This article has been originally published on the Polish fact-checking project Demagog, part of the EDMO network, on April 4, 2022.
The problem of disinformation about the situation of refugees from Ukraine and the host countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania – summary report.
In Polish social media, false messages about refugees from Ukraine can be divided into several dominant trends:
- The privileges of refugees over the Polish citizens (link)
- Aggressive refugee behavior and crime on the rise (link)
- Non-Ukrainians who cross the Polish border (link)
- Poland discriminates against black refugees (link)
Who is the author of the disinformation messages?
Several groups are responsible for creating and disseminating false information about refugees:
- Anonymous Twitter accounts – content about dangerous refugees and posts discriminating against Ukrainians (or against Poles) often comes from unverified Twitter profiles. Some of them were most likely created to intentionally promote disinformation. Others were known before, for instance for posting anti -vaccine
- Websites known for duplicating pseudo-scientific publications – The blog of the LEGA ARTIS Law Firm stands out among them. Since the beginning of the refugee crisis related to the war in Ukraine, there have been several dozen articles on the website that have described the situation on the border or the aid provided by the Polish state in a negative light. Among them, we can distinguish narratives, for example, convincing that a refugee will earn twice as much as a Pole by working less, promoting a message that Poles are going to lose their homes, or using the rhetoric of invasion to describe the refugee crisis as a catastrophe for Polish people.
- Niche Facebook Profiles – Disinformation about refugees is also promoted by social media accounts with a relatively small reach, heavily focused on publishing sensationalistic and conspiratorial content. Among them, for example, the Foliarz Narodowy profile (which published entries on the discrimination of Poles or propagated theories about the presence of dark-skinned people at the border) and Bogdan Morkisz (also content about favoring refugees or calling refugees displaced on purpose by the Polish government).
- Far-right politicians – In this case, it is more about passing on unverified information rather than creating disinformation content. Nevertheless, by using their social media accounts, some politicians contribute to extending the reach of fake news. The Konfederacja party is the most prominent formation in the context of disinformation. Among its deputies, false reports about refugees were promoted by parliamentarians, such as Konrad Berkowicz (fake news about violence in Przemyśl) and Grzegorz Braun (about discrimination against Poles).
- Fake profiles – At one point on the Polish Internet, there was a lot of noise about city news accounts on Instagram, which for years prior to the war published mainly local content. This type of account was run for cities such as Kraków, Lublin and Rzeszów. At some point, instead of typical local stories and information, they started to feature false content about refugees and promoting disinformation, e.g. about an increase in crime. An analysis of the sources revealed that these accounts were set up by e-mail addresses with a Russian domain. This example helps to realize that in many places on the Internet, there could be accounts for years building their credibility and reach in order to become a source of deliberate disinformation at just the right moment.
Potential goals of anti-refugee disinformation:
- Radicalization of attitudes towards refugees from Ukraine – Deliberate actions aimed primarily at changing the attitude of Poles helping refugees are primarily the domain of anonymous Twitter accounts. In their case, it is difficult to talk about outside motivations, such as capitalizing or simply earning money from advertising. The fact that many relatively low-reach profiles promote inaccurate news about refugees at the same time may indicate that this is only a small part of a meticulously planned campaign.
- Political capital – Promoting anti-refugee narratives can also serve to increase support for far-right political parties. While the mainstream focuses on organizing aid, formations that are on the sidelines of the debate can capitalize on the social discontent in some circles to increase their voter numbers.
- Extending Reach – The sensationalistic nature of disinformation content, especially that promoting narratives of an increase in crime, may have been used by some profiles to expand their reach. In this way, they will be able to reach a greater number of recipients in the future, and at the same time try to monetize on the acquired audience, e.g. by advertising on their website, selling products, etc.
Who is the disinformation about refugees directed at?
The analysis of fake news about refugees reaching Poland points us to a conclusion that this type of content is mainly targeted at three groups of recipients:
- Racist-minded environments: Some of the fake news was intended to reach people with already negative attitudes towards refugees. Disinformation was mainly about alleged crimes committed in border towns. In this case, the overall popularity of this type of content should be assessed as very high, although with a relatively short duration of impact.
- Supporters of conspiracy theories – Promoting anti-refugee content on profiles and groups previously known for publishing conspiracy theories was intended primarily for people who easily believed in this type of content. This is evident with the presence of a narrative about a deliberate transfer of refugees to Poland, who are supposed to eventually replace Poles. In this case, we can see moderate popularity of content limited to only one target group.
