Protests of the so-called yellow vests against the rising fuel prices and planned fuel tax in France, which started on November 17, 2018, did not only take France like a storm, but resonated also in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.  The yellow vests – high-visibility jackets, which French protests adopted as a symbol of their complaint, gradually spread into other countries a symbol of anti-Western agenda and anti-establishment. The increased attention this movement received in Central European countries is demonstrated in the chart below, which depicts occurrence of term “Macron” in articles published between November 17 – December 12, 2018. With 218 articles published in one day, it reached its peak on December 11, the day after President Macron delivered his address to the French nation in wake of continuous protests. However, only 1.5% of online articles (2698 out of 184650) published in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia between November 17 – December 12, 2018, contained term “Macron”.[1]

Chart 1: Online articles containing term “Macron” published in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia on November 17 – December 12, 2018

(Source: >versus<)

Not surprisingly, the criticism of French President and rising proponent of further EU integration and cooperation was utilized by specific actors. For example, in Hungary it was mostly far-right and anti-EU fringe Facebook pages that dominated the discourse. In particular, Patriotic Europe Movement (Patrióta Európa Mozgalom) or conspiracy pages HUN-News and Bolshevik-nationalist Balrad.ru, which is not surprising given the general anti-establishment interpretation of the events, see chart below.

Chart 2: The most active Hungarian pro-Kremlin Facebook pages containing term “Macron” based on the number of interactions per fans from 17 November – 12 December 2018

In the Czech Republic, websites, which produced the most articles of all Czech websites with term “Macron” and covered this topic the most was disinformation portal Pravdive.eu (Honestly.eu). Other disinformation websites[2] Eurozpravy.cz (89), Pravyproctor.cz (42), Vlasteneckenoviny.cz (Patriot news with 25) or a Czech version of Sputnik (15) followed. The coverage of the yellow vests protests by Czech disinformation websites included on-line reporting or videos – some of them recorded in France by well-known Putin’s admirer and Czech activist Žarko Jovanovič.

In addition, it was possible to observe significant cooperation and interconnection between disinformation websites AC24, Lajkit and Svět kolem nás – all published the same content within a very short time in between. The top 3 Facebook pages that published the most posts in connection to Macron and yellow vests protests were Martin Konvička, České národní listy (Czech national letters) and Facebook page of far-right political party Svoboda a přímá demokracie (Freedom and direct democracy) of Tomio Okamura – SPD.

When it comes to narratives, the critique of Macron’s neo-liberal agenda, frustration of people from migration or parallels between French protests and Euromaidan dominated the discourse of Czech pro-Kremlin and disinformation websites. Anti-migration activist Martin Konvička  and some disinformation outlets called for the establishment of the similar movement in the Czech Republic. Eventually, two Facebook pages – Žluté vesty and Žluté vesty ČR were founded. However, in total they received little over 200 likes and followers on Facebook.

In Slovakia, main disinformation websites Hlavné správy (Main news) and Infovojna (Infowar spread with 28 and 16 articles respectively disinformation narratives undermining Emmanuel Macron’s policies and leadership, undermining the unity of the European union, stressing further spread of revolution in other EU countries. ‘Former’ disinformation outlet Parlamentné listy  (Parliamentary letters[3]) focused on this topic significantly as well, and with 46 articles led the list of Slovak websites that covered it. In addition, the author of disinformation outlet Hlavné správy (Main news) even travelled to Paris and provided first-person account of the yellow vests’ cause and their “fight for justice”. Interestingly, Slovak pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets depicted peaceful protests in Slovakia connected with the murder of investigative journalist and his fiancé as a preparation for coup d’état organized by foreign actors, while French protests of yellow vests, which were violent and left a lot of public places destructed, as a legitimate fight against social injustice.

Furthermore, Slovak disinformation websites used variety of interesting sources to support their narratives – Fox News claiming that the EU will fall apart; Czech far-right politician Tomio Okamura disputing EU’s stability; right wing conspiracy website Voice of Europe claiming rising discontent in Sweden;[4] Russian news server RusVesna.su disputing the need for EU army; or a Czech version of Russian Sputnik news agency hinting, among other things, resemblance of yellow vests protests to the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine and pointing out the rejection of Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, to do so.

In addition, similarly to Hungary and the Czech Republic, many far-right, extremist and disinformation Facebook pages[5] were contemplating to utilize the yellow vests movement in Slovakia for similar protests. For example, according to Blbec.online, as it is possible to observe from the picture below, the administrators of several such accounts published the same post on December 6 in relatively short time, in some cases a minute, in between the individual posts inquiring whether similar protest and yellow vests movement could not take place in Slovakia.

(source: Blbec.online.sk)

Similarly, as in the Czech Republic, yellow vests movement Slovakia was established on Facebook and its demands and rising numbers of fans were promoted on Main news outlet. In comparison to the Czech movement, the Slovak Facebook group gained 1500 followers in few days. On December 12, 2018, protest of Slovak yellow vests was organized by Putin’s admirer and supporter of Night Wolves, a Russian motorcycle club, in Slovakia. The protest was attended by tens of people. Another protest took part on January 5, 2019 in front of the National Council of the Slovak Republic. While the supporters of this online group had big plans to beat the movement For the Decent Slovakia, which organized the biggest protest in Slovakia after the Velvet Revolution in the aftermath of the murder of Jan Kuciak, investigative journalists, and his fiancé, in reality only some 30 people came. The liberal satirical online groups made fun of it and created memes from the pictures of gathering.

 

Written by Katarína Klingová, GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Lóránt Györi, Political Capital Institute; Jonáš Syrovátka, Prague Security Studies Institute. This brief was published in the framework of project run by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. 

© GLOBSEC Policy Institute

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. 

           

 

[1] CT media-monitoring tool >versus< was used for data collection. The chart provides data for the articles produced within the time period from 17 November – 12 December 2018 in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The media-monitoring >versus< was developed by the International Republican Institute within its Beacon Project and it encompasses database of  mainstream media and disinformation sources, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and online discussions. For the purpose of this analysis, only the news section of the database was used.

[2] For the list of Czech and Slovak websites ranked as disinformative – providing dubious, deceptive, fraudulent, conspiratorial and questionable propaganda-based content – please visit konspiratori.sk.

[3] Parliamentary letters used to be ranked as disinformative and spreading dubious content by konspiratori.sk. However, since the website had deleted its problematic content, it was removed from the list. Due to its history of spreading disinformation and hoaxes, it received a grey label.

[4] Ranked by Mediabiasfactcheck. For more information about Voice of Europe please visit https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/voice-of-europe/

[5] Anonymous Slovakia is Facebook page known for spreading disinformation narratives and conspiracy statements, it is questionable to what extent it represents ideas of the decentralized international hacktivist group Anonymous.