouraged Muslims to use the migration crisis to conquer Europe.[33]

 

Pictureon the left: “The European Commission is unsatisfied: the Islamization of Europe is not moving at a sufficient rate.” Picture on the right: “Germany recruits Muslim migrants as policemen. Will they enforce sharia law?”

The country referred to the most concerning migration crisis is Germany, often described quite fatally, for example as a state flooded by terrorists from the Islamic State[34]. One Hungarian website even published an article saying that Germany is on the brink of civil war, citing official German statistics about a five-fold rise in physical attacks against asylum centres in the country.[35] According to a Slovak website, three quarters of Germans believe the established political parties lost their track of reality, while one Czech article informed that German police recruits migrants, because they speak the same language as “their fellow illegals” and will not defy Angela Merkel’s policies,[36] based on a Bavarian campaign to encourage Germans with migrant roots to join their police forces.

European Union

In the second half of May, websites mostly in the Czech Republic kept benefiting from the words of the ex-mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claiming that the European Union has Nazi roots[37] or suggesting that we live in a European dictatorship, for example by referring to allegedly undemocratic negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement.[38] The pro-Russian media attempt to distract from any positive progress in Europe by suggesting that everything is manipulated and nothing can be trusted anymore.

The strongest criticism against the Union was triggered after the final results of the Austrian presidential elections were published. The independent candidate Alexander Van Der Bellen, a former leader of the Greens, defeated the populist FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer, which caused a wave of outrage on pro-Kremlin websites. It was a very tight win and the final results were strongly affected by the correspondence votes. One of the commentators wrote that “the political mafia controlling Brussels and the capitals of most EU countries conjures with the voting system”, which should also be the case of establishing the institute of correspondence voting in Austria. He claimed that people voting by correspondence are “often under supervision” and the whole elections were manipulated as part of “a construction of a totalitarian plan to enslave European nations.”[39] Another website tried to accuse Van der Bellen of hating his own country by attributing some controversial anti-nationalist quotes and campaign posters created by the Green Alternative Youth to him, although he personally had nothing to do with them and the Greens distanced themselves from the campaign.[40]

Picture: “Times are coming in Austria: Pyrrhic victory of ruling mafia? Many things suggest there has been a “correspondence” fraud. Pressure grows in a pressure cooker. Are we on the verge of revolt of the masses?”

Last but not least, the European Union was also blamed for financing alleged anti-Russian trolls. One of the Czech articles questioned the efforts of the EU to support free end independent media and suggested it provides financial resources to trolls residing in several faculties of humanities or social sciences in the Czech Republic, NGOs or in the building of the Czech public radio broadcaster.[41]

 

Edited by Péter Krekó, director at Political Capital Institute; Jakub Janda, Deputy Director at the European Values Think-Tank; Lóránt Győri, analyst at Political Capital Institute; Adam Petrikovič, GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Veronika Víchová, analyst of Kremlin Watch Program, European Values Think-Tank; Milan Šuplata, senior fellow at GLOBSEC Policy Institute, Milan Nič, Research Director at GLOBSEC Policy Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by GLOBSEC and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. 

© GLOBSEC Policy Institute