Slovakia in danger of succumbing to Russian disinformation

Slovakia’s president has expressed concern that his nation may join Hungary as a troublemaker of the EU.

Zuzana Čaputová, the president of Slovakia, told that she is concerned about the propagation of misinformation in her nation and that approaching parliamentary elections may weaken Slovakia’s support for Ukraine.

The president stated in an interview that if populist parties form the government in fall, “maybe it will be more like Viktor Orbán-type of foreign policy.”

Slovakia has been a steadfast ally of Kyiv throughout the conflict, even sending MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.

However, Smer-SD, a populist party led by controversial former Prime Minister Robert Fico and calling for the cessation of military assistance to Ukraine, is now leading in the polls ahead of the country’s September election.

Slovakia has been Ukraine’s steadfast ally. A new administration, though, might alter that equation, which is concerning given the way Russian influence is corroding in Europe.

Additionally, Slovakia is providing fertile ground for Russian narratives: according to a recent study by think tank GLOBSEC, just 40% of Slovaks believe that Russia is largely to blame for the conflict in Ukraine, compared to 85% in Poland, Slovakia’s northern neighbor.

In addition to stating that Slovakia is going through a “very difficult period,” the president said, “I see not only polarization, but fragmentation within our society.”

RUSSIA’S INFLUENCE

Although the former Eastern Bloc nation may currently seem firmly pro-Western, behind the surface, misinformation and narratives that are supportive of Russia seem to be flourishing.

Progressive lawyer and ex-activist Čaputová claimed that her nation is subject to a persistent Russian misinformation operation and that as a “younger democracy, we are more vulnerable.”

The president was quite front about her opinion that certain public officials are promoting false information.

“Some political leaders, including MPs, spread this type of information directly in the parliament, through the media,” the woman claimed.

Fico’s party has disregarded the criticism.

MEP Katarína Roth Neveďalová, Smer’s international secretary, issued a statement on the party’s behalf in an email, claiming that “it is a filthy political practice to accuse the opponents of spreading the disinformation. We categorically deny all of these allegations and fabrications.

However, it appears that the effect is real.

According to a survey by GLOBSEC, almost 50% of Slovaks believe that the United States poses a security danger to their nation.

If a referendum on membership in NATO were conducted, just 58 percent of Slovaks would vote in favor of it, and 66 percent concur with the claim that “the US is dragging Slovakia into a war with Russia because it is profiting from it.”

The survey is consistent with the findings of NATO’s own study, which revealed that just 51% of Slovaks would vote to stay in NATO, as opposed to 70% of all members of the alliance.

Additionally, the NATO tracker discovered that 50% of Slovakians would be against continuing to support Ukraine.

When asked why certain segments of Slovak society are responding favorably to Russian narratives, Čaputová replied it’s a combination of a “positive attitude toward common Slavic roots,” a certain perspective of history, the effect of disinformation, and “possibly mistakes in communication of democratic political leaders.”

After a string of crises, including the coronavirus epidemic, rising energy prices, inflation, and the conflict in their neighboring country, many Slovaks are simply tired of it all.

“I think this is why people are angry or frustrated,” she stated.

CRUCIAL POLITICAL MOMENT

Slovaks go to the polls in September. A vote that some lawmakers fear might change Bratislava’s position within the EU and NATO.

Smer is now polling at about 17%. In Slovakia’s divided political environment, this places Smer, a member of the pan-European Party of European Socialists, ahead of all other competitors.

Three-time former prime minister and Smer leader Fico narrowly escaped jail time after a proposal to revoke his immunity during an organized crime investigation was rejected by the Slovakian parliament last year.

Slovakia’s interim prime minister until mid-May, Eduard Heger, referred to Fico as “the leader of using disinformation in his wording,” a charge Fico’s party disputes.

Heger expressed his concerns about a populist administration moving the nation away from Western institutions.

He predicted that they would begin to alter Slovakia’s foreign policy direction and actually begin to remove it from NATO and the European Union.

Smer is adamant that it does not wish to alter Slovakia’s approach to foreign affairs.

Roth Neveďalová commented on behalf of the party, “Our political party fully supports the membership of Slovakia in the EU and NATO.”

When asked about Smer’s stance on Ukraine, she recognized that the country’s citizens “have the right to defend themselves,” but added that the party is urging for a cease-fire and peace process.

“We have always supported the assistance to Ukraine — humanitarian aid, negotiations, mediation, support of the refugees who also currently reside in Slovakia, etc.” However, she said, “We are unable to send any military assistance to Ukraine for the simple reason that Slovakia no longer has any military hardware.”

The experts are not persuaded.

“The Smer party will surely attempt to modify the existing level of support for Ukraine,” said Milan Nič, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in the area”. However, he said, Smer lacks a defined foreign policy and is a pragmatic party.

Photo: ЕРА

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