Zelensky, Bucha and a little political miracle on the Danube 

Zelensky, Bucha and a little political miracle on the Danube
Photo: Unsplash / Markus Winkler

Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine saw a response in Slovakia that was as expected and confirmed that the sowing of seeds over time by Kremlin propaganda in the local political soil was not conducted in vain. They sprouted their poisonous seedlings on different plots, revealing a hitherto unknown potential in Slovak society for understanding and sympathy accompanied by a desire to assist, to not leave this victim in trouble while providing refuge and, most importantly, aiding in fighting off a crazed and bloodthirsty Mordor.

A small miracle on the Danube

Those who have been following the developments in Bratislava over the past three months speak about a small miracle on the Danube flowing through the capital of Slovakia. Of course, in comparison with the global miracle observed today in Ukraine, which is fighting and not surrendering to the enemy, this small Slovak miracle is hardly noticeable, but it has the potential to become the beginning of a turning point in the perception by residents of the external conditions of the survival of their country. The Kremlin’s war with neighboring Ukraine (which is also a neighbor of Slovakia) has continued for almost 110 days, but support for their eastern neighbor fighting against a ruthless aggressor, both from the Slovak government and from a significant part of the Slovak population, not only has not weakened, but, on the contrary, has intensified and continues to strengthen.

According to recently published statistics, among countries helping Ukraine, Slovakia ranks 8th (per capita). From the very beginning of the Russian aggression, Slovakia has been supporting Ukraine with everything it has – morally, politically, diplomatically, through the provision of humanitarian assistance, taking in and providing accommodation for a significant number of Ukrainian refugees, and, most importantly, through the supply of heavy weapons necessary for the Ukrainian army (S-300 anti-aircraft system, Zuzana self-propelled howitzers, and modernized T-72 tanks). The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger, after the lifting of the Russian siege, visited Kyiv together with the President of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen, also visited Bucha, which made an indelible impression on him. Speaking recently at the international economic forum in Davos, the Slovak prime minister suggested that if the Russian aggressor succeeds in defeating Ukraine, Slovakia will inevitably become its next victim. Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová also visited Kyiv, examined the ruins of Borodianka and speaking to a standing ovation in the Verkhovna Rada, promised the deputies that Slovakia would help Ukraine and Ukrainians for as long as they needed assistance. Working in tandem, Slovaks Ivan Korčok (Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Jaroslav Naď (Minister of Defense) are considered leaders of the EU and NATO among the staunchest supporters of full-scale support for Ukraine in repelling Russian aggression.

Surprising in its depth, compared to previous years, Slovakia’s determination to support Ukraine is directly related to changes in the country’s political life that occurred after the 2020 parliamentary elections and seriously strengthened the pro-Western course in the government’s foreign and defense policies.

Politicians passing the baton

Following the Russian attack on Ukraine, Slovakia expelled 38 employees of the Russian Embassy from the country. Law enforcement agencies uncovered a spy network involving local residents, primarily current and retired law enforcement officers. The Slovak Parliament approved an amendment allowing the National Security Office (NBÚ) to shut down four pro-Russian disinformation websites that served as the main conduits of Russian propaganda influence (Hlavné správy, Armádny magazín, Hlavný denník, and Infovojna).

Slovakia is the only one among Visegrad countries that does not have a variety of Russian propaganda media in the local (i.e., Slovak) language like Sputnik or RT. Their function has essentially been taken over by an ecosystem of local pro-Russian online resources in the Slovak language, funded through unknown sources, which mainly distribute stories gleaned from the Russian media space, including those from “garbage” propaganda platforms.

After the closure of the four main mouthpieces of this motley online company, the baton was seized by opposition politicians standing at the head of the local pro-Russian propaganda community. Several months ago, the spotlight was on their active participation in an attempt (fortunately, unsuccessful) to derail the ratification of the Slovak-American agreement on defense cooperation. Now, following the aggression unleashed by Russia against Ukraine, their main goal is to sow doubt among Slovaks about the causes of the Russian-Ukrainian war, weaken Slovak state support of Ukraine, arouse Slovak hostility towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, whitewash the Kremlin’s actions, assist Russia in overcoming the negative consequences of sanctions imposed by the West, prevent the strengthening of EU sanctions, and, if possible, to weaken them, etc.

Russian lies about Bucha in Slovak

The leader of the pro-Russian information and propaganda lobby is now former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. There is one important element in this. For some time now, Fico has been the main defendant and suspect in a high-profile case of corruption in the upper echelons of government. This corruption occurred during the time his “social democratic” party Smer (Direction) was in power. For Fico today, any agenda that provides an opportunity to forcefully confront the government – anti-COVID policy, investigating corruption schemes, defense cooperation with the U.S., or supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression – is a welcome opportunity to present himself as a “dissident” or a kind of victim of political persecution, thereby generating additional sympathy among likely voters.

In this he is undoubtedly helped by the germinating shoots of poisonous seeds planted by the Kremlin propaganda machine in Central Europe after 2014. Narratives regarding a friendly Russia, the eternal ally of the Slavic states, about the predatory West that is seeking to devour the small peoples of Central Europe, about the aggressive NATO bloc that surrounds Russia from all sides, about the insidious U.S. waging war against Russia in Ukraine through Ukrainian minions – all this is to some extent reflected in positions expressed by Fico.

It is significant that for the duration of the ongoing war, Fico has not said a word about the victims of the monstrous atrocities committed by the Russian army in Ukraine, which shocked the Slovak public.

