The Russian embassy’s official account in Slovakia is a conspiracy theorist’s paradise.
Their Fb web page has amassed round 5,000 posts in only one 12 months, that includes a variety of content material from the weird and broadly debunked idea that the US is controlling the unfold of COVID-19 by way of worldwide biolabs; to posts selling vacationer locations in Russia, and even calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offensive names.
The Beacon Venture, an initiative by the Worldwide Republican Institute that tracks disinformation actions of Chinese language and Russian embassies in Europe, has dubbed the account essentially the most virulent diplomatic social media presence in Europe on the subject of undermining the Ukrainian struggle effort.
What’s much more regarding is that the embassy might be reacting to in style demand, as Slovaks rank among the many highest within the EU on the subject of pro-Russian stances.
“Loads of narratives concerning the decadent West and liberal democracy being a menace to our identification and tradition resonate amongst Slovaks. Slovaks are additionally liable to believing numerous conspiracy theories, and with Bulgaria we’re leaders within the EU on the subject of ascribing to Russian narratives,” says Katarína Klingová, a senior researcher on the Bratislava-based Globsec think-thank.
In 2020, Globsec performed a ballot on the Slovak public’s reactions to pro-Kremlin narratives and located that 78% of the general public within the nation believed they had been conventional Slavic brothers with Russians, whereas seeing Russia as a key political and navy pressure on the continent.
“The Russian embassy could be very lively each on-line and offline, particularly at anniversaries of historic occasions – finish of WWII, Slovak Nationwide Rebellion, the place they actively cooperate with the veterans, and organise commemoration occasions reminding Slovak of how Russia helped Slovakia in its historical past,” explains Klingová.
Moscow’s good boys
Unbiased native information outlet Dennik N secured video footage of pro-Russian journalists being co-opted by workers of the Russian embassy in Bratislava after the invasion of Ukraine final 12 months and paid to advertise Kremlin speaking factors.
Within the video, Sergey Solomasov, the deputy navy attaché on the embassy, is recorded telling a journalist working for Hlavné správy – a conservative Slovak paper that usually runs pro-Russian articles – to focus on particular folks within the nation for its disinformation efforts.
The scene just isn’t in contrast to related ones featured in Russia-themed spy films. The 2 males are seen strolling by way of a seemingly empty forest, with Solomasov casually smoking a cigarette as he provides out his orders and the journalist nodding away.
“I instructed Moscow that you’re a good boy… Moscow determined that you may be looking two classes of individuals. First, the folks [in Slovakia] who you already know love Russia, who need to cooperate, who need cash and who’ve confidential data.”
The second group Solomasov desires him to focus on are people who find themselves on the fence about supporting Russia, and tells him to take them to sporting occasions or to eating places.
Klingová explains that whereas three Russian diplomats had been expelled from the nation after the incident, the Hlavné správy journalist is just one piece in a large community of disinformation sources.
There are estimated to be 253 disinformation-peddling and largely pro-Kremlin shops within the nation, and greater than 1800 Fb pages and open teams sharing pro-Russian propaganda.
“Professional-Kremlin narratives are additionally voiced by many home political leaders and events, and a few public representatives together with the Prosecutor Normal of the Slovak Republic [Maroš Žilinka],” Klingová stated highlighting that home politicians must also be blamed for this.
Slovakia is slated to carry elections later this 12 months, and a few political leaders have already began parroting rhetoric much like that of Russian politicians equivalent to speaking factors selling an anti-LGBT agenda.
Professional-Putin peace marches
What’s much more puzzling when it comes public attitudes in Slovakia is the truth that a big a part of the federal government at present in energy and the president are fiercely supportive of Ukraine.
“The federal government is totally in keeping with the remainder of the EU and even perhaps extra proactive than different international locations, and our President Zuzana Čaputová is among the staunchest supporters of Ukraine,” stated Grigorij Mesežnikov, the president of the Institute of Public Affairs in Bratislava.
In sharp distinction to this, some residents have been holding what they name “peace marches” or protests calling for a right away finish to the struggle and arms deliveries, and chant “Putin is our president, Putin is our hero!” at these occasions.
“I believe they’ve someway picked out Slovakia because the weakest within the chain of central European international locations, the place the situations are essentially the most beneficial for spreading their propaganda,” stated Mesežnikov.
Why the love for Russia?
Most individuals would lump Slovakia in with the remainder of central Europe, the place criticism of Russia and its coverage is excessive – primarily because of the expertise of twentieth century wars and subsequent communist rule.
“Slovakia has deviated from different Central European international locations on the subject of perceptions of Russia and public attitudes on the subject of the invasion of Ukraine,” explains Mesežnikov.
This isn’t merely a query of public attitudes, he insists, as a result of Slovakia performs an necessary position in NATO safety chain alongside Ukraine’s borders. Simply final Friday, Slovakia delivered 3 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian air pressure – which is essential since Ukrainian fighters are educated to fly these planes.
If figures like former PM Robert Fico, who’s in opposition to arms deliveries and sometimes parrots pro-Russian concepts, get re-elected on the finish of the 12 months, this might significantly disrupt NATO’s plans for weapons deliveries.
In response to Mesežnikov, “the brokers of Russian affect in Slovakia should not marginal politicians or insignificant voices. A number of the most distinguished politicians in Slovakia, equivalent to the previous speaker of parliament, are essentially the most virulent supporters of Russia and Putin’s actions.”
He additionally warns that the indicators of this undercurrent of blind Russian assist has been current in public discourse within the nation for hundreds of years.
Going again to even perhaps the nineteenth century, Slovak leaders “dreamt about Russia because the protector of Slovakia and of all Slavic nations, particularly the smaller ones. I believe these notions had been mistaken on the time and proceed to be, however they’ve sadly been inherited over many generations,” he explains.
“Sadly, all of that is unhealthy for Slovak democracy. This rhetoric and these beliefs pull the nation away from common values and extra in direction of insular values and ethnic politics,” concludes Mesežnikov.