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Hoaxes ascend to mainstream politics

False claims frequently target minorities.

Roma people are a common target of conspiracy theories.(Source: Ingrid Ďurinová)

It takes around 10 seconds to learn how much Slovakia spends on social welfare. To check if it is true that the Spanish football club Real Madrid removed the cross from its emblem due to Muslims takes even less.

Despite fact checking has never been easier, politicians and public figures cite an increasing number of hoaxes during political debates and press conferences. Most of them target specific minorities. Besides the far-right party of Marian Kotleba, also Prime Minister Robert Fico, opposition MP Boris Kollár and police chief Tibor Gašpar have been spreading incorrect information about Roma, Muslims or migrants since the beginning of 2017.

Claiming to be fighting against political correctness, Fico calls Roma by their vulgar name Gypsy and describes them as a burden on the social system. Gašpar says that the migration crisis is orchestrated by the west and to support his claims he cited an incorrect crime rate in Vienna.

Kollár, in mid-January, recycled the well-known myth about unfairly high pensions for Roma. Additionally, people from Kotleba’s party say that vaccination causes autism, ignoring numerous studies that disprove such claims.

Read also: Read also:The Sme daily starts a hunt for hoaxes

The spreading of myths and conspiracy theories to the mainstream is a dangerous effort of politicians to get more voters, according to activist and teacher Juraj Smatana who for years has been monitoring conspiracy websites.

“If political rhetoric becomes too different from the reality we will discuss marginal or non-existent problems instead of solving the real ones,” Smatana told The Slovak Spectator. “This cannot end well.”

Fico and Roma

In January 2017, Fico resurrected his anti-Roma rhetoric from the year 2000 and promised to take steps against people that are abusing the social welfare system.

“We have a group of people here, and I’m not only talking about Gypsies, that doesn’t want to work, abuses the social system and what is more they annoy people living close to them,” Fico said during a political debate on the private TA3 broadcaster. “We will take steps against people who are drying up this state.”

The word Gypsy is not the original name for Roma, regardless if some of them are not offended by it. Europeans gave them this name after Roma arrived on the continent from India thinking that the nomadic people were descendants of Egyptians. Therefore, the Greeks called them Gypthoi, in Spain they were known as Egyptianos and eventually Gitanos, and the British called them Egyptions which later changed to Gypsies, according to a study by William A. Duna who is a member of the International Roma Union.

In Slovakia, the word Gypsy has the vulgar meaning of “liar”. Fico claims that he wants to fight against political correctness, but in reality, he is just vulgar, according to political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov.

“Calling a certain ethnic group names is not refusal of political correctness, it is misbehaviour,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

At the same time, it is not correct to say that state coffers are drained by contributions to material need recipients. Those people received €216 million in 2016 which was around 1.5 percent of the Slovak government's expenses.

If the government collected unpaid taxes on oil and petrol amounting to €234 million, it would be able to cover all contribution expenses.

When it comes to contributions for parents, around 17 percent totalling €57 million went to Roma in 2012. In the case of contributions for children, around 160,000 Roma children in 2012 received contributions amounting to €44 million, according to a 2014 study by the Iness NGO.

Drawing a false picture of the Slovak welfare system and 400,000 Roma living in Slovakia will turn against Fico, according to Smatana.

“The prime minister helps extremists because he supports their theory that several thousand of the poorest people are the biggest problem in Slovakia,” Smatana said.

Read also: Read also:Without passion for truth we will enter a dark era

Facebook activities

Boris Kollár has also been targeting Roma in his recent statements. He claims that he receives letters from people complaining that lifelong unemployed Roma have higher pensions than hard-working people from the majority.

In fact, a resident has to work at least 15 years in order to be eligible for a pension. Theoretically, it is possible that a woman who has never had a job but was raising children younger than seven years old for 15 years will be eligible for a pension, according to the demagog.sk team, which does fact checking of political statements.

in addition, Roma do not receive an excessive number of disability pensions, according to the Institute of Financial Politics at the Finance Ministry. The Institute points to regions with huge Roma communities that do not receive a disproportionate amount of such contributions.

