Russian propaganda is present in the media space of Ukraine’s geographic neighbors. All russian propaganda needs to be effective is to reach as broad an audience as possible, create flaring headlines, and sow doubts in the democratic society. But the seeds they sow do not sprout everywhere.
Hungary and Serbia are both known for anti-democratic rhetoric. On the other hand, Ukraine’s neighborhood features Romania, which expressly denounces russian propaganda and whose people are less susceptible to falling victim to it.
Let us investigate the state of media space of Ukraine’s closest neighbors.
Putinist russia seeks to build a convincing alternative to Western liberalism. This endeavor relies on the states of Viktor Orban and Aleksandar Vučić. These two governments must appear successful since that gives putin and other neoliberal European factions a sense of legitimacy.
To this end, russia also tries to create strife among the European countries. Hungary’s political climate and dependence on russian gas make it deeply vulnerable to russian propaganda. Serbia shares similar bondage. That is what distinguishes their views from the rest of Europe.
So, what are the narratives russia uses to fulfil these aims?
There are two main narratives of russian propaganda in Hungarian media space. This is evident from “Two Case Studies of Russian Propaganda in Romania and Hungary”, research done by the The International Affairs Review.
Narrative 1: Hungarians are a minority that suffers unjust infringements of rights
Russian propaganda portrays Hungarians as a repressed people. And the current pro-russian government of Hungaria is supposedly capable of restoring justice.
Since the start of the full-scale war, this narrative has taken the following shape: “Ukraine’s territorial disintegration offers a chance for Hungary to reclaim its historical territories”. It refers to Zakarpattia, which was part of Greater Hungary until 1920.
Narrative 2: Horrible western liberalism: George Soros.
George Soros and his foundations encouraged the growth of civil society, yet Sputnik portrayed him as the embodiment of all that is wrong with the West in an article titled “Soros’s Ideology Exposed: A Post-Modern, Post-Family, Post-Border New World Order”.
Among other things, it comments on the activities of Soros’s foundations with the following phrase: “de-pathologization of sexual and gender identity…”
Likewise, the article depicts NATO and EU institutions as villains that impose their will onto the supposed smaller nations, such as Hungary, disregarding their needs.
In March 2022, the Valicon sociological company conducted a poll in the Balkan countries. Its results showed that 60% of respondents in Serbia blamed the US for the war. Currently, the situation shows no sign of improvement. On 4 September, Vučić stated that Serbia would not support the sanctions against russia. The statement met no disapproval inside Serbia.
There is a “Russian Center of Science and Culture” in Belgrade and a “Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center” in Niš, both of which regularly hold “cultural events” for the people of Serbia.
The abundance and activeness of far-right groups pose a threat to Serbia’s information space. Damjan Knezevic, leader of one such group known as “People’s Patrol”, actively promotes russian messages in his social media.
One of the messages calls upon the Serbs to start their own special operation to liberate the Serbian people.
Romania is a radically different case. According to The International Affairs Review Research, the Romanian agenda is much more amicable to the EU because of its vast domestic energy reservoirs and lack of close economic ties with russia. Its population, by and large, has hostile feelings towards russia.
Russian propaganda is more interested in intimidating Romania’s neighbors. In this sense, it focuses the most on spreading the narrative about Romania’s aspiration to annex Moldova, based on the latter once being a part of the Kingdom of Romania.
russia is spreading the narrative about Romania’s pro-European politicians potentially unleashing a war over Moldova. This way, they style the corrupt pro-russian politicians as Moldova’s saviors from “national annihilation and EU deception.”
According to russian narratives, Romania is a threat to the Moldovan population, including the local Gagauz and Ukrainian people. This narrative helps russia prevent the EU and NATO expansion into Moldova and maintain its political and economic influence.
It must be understood that there is no factual evidence of Romania having territorial claims against other countries.
After the start of the full-scale invasion, a narrative appeared in Romania about the forced “Ukrainization” of a small share of the Romanian population of Bukovyna. According to the “Ukrainization” research by Global Focus, the narrative became more prominent in Romanian-language social media thanks to Iosefina Pascal. She actively publishes pro-russian content. The hybridity of her positioning is particularly dangerous. In her messages, Iosefina directly condemns russian crimes but then says that European counties are criminals too. Such a stance simultaneously builds trust and creates doubts about European ideas.
The best way of countering propaganda in these countries is to point out the groundlessness of the accusations against the pro-European countries. If you find yourself in a country hostile to European ideas, like Serbia or Hungary, your best course of action is to filter the information you consume from local TV, media, and certain bloggers. Remember that russian propaganda is always based on falsehoods and begins to crumble under the simplest questioning.