Attacks against mainstream media dominate Slovak information space, military aid to Ukraine is still a prevalent topic
Infosecurity.sk presents an overview of disinformation trends that have been on the rise in information space in the past two weeks:
- Disinformers are spreading allegations of corruption in the mainstream media, as well as accusing them of ignoring “important issues” and censorship.
- The war in Ukraine is still a popular topic among disinformation actors in Slovak information space. The main narratives include alleged widespread corruption in Western countries and calling for “peace” from supporters of Russia.
- The decision of the Slovak government to donate MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian armed forces has also been a prevalent topic of many dubious actors, who are utilizing it to advance their own political agenda.
Mainstream media as the main enemy
In the last two weeks, many political actors used every tool at their disposal to try to discredit mainstream media and doubt their objectivity. Among the most prominent actors are the anti-system SMER-SD party and its chairman Robert Fico, who has been actively speaking out against the media in the hopes of gaining more votes for the upcoming election.
On his Facebook page, Fico posted a clip from an interview and in the caption, he says: “Slovakia is struggling with expensive energy, rising food prices, unaffordable housing due to expensive mortgages, towns and cities are without money for basic services for their inhabitants, but journalists are only interested in Ukraine and themselves. The media have taken the unfortunate route of pushing only one truth.” Such a statement can be classified as a typical case of confirmation bias, a tactic of purposefully cherry-picking those aspects of a complex topic that fit a certain argument while ignoring those that refute it. Fico is essentially continuing a long-standing rhetoric that undermines support for Ukraine through manipulative comparisons to other issues that fit his narrative.
He pushes the same narrative in another post: “We will not be silenced just because our different opinion does not suit the mainstream media. War propaganda and the reckless covering up of Slovakia's problems with alternative topics will not evaporate the concerns of ordinary people.” Through this rhetoric, he tries to paint a picture of mainstream media not caring about the issues of ordinary citizens, only about Ukrainians, which is highly misleading.
In one post, Fico goes as far as to claim that the mainstream media are corrupted and only support certain political figures. He also states that the media are lying to the public, which is nothing but a baseless conspiracy theory for which he provides no evidence. Particularly in the context of Ukraine, it has become common for disinformers to spread the narrative that the mainstream media are lying about the situation in Ukraine, or that they favour politicians who publicly support Kyiv.
Milan Mazurek, a member of the far-right Republika party, also participated in the discussion. In a video which he posted on his Facebook page, Mazurek states that “if you obey and follow the agenda of the system, you are protected like a porcelain doll. If you criticize the system and the corrupt government, they will let you suffer”. By this, he is once again trying to turn the public against the media while simultaneously creating a narrative of reporters being more protected by the state than ordinary citizens, which is completely unsubstantiated.
The West is corrupted and fabricates information, according to disinformers
In the context of the war in Ukraine, perhaps one of the most prominent narratives promoted by disinformation actors is that Western countries are facing corruption and are deliberately lying to their citizens. A similar narrative has long been propagated in relation to the European Union and NATO.
Milan Uhrík, a MEP and also a member of far right the Republika party well-known for criticising the European Union, shared his interview with disinformation media Hlavné Správy and in the caption, he says: “Western leaders lied about not expanding NATO, they lied about the Minsk agreements, they lied about Iraq. Who believes them anymore?” He also suggests that Slovakia should not only look for its partners in the West, but also to the East, clearly expressing his pro-Russian and anti-Western stance. In another similar post, he accuses Western politicians of trying to “split up” the cooperation of Visegrad’s four countries, citing fear of resistance as the main reason.
In addition, Robert Fico shared a recent speech of former US president Donald Trump, in which he criticises the current Biden administration and calls them “warmongers” and “deep state”. Fico uses this as evidence of the corruption in the USA and blames mainstream Slovak media for not reporting about these issues, even though there exists no evidence of them being true. In this case, Trump is being used as a false authority by Fico, while he is completely ignoring the fact that the former US president is also following his own political agenda.
“Marches for peace” and accusations of warmongering
In the past few weeks, many pro-Russian supporters took to the streets to protest, according to them, against the “warmongers” in the Slovak government. In countless videos shared from the protests, many protesters can be seen waving the Russian flag, holding signs with anti-Ukrainian phrases or chanting pro-Russian slogans. Even though the protests have been officially dubbed “Pochody za mier” (“Marches for peace”), the overall sentiment is the one of Russia being the desired victor of the war. Their call for peace can be considered false, due to the fact that they do not aim at the withdrawal of Russian troops and the liberation of occupied territories, but the surrender of Ukraine.
Many disinformers and dubious political actors took part in the marches and shared their experiences on social media. Milan Uhrík posted a photo from one of the protests and wrote: “Slovaks showed today in Bratislava that they are fed up with the warmongering war policy of Heger (Slovak Prime Minister) and Naď (Slovak Minister of Defence)!” Chairman of the far-right Kotlebovci-ĽSNS party Marian Kotleba also posted a similar video from the same protest and using expressive rhetoric accused mainstream media of not reporting about it: “Roughly 15 thousand people came to Bratislava. However, the biggest mainstream media did not write a single letter about this big event. However, when 5 liberals or some creep in a skirt comes to protest somewhere, it is immediately all over the news.”