- Average concerned citizens: This group was the prime target for information intended to arouse fear of rising prices, prolonged queues to medical specialists, or difficulties in education access for children. In this case, we assessed the disinformation potential as the highest among all three groups of recipients. However, none of the content had similar reach as in the case of the two aforementioned groups.
Fake refugee content is characterized by a specific type of language used. By analyzing the discourse based on the language present in social media articles and posts, we can divide the language of disinformation into three main groups:
Disdainful attitude towards refugees
Many articles and entries describe refugees as displaced persons. This suggests that they are not really seekers of refuge, but were deliberately brought to Poland out of someone else’s interest. In addition, we are also dealing with the word „refugees” put in quotation marks. This procedure is, in turn, an attempt to question whether the refugees from beyond the Polish eastern border are really those in need of aid. In disinformation about refugees, there also appeared the term „incursors”– a combination of the words “refugee” and “invasion” in Polish. The most contemptuous term that can be found in social media is the phrase „Upaińcy” – combined words „Ukrainian” and „UPA”, which is a direct reference to the difficult Polish-Ukrainian history and identifying refugees with the descendants of the Ukrainian Liberation Army.
Dehumanization of the migration crisis
„Invasion” often appears in the disinformation discourse as a description of the situation on the Polish-Ukrainian border. This type of rhetoric is meant to perpetuate the feeling that Poland is under attack and that people who come from Ukraine are simply aggressors (attackers). The same tone is also struck by terms such as: „invasion of our land”, „uncontrolled invasion”.
„Resettlement action” is also used to describe the migration crisis, which is in line with the other phrases used to scornfully portray refugees.
Negative attitude towards assistance provided to refugees
Disinformative language also affects initiatives aimed at helping refugees. In this case, phrases such as „freeloaders” or „handouts” are used. Their aim is to convince people of the unwise policy of state authorities, recklessly supporting the refugees. This type of narrative is also underpinned by phrases such as „treacherous decisions” or „The government plans to plunder the Polish nation”.
„Second-class citizens” appears very often in the disinformation narrative as well. This is one of the elements to show that with the help provided to refugees, Polish citizens are being pushed aside. To perpetuate this, phrases such as „privileged” about Ukrainians and „discrimination” against Poles are also used.
Actions to combat disinformation
Both state institutions and non-governmental organizations joined the fight against false messages about refugees. The Prime Minister’s Office was one of the most important official Polish institutions that responded to false reports of discrimination against black refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border. The Scientific and Academic Computer Network (NASK), a state-owned research institute, is also involved in this fight against fake news, for example by reporting on disinformation in the context of alleged Ukrainian privileges.
In addition, uniformed services also take part in the fight against disinformation. The Polish police, taking to its official social media accounts, denied the news about the increase in crime in Przemyśl, while the Border Guard cleared up reports of a Ukrainian boy who allegedly had to reach Poland alone.
Finally, there are fact-checking organizations involved in debunking false claims (apart from the Demagog Association) incl. Konkret24 or AFP Sprawdzam, that regularly verify any dubious messages appearing in social media. In addition, some influencers who are known for promoting the principles of responsible content consumption on their profiles, such as Łukasz Bok or Katarzyna Gandor, also contribute to the fight.
The efforts of state institutions, uniformed services and non-governmental organizations should be deemed positive. Thanks to those combined forces, the time to debunk unproven theories is relatively short.
The process of Ukrainian citizens becoming a privileged group would be carried out on various levels:
- Obtaining a PESEL identification number (link to Demagog’s analysis).
- Free flats for refugees that were previously intended for Poles (link to Demagog’s analysis).
- Access to free medical care and education, paid for by Polish citizens (link to Demagog’s analysis).
- Free travel on selected highways, trains, public transport and the use of free prepaid phones (link to Demagog’s analysis).
PESEL identification number is an eleven-digit numerical identifier that allows you to easily identify the person who has it. It is assigned automatically by the registry office when drawing up a birth certificate for a child born in Poland, or at the request of a given person.
As some misinforming posts tried to convince its readers, assigning this number would be a prelude to granting citizenship to people from Ukraine. Some suggested that it was part of a grander plan of the Polish officials to win additional voters in this way.
