Why Russia is winning the information war in Slovakia

Fico only flirted with Russia until 2014. Why is pro-Russian rhetoric working so well for the current opposition?

Protest against NATO and the US in front of the Slovak Parliamentary building on February 2, 2022. (Source: Sme - Marko Erd)

Only eight years ago, up to 83 percent of people in Slovakia opposed Russia's aggression against Ukraine. They believed the fate of Ukraine should be decided by Ukrainians in elections and not by Russia and its military intervention in Crimea and Donbas.

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Now, the largest portion of the population, 44.1 percent, believes that the US and NATO are to blame for the tension in the east.

While the world waits to see what Russian President Vladimir Putin will do with the 130,000 Russian troops ready at the borders with Ukraine, Russia is already winning one conflict in Slovakia - the information war.

"In eight years, Russia's disinformation machinery has persuaded a significant part of the Slovak public that white is black and black is white," said Globsec think tank analyst Miroslava Sawiris.

The Slovak opposition now benefits from the influenced public opinion.

Mainly Smer of Robert Fico has returned to the top ranks in political popularity polls thanks to its rejection of the possible arrival of a symbolic number of NATO troops to Slovakia and of the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the US.

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Yet in the last decade, nobody contributed to tightening the relationship between Slovakia and NATO and particularly the US more than the previous Smer-led governments of Robert Fico and Peter Pellegrini, with the participation of the Slovak National Party (SNS) of Andrej Danko.

"It was their governments that bought the American Blackhawk helicopters, the F-16 fighter jets that we will be using for decades to come," said security analyst Daniel Milo who works for the Interior Ministry. "They were also the ones to start talks about the defence deal. They sent the Slovak troops to the Baltic region as part of a NATO mission. Their current pro-Russian stances are thus more of an act for the voters."

Related article Reversal of fortune: Robert Fico is on course to lead the most popular party again Read more 

The voters have been subjected to eight-years-long massive disinformation campaign that Russia has been leading against NATO and the EU, spending hundreds of millions of euros every year on it. Although it is also aimed at people in Czechia, Hungary or the Balkans, the campaign seems to have the strongest effect on people in Slovakia.

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Last year, Globsec put Slovakia in the group of the most pro-Russian states in central and eastern Europe, the so-called bear huggers.

"Most Slovaks perceive Russia as the victim. Many consider Russia the most important strategic partner and the perception of Russia as the big Slavic brother still prevails among Slovak society," the study found.

The Sme daily set out to find out how the public opinion on Russia has developed since the 1990s, how politicians used it for their aims, and why they could not benefit from it if it wasn't for the leader of the 19th-century national awakening movement, Ľudovít Štúr.

How Russians benefited from Štúr

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