Videos from the marches were posted by other dubious actors such as Erik Kaliňák, a member of the SMER-SD party, or disinformation page Armáda Ruskej federácie (“Army of the Russian Federation”). Finally, it is important to state that the marches are a clear confirmation of the mobilising potential of the topic of the war in Ukraine, especially in the pre-election period.
The Slovak government wants to send fighter jets to Ukraine, but disinformers protest
At a summit in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky personally asked Slovak interim Prime Minister Eduard Heger to deliver old MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Heger said the Slovak government would do its utmost to comply with the request. The jets could be handed over to Ukraine through an exchange for another system or reimbursed from the European Peace Facility, according to the Minister of Defence Jaroslav Naď. Ever since politicians and the public were informed about the possibility of delivering these aircraft to Ukraine, a large number of actors have expressed their strong disagreement.
Andrej Danko, a leader of the nationalist right-wing political party Slovenská národná strana (Slovak National Party), posted one of his interviews on his Facebook page and in the caption criticised the decision by stating the following: “It is important to remember that 60 % of our electricity comes from nuclear and atomic power plants. If the Russians were to start a war with us, we would have to part with 60 % of our energy overnight. Why are we, the little states, going to beat our chests?” By stating this, he pushes the narrative of our inherent dependence on Russia and non-existent autonomy when it comes to energy sources, which is nearly not as fatal as he portrays it to be.
Well-known disinformation media such as Informácie bez cenzúry (“Information without censorship”) and InfoVojna (“InfoWar”) have also been criticising the Slovak government for negotiating the aircraft delivery. While Informácie bez cenzúry re-shared the aforementioned Andrej Danko interview, InfoVojna attacked the President Zuzana Čaputová for agreeing with the steps taken by the government and accused her of warmongering: “Čaputová agrees to donate MiG-29 fighter jets to the criminal regime in Kyiv. With her position, the President of the Slovak Republic continues to escalate military tensions and polarise Slovak society, which is in favour of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine.” President Zuzana Čaputová has long been one of the most frequent targets of pro-Kremlin actors.
MiG-29s and disinformers
Since the situation surrounding the MiG-29 jets donation to Ukraine was one of the biggest topics in Slovak information space in the past two weeks, we also looked at it through an optic of a list of disinformation actors in Slovakia. We used the CrowdTangle analysis tool to analyse the most popular posts on Slovak Facebook that include the keywords “MiG-29“ and “stíhačky“ (“fighter jets“). Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).
The first place belongs to Milan Uhrík, who posted a video criticising the decision of the Slovak government to donate the MiG-29 jets to Ukraine and misleading the public in the process. In the video, he said that “handing these jets over to Ukraine would not only effectively drag Slovakia into the war, but would also mean the definitive disarmament of the Slovak armed forces.” The video also presents the idea that this kind of aid to Ukraine is nothing more than a way to pander to the West. In reality, the donation would only be a continuation of the military aid that Slovakia and countless other countries have already provided, not an act of war as Uhrík presents. The statement about “definitive disarmament” is also baseless, since the MiG-29s in question had already been grounded for months, they play no role in protecting the airspace of Slovakia and the armed forces do not have enough pilots to fly them.
The second place belongs to Eduard Chmelár. In a lengthy post, he talks about the Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová and her declared support for the donation. He says that she could express her disagreement with handing the MiG-29s to Ukraine, “but she is afraid to do so because she has received quite different notes from abroad”. By this, he tries to sow doubt about the independence of the President’s decisions. This kind of rhetoric also fits into a broader false narrative about Slovak politicians being “agents of the West”, which is typically spread by disinformation actors.
The third post belongs to Ladislav Kamenický, a member of the SMER-SD party. He calls the rhetoric of Minister Naď “militant” and states that the donation of the MiG-29 jets is dangerous for Slovakia and its citizens.
Milan Mazurek shared a video of his fellow party member Miroslav Suja. He tries to convince the public that the government is purposefully misleading about the state of the grounded fighter jets. The video has since accumulated over 125 thousand views so far.
In another post, Mazurek states that not only is the Slovak government not eligible to provide this kind of aid to Ukraine but also that the country is “not in any official pact with us, so we have no legitimate obligations towards it”. By this, he completely omits the fact that even though we have no legal obligation to provide Ukraine with military supplies, it is our moral and strategic right and obligation as a neighbouring country as well as a part of the international community.
Project Infosecurity.sk organized by Adapt Institute, which is supported by the Prague office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, continuously monitors the activities of both Slovak and foreign disinformation actors, but focuses mainly on the former. The project activities are built upon daily monitoring of emerging disinformation, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories in the online information space. This approach allows the analysts to identify disinformation posts and narratives that resonated with the public the most, as well as to find out where they originated, and how they spread and evolved on social media. The report takes the form of a bi-weekly summary of arising trends in the spread of malicious information content online. Based on that, Infosecurity.sk can warn the public about emerging and current trends in the field of disinformation, manipulation, and propaganda.