It is worth emphasizing that assigning a PESEL number to foreigners is not unusual. It is awarded ex officio to persons from abroad who have obtained:
- The right of permanent residence or a permanent residence permit,
- long-term resident’s European Union residence permit,
- refugee status, subsidiary protection or asylum,
- consent for a tolerated stay,
- temporary protection,
- residence permit for humanitarian reasons.
In addition, foreigners who have registered in Poland for a stay of more than 30 days also receive a PESEL ex officio.
Most importantly, assigning a PESEL number is not tantamount to granting citizenship. This number facilitates everyday functioning in Poland and allows you to deal with many official matters, as well as use the social, health and private insurance systems.
Granting citizenship, on the other hand, is a long-term process, requiring residence in Poland for a specified period of time and filling in relevant documents. There is also a shorter way of granting citizenship possible, but this can be granted only by the Polish president himself.
Privileges for Ukrainians
Along with the influx of refugees, there were complaints on social media that there is institutional favoring of Ukrainians over Poles.
- Free housing
Some messages concerned granting free housing to the refugees. This type of situation was to happen in Kraków, Dębica and Mińsk Mazowiecki, where 650 apartments were to be granted to people fleeing the war.
The accommodation was provided by the Polski Fundusz Rozwoju – a group of financial and advisory institutions for entrepreneurs, local governments and private individuals investing in sustainable social and economic development of the country. Its main element is Polski Fundusz Rozwoju SA, a state-owned company.
Flats made available by PFR are only a temporary solution, for six months at the least. In this way, it will be possible to provide shelter for approx. 2.5 thousand people fleeing the war.
- State-provided money handouts for living costs
Disinformation messages also raised the issue of financial support provided by the Polish state to people from Ukraine. They were to receive a daily subsidy of PLN 40 per day for each person.
The important information, however, is that the money did not go directly to the refugees, but was transferred to the people who aided them. Each entity, be it a local government or a household, that provides shelter to those fleeing the war, will receive a benefit on the basis of an application submitted to the commune administration.
This type of support is a temporary solution planned for a maximum period of 60 days.
- Free medical care financed by Polish taxpayers
Providing Ukrainians with free medical care and access to education was another part of misinforming narration. Polish patients would be at a disadvantage because, according to some sources, refugees were to be given priority in queues to medical specialists.
As the government informs on its website: „Every citizen of Ukraine legally residing in Poland will have guaranteed access to the public health care system on the same terms as Polish citizens”.
This means that Ukrainian refugees will be attended to in Poland on the same terms as Polish patients. Importantly, the source of financing aid for refugees will not be health taxes paid by Polish citizens, but funds from the state budget.
When it comes to topics related to health care on the Internet, there were also examples of discrimination against Poles. One of the most famous was the alleged expulsion of Polish children from cancer wards to make room for Ukrainian patients. This fake news was debunked by the Demagog Association on their website. The doctors’ association also issued an official statement regarding the matter.
- Access to education that is allegedly discriminatory
Polish children, for whom there would be no place in primary or secondary schools, would also suffer consequences of accepting refugees into educational institutions.
As we can read on the website of the Ministry of Education and Science: „Foreign students benefit from education and care in all types of public kindergartens and schools until they turn 18 or graduate from post-primary / secondary school on the terms applicable to Polish citizens.”
Giving refugees access to education in Poland does not discriminate against Poles. It is the same with attending a public kindergarten or nursery free of charge.
Aggressive behavior and increased crime following the arrival of refugees
The increase in the number of foreigners crossing the Polish border was to lead to an increase in crime in border towns. Przemyśl has become a peculiar place on the map of our country. It was there that there was an accumulation of false information about potential thefts and rapes on Polish women.
Claims of the aggressive attitude of refugees towards Polish residents were distributed, among others, via Twitter accounts, the purpose of which was to spread disinformation. These messages were most often word of mouth, founded on a very particular source of knowledge: most often a family member living in the whereabouts of the city. On social media, there were numerous screenshots containing horrifying news, e.g. about knife attacks or robberies.
The sensationalistic nature of these messages was the cause of mass anxiety, and unconfirmed claims began to circulate impulsively among social media users.
The quake of fake news regarding refugee behavior sparked a response from the police and ambulance services. Neither of these institutions confirmed the increase in reported crimes, nor the admissions to hospitals caused by the attack. Although disturbing incidents did take place sporadically, such as biting off a paramedic’s finger, they are isolated cases and not definitive proof of a widespread phenomenon.
