Despite some concerns, Slovakia’s first ever presidency of the Council of the European Union has not resulted in more action to counter pro-Russian propaganda activities. By contrast, the spread of disinformation has become more apparent since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has appeared to reignite over recent weeks, says teacher and activist Juraj Smatana. He previously compiled a list of more than 40 Slovak- and Czech-language websites promoting pro-Russian sentiments.
In an interview with The Slovak Spectator, Smatana also commented on activities aimed at exposing such propaganda websites and the strategies used by state authorities.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): You have been monitoring the activities concerning the spread of Russian propaganda on the internet in Slovakia for a long time. Has the approach of the people who spread it changed? Do they use new strategies that were not visible, let’s say, a year ago?
Juraj Smatana (JS): Human psyche changes very slowly so the basic tricks of propaganda and manipulation have been very similar for whole centuries. Only the technologies and narratives change.
Rather, Slovakia has witnessed a realignment of forces. Since their activities were named, some of them have been “dug out” (e.g. the visit of Tibor Eliot Rostas to Moscow, the publishing of a record from the visit of Zem a Vek magazine’s reporters to the Russian embassy to ask for support). The importance of Slobodný Vysielač and Zem a Vek decreased, while the IN TV television station was removed from the programming of the Skylink operator as it did not fulfil its obligations. The influence of the Hlavné Správy website, which produces the highest number of materials, on the other hand grew, while the other groups have changed into sharers and commentators of Hlavné Správy’s content on Facebook. A sociological survey proved there is a strong connection between the voters for extremist parties and these websites.
The narratives remain the same: the corrupt, lame-duck West and fascist Ukraine want again to attack the strong and resource-rich Russia, run by the great leader [Vladimir] Putin; Slovakia is seriously threatened by decay from the West (homosexuality, immigrants, terrorists) which may be prevented only by leaving western structures; it is important to abolish sanctions against Russia. As these claims are in stark contrast to reality, the supporters of these opinions have become closer, which draws more distinct borders between them and other people.
TSS: Have activities such as the launch of the Konspiratori.sk website or the ownership structure of Hlavné Správy being revealed by Czech website Hlídací Pes, had any impact on the spread of Russian propaganda?
JS: The project Konspiratori.sk currently covers 83 Czech and Slovak websites that spread hoaxes, disinformation and propaganda. Most of them have anonymous administrators and none of these websites publishes the number of visitors or their income from advertisements, so the impact of the project can only be judged from the number of participating agencies (26 at the moment) and changes in the structure of the ads on the most monitored websites.
How has the restored conflict between Ukraine and Russia impacted propaganda-related activities? Are activities of Slovak state authorities targeting propaganda sufficient?
30. Aug 2016 at 16:17 | Radka Minarechová