Slovakia‘s disinformation-conspiracy scene consists of actors operating in different areas of public life, with different social status and often even with different ideological inclinations.
It includes active and former politicians, civic activists and individuals seeking to present themselves as «public intellectuals», the «alternative» periodicals and media platforms, discussion groups and individual social media contributors. Among those who clearly express their ideological orientations are orthodox communists, self-declared leftists («socialists», «social democrats»), self-declared conservatives, as well as nationalists and holders of radical views, including right-wing extremists (fascists and neo-Nazis).
Who are Slovak disinformers and what unites them
The most known «alternative» (disinformation and conspiracy) platforms in Slovakia are: the online dailies Hlavné správy («Main News») and Hlavný denník («Main Daily»), the monthlies Zem a vek («Earth and Age») and Extraplus, the internet radio Slobodný vysielač («Free Broadcaster»), the Infovojna («InfoWar») portal and several dozen other smaller media platforms and groups in social networks.
The most important individual disseminators of politically motivated disinformation and conspiratorial content include active politicians Robert Fico and Ľuboš Blaha (both are members of the Slovak parliament for the Smer-SD /«Direction – Social Democracy»/ party, the first is the chairman of this party), Marian Kotleba (ĽSNS /People Party Our Slovakia/ MP and party’s leader), Milan Uhrík and Milan Mazurek (the first is a member of the European Parliament, the second is a member of the Slovak parliament, both are members of the Republika («Republic») party, who split from the ĽSNS in 2021).
The mentioned actors and other members of the relatively heterogeneous community of Slovak disinformers have three basic features in common:
- distrust or opposition to the system of liberal democracy and inclination towards other, undemocratic (authoritarian, totalitarian, corporatist) models of society,
- questioning or rejecting the pro-Western orientation of Slovakia, including the country’s NATO and EU membership,
- support and positive evaluation of the domestic and foreign policy of the current Russian regime and positive evaluation of the policy of the former USSR.
The robust activation of this peculiar conglomerate took place in 2014, triggered by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the military conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine. Since then, the Slovak disinformation scene as a whole has acted as the Kremlin’s most devoted ally in all of Russia’s activities and actions – in its policy towards the West, the EU and NATO, individual Western countries, Ukraine and Slovakia itself. In situations where there were some disagreements or even conflicts in relations between the Russian Federation and Slovakia, the Slovak disinformation scene takes the side of Russia and criticizes the attitudes of the Slovak government, accusing it of deliberate «Russophobia», of subordination to pressure from the USA.
The pro-active dissemination of numerous pro-Kremlin narratives, the creation of a positive image of the current Russian regime and the mobilization of support among the Slovak population for this regime have been the main activities of the Slovak disinformation ecosystem for 8 years. The use of the term «fifth column» to denote the role of Slovak disinformers in the country’s public and political life would therefore be quite appropriate in this context.
In addition to topics related to foreign policy and international relations, in which Slovak disinformers of various opinion directions most often express their anti-Western and pro-Russian positions, current domestic issues also appear in their focus.
Over the last two years, there have been two popular topical «evergreens»: the first is the anti-corruption revolution, announced by the new government after the 2020 parliamentary elections, and the second is the COVID19 pandemic.
Even when working with these two domestic topics, the authors of disinformation-conspiracy «comments» and «analyzes» did not hide their anti-Western and pro-Kremlin settings.
Disinformation and the fight against corruption
The issue of state cleansing from corruption after March 2020 significantly polarizes Slovak society, although logically, on the contrary, it should unite the population, as it is in general public interest to ensure the rule of law and to reduce corruption. In the previous two terms, when the main government force was the Smer-SD party led by Prime Minister Robert Fico, an anti-American and pro-Russian politician, now one of the leaders of the Slovak disinformation scene, corruption penetrated many public administration institutions, including ministries and top police, prosecutors’ offices and courts. Attempts to combat corrupt practices have made honest police officers and officials losing their jobs, and investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová even paid for such a fight with their own lives when they were murdered in their house in 2018.
After the elections in 2020, the new ruling coalition, composed of pro-Western parties, ideological opponents of Smer-SD, began the process of cleansing society and restoring the rule of law. Dozens of leading police officials, prosecutors, judges, high-ranking government officials and businessmen have become the suspects in investigation of bribery scandals and abuse of office, many were accused, detained, some have already been convicted. The confessions made by some of them as part of the investigation were literally breathtaking, served as a testament to how deep the organized crime penetrated the state apparatus. In many cases, the accused were not only political nominees of the former government party Smer-SD, but also personal friends of Robert Fico. In an effort to avert the danger of prosecution from himself, he called the investigation of corruption cases politically motivated purges and repressions, revenge of the new government against its predecessor. Fico called government officials and police officers, accused and convicted of committing corruption crimes, new «political prisoners».