As Kotleba’s people do, Kollár also uses hoaxes targeted at a specific group of people,” Mesežnikov said. “In this case he is the same politician as Trump.”

Kollár claims that he spends several hours per day on Facebook. His page is known for spreading unconfirmed or false reports.

For example, he shared a video in September 2015 depicting a man who attacked a woman with a knife. The caption said that he was a Muslim who attacked his ex-girlfriend according to Sharia law. In fact, the video showed a non-Muslim man with a mental disorder.

In summer 2016, he shared a picture of an obscene parade float depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel being squeezed from the backside of Uncle Sam. The caption said that this was how Czechs welcomed Angela Merkel during her official visit to the country. In fact, that parade took place in Germany in March 2003 and was a protest against German participation in the Iraq war.

Fact-checking a police chief

Tibor Gašpar in January publicly joined the ranks of conspiracy theorists when he signed a press release of the Informal Economic Forum - Economic Club civic organisation. The press release contains hoaxes such as the migration crisis being organised by the west and the media.

The police chief refused to comment on it for several days. Later, during a press conference he claimed that he just wanted to point out an urgent issue and used misleading statistics in his argument.

“When we take a look at Vienna, which is 70 kilometres from Bratislava, it was stated that migrants have committed 22,000 crimes and that there is a very bad security situation,” Gašpar told the press.

That number, however, is the total number of crimes committed in all of Austria.

Gašpar was not forced to step down from the post because society is not sensitive to such claims, according to Smatana.

“In a normal country he would have to leave under the pressure from the public and politicians,” Smatana said.

German police statistics also bust the myth about migrants’ criminality. Foreigners, including migrants, account for 10 percent of the population in Germany. These 10 percent committed only six percent of all crimes in Germany and 5 percent of all sexual crimes in 2015.

The press release signed by Gašpar also suggested that migrants have been travelling to Europe because of Angela Merkel's decisions. Also former head of the Party of Hungarian Community József Berényi made similar claims before the March 2016 elections.

“She was actively luring migrants at the beginning of the previous year [2015] and was taking pictures with them,” Berényi said in January 2016.

In fact, the number of registered Syrian refugees started declining a few weeks after Germany stated that it would accept all Syrian asylum seekers.

The number of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe per month was constantly increasing until September 2015 when around 62,000 Syrians came to Europe. It means that after Merkel’s notorious statement “We can handle this” a few weeks passed and the number of Syrian refugees per month started to decline.

Mazurek and Islam

Milan Mazurek of the far-right party has also used false criminal statistics to back his claims about Muslims. When he was supposed to apologise for his anti-Muslim statements he instead claimed that Islam causes dozens of deaths per day in Europe.

In the European Union, Islamic terrorists in fact have been convicted of killing 151 people, according to the latest data. If Mazurek wanted to be correct, he would have to say that Islamic terrorists are responsible for less than 0.5 victim per day. For comparison, the heat wave in 2003 killed 315 people in Paris alone, according to an Oxford University study.

It is true that there have been several terrorist attacks in Europe in recent months. However, the past 15 years have been the statistically safest since 1970 in terms of terrorism.

Mazurek also spread a popular myth that Spanish football club Real Madrid removed the cross from its emblem due to a Muslim ban. However, the club’s emblem does not contain the cross only on clothes which are sold to six countries in the middle east.

In the past, Real Madrid removed the cross from the emblem when the club’s sponsor Abu Dhabi National Bank used it.

Additionally, Kotleba’s MPs submitted in January a legislative amendment which would make vaccination voluntary. They argued that vaccination is risky and it could cause autism. This assertion has been debunked by numerous studies.

These initiatives show how great the damages this party could cause are if it was part of the ruling coalition, according to Mesežnikov.

“This is a toxic political force battling democracy and common sense,” Mesežnikov said.

Topic: Hoax


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