Local pro-Russian agents attempted to strew Slovak social networks with false versions of the events in Bucha coming directly from Russia. According to a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), 7 of the 10 most common messages about the events in Bucha on Slovak Facebook contained pro-Kremlin versions of events, almost all of which were posted on Facebook pages known for their extremist, populist, and anti-government content.

Reports on events in Bucha containing pro-Kremlin narratives

Source: ISD, 2022.

Messages and comments published by serious Slovak media, including public and private television channels, however, did not allow pro-Russian trolls to convince the local public of the veracity of their outright lies regarding events in Bucha or about crimes in other Ukrainian cities and villages invaded by Russia.

«Zelensky is an enemy of Slovakia and… Ukraine»

To divert the attention of the Slovak public from crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine, Slovak pro-Russian activists decided to go on the offensive against Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

It is entirely possible that the personal hang-ups of the authors of the attacks made themselves felt here. The fact is that next to an energetic president of a neighboring power at war with an aggressor, a truly national leader with undisputed authority, they look unattractive, if not pathetic. But the main reason is most likely something else. It is because Zelensky symbolizes today what is unacceptable for these notorious individuals – the desire to live freely and with dignity, without submitting to the will of foreign dictators, with resolute resistance to aggressors if they decide to attack. Zelensky symbolizes the ability of today’s Ukrainians to stand tall on their feet, looking into the eyes of everyone, including the enemy, without shifting, crouching in fear, half-bent or kneeling while turning their eyes away from the aggressor.

Robert Fico refused to be present in the meeting room of the Slovak parliament on the day Zelensky addressed the Slovak people through a teleconference with Slovak deputies. Fico called the Ukrainian president a «comedian» and a «liar» who allegedly lies every day and harms the Slovakia’s interests. How does he harm Slovakia? By calling on the EU to immediately impose an oil and gas embargo against Russia, which, according to Fico, will create problems for the Slovak economy. «What values ​​is Zelensky talking about fighting for when fascists are fighting for Ukraine and to whom the Slovak government sends weapons? In recent years Ukrainians have been killing national minorities in the Donbass,» the former Slovak prime minister rhetorically exclaimed to reporters, leaving the parliament session room during Zelensky’s speech.

In attacks on the Ukrainian president, Ľuboš Blaha, a well-known pro-Russian political troll, decided to keep up with his Smer party boss, coming out with the following while looking like a holy fool: «Zelensky is a pure populist, a demagogue, and an irresponsible millionaire. He dragged his country into a war that could have been prevented. He promised the voters peace, but provoked bloodshed. Guaranteeing neutrality and sitting down with the Russians at the negotiating table is all it would have taken. Now he wants to drag the whole of Europe into the war. He insults us and threatens us. He is in the hands of American arms manufacturers and is sacrificing his entire people. I consider him a warmonger. Although he himself is Jewish, he did not stand up against rampant fascism in Ukraine. He considers it «cool» that Bandera, the Nazi mass murderer, is a hero to many Ukrainians. Today he is playing the part of a national hero, but in fact innocent Ukrainians are dying because of him. And he would like to see innocent Slovaks and Europeans die because of him. This cannot happen! He demands weapons from Slovakia. He wants us to give up Russian raw materials. He wants us to hate Russia. Zelensky is an irresponsible participant, and I do not have the slightest respect for him.»

Another Slovak leader, MEP Miroslav Radačovský, who was elected on the list of the fascist ĽSNS party, made what contribution he could to the «destruction» of Zelensky. (Later, however, he backtracked due to a refusal to pay a portion of the deputy salary to the party fund.) Radačovský, as a rule, repeats Russian propaganda cliches almost word for word and votes in the European Parliament exclusively in favor of the Kremlin. A friend of Viktor Medvedchuk, he could not forgive Zelensky for the detention of his darling during his attempt to escape abroad. According to Radačovský, what Volodymyr Zelensky did to his political opponent, allegedly the leader of Ukraine’s strongest opposition party, «is a brutish political move that even a political brute would not make.» Puffing out his chest in defense of a corrupt pro-Russian oligarch, Radačovský pointed his finger at Zelensky, stating that «now he [Zelensky] speaks Ukrainian and his name is Volodymyr. Volodymyr serves neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian people. He serves the global interests of powerful weapons companies and energy giants that back him with weapons, and he has nowhere to retreat to now… He does nothing but call for a holy war against Russia. That’s why he rid himself of his political opponent who sought a peaceful solution in favor of Ukraine.»

Not like Viktor Orban?

Speaking recently in Budapest at celebrations for another victory in the parliamentary elections, the leader of the Hungarian Fidesz party Viktor Orbán said that this time he defeated several political rivals at once in the elections – the local opposition, Brussels, George Soros, and… Vladimir Zelensky. The mention of Zelensky sounded odd, perhaps even stupid, but was nevertheless understandable to some extent. In the eyes of voters, it could even enhance the winner’s political weight.

Fico, Blaha, Radačovský, as well as some other Slovak politicians on a smaller scale are fighting today in absentia from behind the hill with Zelensky (who may not be aware of their existence at all) solely for Russia’s benefit, thereby seeking to assist the Kremlin in washing away crimes and atrocities committed by his army in the eyes of foreign observers, in this case Slovakia. However, the small miracle on the Danube written about at the beginning of this article continues. The washing away has not been particularly effective.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Зеленский, Буча и маленькое политическое чудо на Дунае