In this conflict, the entire disinformation-conspiracy scene clearly sided with corrupt officials and police officers, taking over the arguments of the former Prime Minister Fico. The attitudes of the authors of disinformation «reports» and conspiracy theories were not at all surprising. According to them, the current democratic system was imposed on Slovakia by the West after 1989. They claimed that the political change after the 2020 elections was the result of a Western conspiracy, its spectacular background was supposed to serve the assassination of Ján Kuciak, staged by «anti-national forces» to discredit the patriotic government with Robert Fico.
The second long-playing topic on the Slovak disinformation scene is the COVID19 pandemic. This is where the local anti-vaccination movement came into the game. This movement began about ten years ago in response to dubious «scientific» publications about the alleged harmfulness of vaccination against childhood infections, however, by the end of the second decade of the 21st century, this movement had gradually weakened and nearly disappeared.
The coronavirus pandemic breathed new life into obscure anti-vax groupings and platforms, giving them a much stronger political charge, as the entire parliamentary opposition passed to anti-vax positions in Slovakia – from the fascists from the ĽSNS and the Republika through the corruption-long-infected Smer-SD up to the splinters from this «soc-dem» party, which are today associated in its own «soc-dem» party Hlas-SD («Voice – Social Democracy»), led by former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini. It is more a matter of personal freedom than the fight against COVID vaccination among all mentioned Slovak opposition leaders. The leader of the fascists, Marian Kotleba, has already been sentenced to 4 years and 4 months for spreading legally prohibited hate speeches and is awaiting now a decision by the appellate court. Robert Fico found himself at a dangerously close distance from the accused and convicted comrades, he is now only one step away from them in the investigation. Peter Pellegrini is suspected of accepting a bribe of 150,000 euros for «managing» a government project with one private IT company.
As part of its own «fight» against COVID, the Slovak disinformation scene uses much of its anti-Western arsenal. These include «theories» about COVID as a tool of global Western powers to rule the world, and narratives that COVID is a fabrication, a hoax that is deliberately spread to disorient and subjugate the population, that pandemic is a logical product of globalization. According to them, the vaccination process is only a logical continuation of efforts to subdue the population, this time with the help of pharmaceutical companies and their sponsors (Western banks, corporations, governments).
Slovak disinformers are spreading «guaranteed» reports that COVID actually originated in the USA, that it is an «American biological weapon» directed against China and other countries opposing to America. An important part of the politically motivated disinformation narratives about COVID are reports about the alleged successes of authoritarian states – especially China and Russia – in the fight against COVID, about their effective assistance to other countries of the world. The basic message of such contributions is clear: the pandemic allegedly has revealed that the liberal West was totally failing, unable to take proper care of its own people, or helping others, however with effective and friendly China and Russia, coming on the scene, which now have a future.
Russia’s geopolitical games in the Slovak disinformation mirror
At the end of 2021, Slovak disinformers received a large portion of Russian geopolitical «initiatives» for their further «processing». There is monthlies-lasting-relocation of Russian military equipment and personnel to Russia’s border with Ukraine, a Kremlin blackmail game with energy supplies to Europe, and absurd ultimatums addressed to the US and NATO with demands to ensure Russia’s security in a way that would be leading de facto to the disintegration and demise of the North Atlantic Alliance. During this period, the Kremlin rulers (Vladimir Putin, Dmitriy Medvedev) continued to promote their obscure concepts of a unified Russian-Ukrainian nation with the aim of preventing, undermining and destroying the development of independent democratic Ukrainian statehood.
Exactly in accordance with the Moscow propaganda rules, the Slovak pro-Kremlin authors searched for the culprits of conflict situations exclusively in the West. The West, not Russia, has caused the crisis by its environmental, energy and pricing policies, by refusing to launch the North Stream 2 pipeline. It is Russia that has legitimate interests that the West does not want to respect. It is Russia that seeks peace with Ukraine, which, on the other hand, refuses to honor the agreements reached, and is waging war against its own nation being in full control of America. According to Slovak pro-Kremlin authors, Russia is only defending itself, never attacking, never starting any wars.
A special topic that provoked great enthusiasm among Slovak pro-Russian trolls is the production of new Russian types of weapons. Here, their notorious pacifism, directed against the alleged Western militarism, recedes and enthusiasm for Russia defeating the West comes to the fore. With undisguised joy, the pro-Kremlin trolls present the technical characteristics of real or supposed (no one knows exactly how it is in reality) new Russian missiles, rockets, canons, tanks, they eagerly multiply what Russian propaganda channels publicize.
The Kremlin’s «fifth column» has been working at full speed in Slovakia for quite a long time, apparently not fully realizing that if the alleged remarkable characteristics of Russian weapons were to be confirmed, it would not be safe from the fatal consequences of their use. The paradox is that Kremlin’s devoted agents are protected against the Kremlin’s aggression only by defense potential of NATO, of which Slovakia is a part and which they hate so strongly.
This article is published as part of the Prospect Foundation project «New Propaganda and Disinformation Challenges for Visegrad/EaP states in the Changing Environment» managed by iSANS and supported through grants from the International Visegrad Fund.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Словацкая дезинформационная сцена в конце 2021 года