Non-Ukrainian immigrants trying to get to Poland
The disinformation narrative around refugees also involved people who were not of Ukrainian origin, trying to find refuge from the war. These types of messages tried to purport that in fact the war is only a pretext for citizens from the Middle East and Africa to easily cross the border and eventually settle in Poland.
The underlying prejudice against immigrants that the fake news on this topic triggered originated with anti-refugee moods during the events on the Polish-Belarusian border from August to November 2021. This humanitarian crisis contributed to false information about people trying to enter Poland.
Similar patterns emerged with the increasing numbers of refugees from Ukraine. Suddenly, reports began to circulate around social media that the borders are allegedly not crossed by Ukrainian mothers with children, but by young, dark-skinned men. Photographs taken at the railway station in Przemyśl were to serve as proof.
The non-Ukrainian refugees were also said to exhibit aggressive behavior, as seen in a recording from one of the railway stations in Ukraine. The video showed a situation where a dark-skinned man stands in the door of a train with a knife and supposedly prevents passengers from entering.
However, the material lasted only a dozen or so seconds, and it is difficult to clearly define the context of the whole situation solely on its basis. The analysis of the man’s statements, as well as the explanatory video published by him, proved to be helpful in judging the recording. As it turned out, the Moroccan citizen clarified that his behavior was caused by people pushing his friends out of the train. He then decided to react and let them get back inside, while also saying there would be enough space for everyone. This one-sided account cannot fully explain the behavior seen in the film, but it is an example of how a short video without context can manipulate viewers’ opinion and change their attitudes.
It is worth noting that at the time of the outbreak of the war, there were almost 80,000 foreign students from 155 countries in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian migration services, about 400,000 foreigners lived in the country in 2019. More importantly though, the Border Guard stated on March 15, 2022, that approx. 94 percent of people crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border are citizens of Ukraine.
Poland discriminates against black refugees
There was also an interesting phenomenon in the context of disinformation regarding refugees from Ukraine: numerous reports about the racism of the Polish Border Guard against black refugees. Information on this subject appeared in various Western media outlets, including the BBC.
The press department of the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration informed the Demagog’s editorial office that: “All persons admitted to Poland are verified by the Border Guard. Border Guard officers apply appropriate screening procedures to those who are in an uncertain legal situation, e.g. have no documents. No person given shelter in Poland will ever be sent back to a country torn apart by war”.
We cannot deny that there could have been incidents at the border and difficulties in getting to Poland for people with darker skin. Reports of several or a dozen or so people may be a warning sign for the authorities, but they do not prove the existence of systemic racism and the prevalence of acts of discrimination during border proceedings.
Between humanitarian aid and non-war involvement
The Hungarians are also involved in helping refugees from Ukraine. The local government of Budapest offers them temporary accommodation and free public transport. The largest medical university in Hungary, Semmelweis University, provides medical assistance. The Hungarians have created a special website to help Ukrainians in finding accommodation. Hungarian State Railways have introduced a free ‘solidarity ticket’ for Ukrainians. Demonstrations in the streets of Hungarian cities are gathering huge crowds of opponents of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Viktor Orban condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but at the same time reaffirmed Hungary’s position regarding non-military involvement in the war. The Hungarian prime minister allowed NATO troops to enter his country, but at the same time refused to deliver weapons to Ukraine because, he claimed, they could be used against Hungary in the future. The prime minister emphasized in an interview with the M1 channel that Hungary ‘will support any sanctions agreed on by EU countries’. On the other hand, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said during the meeting of EU foreign ministers that Hungary would not support sanctions which ‘may pose a threat to Hungary’s energy supplies’.
The close ties between Hungary and Russia were visible, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary was the first country in the European Union to buy the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, even though it was not yet approved by European regulators. Orban himself has met with Putin 11 times since 2010, most often in Moscow. The last such meeting took place in February 2022.
On April 3rd, Hungarians will vote in the parliamentary elections, choosing between Orban’s Fidesz party and the united opposition, whose candidate for prime minister is Peter Marki-Zay. This fact is not without significance for the spread of anti-Ukrainian disinformation in Hungary, as this topic has become one of the elements of the political campaign and, at the same time, an opportunity for the government to discredit the opposition.
