Domestic politics and international events in September in Central Europe provided a plethora of topics for Russian propaganda to mystify and misinform about. The Bratislava Summit or the referendum in Hungary on the plan of the European Union to relocate refugees in Europe using quotas have been the strongest arguments in the framework of the anti-EU campaign. However, the topics that resonated the most in Central Europe are the following:
- Migrants terrorizing European citizens
- 9/11 conspiracy theories
- NATO, the US' puppet endangering
Migrants terrorizing European citizens
The migration crisis is a resilient topic that prevails in the disinformation space. The two most used narratives used by propaganda outlets in Central Europe have been that the refugees are dangerous and perverted and that their presence in Europe is a part of a bigger plan to Islamize Europe. In September, pro-Kremlin outlets spread information and statistics concerning criminal activities of migrants. For example: the total number of violent crimes with sexual subtext in the refugees centers; the number of migrants who broke the law in Austria, German prisons’ occupancy by immigrants; immigrants’ attack on a Finnish boy; all-migrant classes in Vienna’s schools; video on Africans planning to destroy European culture; the upraising of German citizens against migrants, as well as several interviews about similar topics. Pro-Kremlin outlets were also spreading interviews with Swedish journalist Björn Herstad about the promotion of intercourse with refugees or the increase of insecurity in Sweden.
In general, pro-Kremlin media are trying to appeal to the conservative readers in Central Europe by connecting the refugee crisis with the erosion of moral and traditional values. Conservative politicians in Central Europe frequently use this notion for usurpation of power and winning the vote of the conservative population. While pro-Kremlin websites in September highly featured Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szíjjártó’s warning about dangerous no-go zones in Europe, the anti-immigration declarations of conservative leaders were highly praised by alternative media for being the last hope for saving Europe. It is a win-win situation for pro-Kremlin political leaders and propaganda outlets.
Despite the difficulties related to identification, hosting and integration of more than 1 million migrants in Western Europe, the situation is far less alarming than is exaggerated in the alternative media in Central Europe. The fear of unknown is a powerful emotion in homogenous societies of Central Europe. Pro-Kremlin outlets are depicting Russia as the protector of peace and safety, while the Western authorities with refugee quotas are trying to destroy them. In fact, the opposite is true, since Russian air support for Assad force has driven hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and most of Syrian refugees have been fleeing Assad, not ISIS.
The truth about 9/11
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 are entwined by conspiracy theories and propaganda. While mainstream media debated the ridiculousness of 9/11 conspiracies, alternative media revived them. One of the favorite pro-Kremlin commentators, P.C. Roberts wrote an articlehighlighting the professional opinion of all the “qualified and experienced experts,” other alternative media provided their own experts refuting lies based on “factual evidence.”
In general, alternative media undermined official US statements and the credibility of the US government by providing various scenarios on how the incident really happened, including one statingthat the twins might have been constructed with the idea of an upcoming demolition, which would mean that the attack had been planned for ten years. Some referred to Fahrenheit 9/11 and conspired about Saudi-Arabia’s role in the attack, others claimed that the United States sacrificed 3000 people in “state terrorism.”
9/11 is the evergreen of all disinformation websites, recycling already debunked theories and issuing reports written by “former” experts. If someone wants to believe in a conspiracy theory, that an event occurred in a particular way, no matter the amount of facts presented would change that opinion. 9/11 happened. Thousands of people died. Let’s honor their lives and learn from the vulnerabilities it exposed.
NATO, the US puppet endangering us
Pro-Kremlin outlets in Central Europe point out that NATO is a tool of the United States used to control countries. Alternative media claim that NATO is less and less united and undemocratic. Commentaryby an American blogger Dave Lindorff, in which he claimed that there are NATO and American units in Ukraine, was frequently broadcasted in Central Europe. Slovak alternative media further informed that the United States is cooperating with ISIS and Czech pro-Kremlin outlets promoted a “Petition for peace” to leave the North-Atlantic Organization issued by the Czech Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. The officially Russia-sponsored Czech version of Sputnik published an interview with a deputy chairman of the Czech Communist Party, in which he said that NATO pushes the Czech Republic into a dangerous confrontation with Russia, while Parlamentní listy featured individual signatories of the petition.
Furthermore, Hungarian alternative media even quoted GLOBSEC Trends’ opinion poll and pointed outthat Zeman’s anti-West declarations and pro-Russian affiliations are consistent with citizens’ lack of support towards NATO in the Czech Republic. It only forgot to mention the part of the GLOBSEC Trends’ report about the influence of pro-Kremlin propaganda on the public in Central Europe.
Each NATO member took a free decision to be part of the Alliance and has a right to withdraw its participation. However, this decision should be based on facts and not on misinformation spread by Russian-funded media outlets.
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Edited by Katarína Klingová, research 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.
© 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.