Rules of entry to Hungary for Ukrainians
Ukrainians may be admitted to Hungarian territory with a valid biometric passport, but because of the Russian invasion, refugees are also admitted if they do not have a passport, e.g. on the basis of a Ukrainian national ID card. Starting March 7th this year, all pandemic restrictions for entering Hungary have been lifted. Hungary does not require any proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result to enter the country.
Disputes between Budapest and Kyiv
Ukrainian-Hungarian relations are not the most congenial ones. The center of tensions is the Transcarpathian region in Western Ukraine, which historically belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became part of Ukraine in 1945.
According to data from a census conducted in Ukraine in 2001, about 12 percent (150,000) of inhabitants in Transcarpathia are Hungarians. It is common for these people to have dual citizenship, both Ukrainian and Hungarian. Budapest has repeatedly argued that the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine are violated, and that the right of Hungarians to use their native language in Ukraine is limited by introducing compulsory education in Ukrainian. Therefore, for 10 years (from 2011 to 2021), Hungary spent at least EUR 115 million to support the cultural heritage and Hungarian-language initiatives in Transcarpathia.
Differences in attitudes towards refugees
There are currently 374,535 refugees in Hungary. In an official message coming directly from Orban’s social media accounts, the Hungarian prime minister presents himself as committed to supporting refugees, while also focusing on the security of his country. On Facebook, he wrote a post with the description: „Thank you patriots! We look after the refugees, we protect the country”. In turn, Szijjártó, the Hungarian foreign minister, boasted in a Facebook post that Hungary „helped 8,812 citizens of 12 nationalities return home.”
Blanka Zöldi, editor-in-chief of the Hungarian fact-checking organization Lakmusz, in an interview with Demagog states that the mood of Hungarians regarding the war in Ukraine differs significantly depending on political views.
After the parliamentary elections in 2018, the seats in the Hungarian parliament are distributed as follows: a joint list of Fidesz and KDNP (Christian Democratic People’s Party) – 133 representatives; Jobbik – 26 representatives; MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and PM (Dialogue for Hungary), a joint list – 20 representatives; DK (Democratic Coalition) – 9 representatives; LMP (Policy May Be Different) – 8 representatives; one representative each: MNOÖ (German National Government in Hungary), EGYÜTT (Epoch Change Party), one politically non-affiliated member.
Zöldi’s conclusions are in line with the results of the survey conducted by Pulzus Kutató. In light of its results, a quarter of Fidesz supporters believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is „legitimate” for reasons of protection of the Russian minority in Ukraine. Less than half of pro-government voters agreed that the attack on Ukraine was „serious aggression.” On the other hand, among those supporting the political opposition, almost 90 percent of respondents describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a „serious attack”. Most Hungarians, regardless of party affiliation, would admit refugees unconditionally.
On the other hand, Patrik Szicherle, a Political Capital expert on international relations and analysis of Russian influence in Hungary, notes that mainly ethnic Ukrainians enter Hungary, not Hungarians from Transcarpathia. In his opinion, this makes the Hungarian far right „a bit disappointed and less enthusiastic about helping”.
The polarization of Hungarian society is evident in its reactions to the war
Dr. Ágnes Urbán, media scientist and expert at Mérték Media Monitor, in one of her analyses states that “the attack on Ukraine caused widespread outrage in Hungary. However, the deep polarization in Hungarian society also manifested itself through social reactions to the war. Most of the people unequivocally condemn the Russian aggression and declare their solidarity with Ukraine, and with the influx of the first refugees, help was provided both by society and the state. Nevertheless, a different narrative is also circulating in Hungarian social media, according to which many commentators clearly spread Kremlin’s propaganda and try to convince that the Russian aggression against Ukraine is a relative matter. Unfortunately, this narrative is also strengthened by pro-government media, including public media ”.
As Patrik Szicherle from Political Capital emphasizes in a statement for Demagog, anti-refugee narratives against Ukrainians are not common in Hungarian mainstream media. On the other hand, anti-Ukrainian content, the main source of which is the media close to the government, both public and private, is gaining popularity. This is consistent with the observations of Blanka Zöldi, who points out that anti-Ukrainian narratives appear in statements of members of the ruling party, and thus also in the media dependent on them.
Analyses carried out by Political Capital show that anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian content is also popular on social media, mainly those outlets which are favorable to the Hungarian authorities. According to research by Political Capital, it is almost certain that a pro-Russian Internet troll network has developed in Hungary, in which not only real users but also fake profiles participate regularly.
It is worth emphasizing that, according to the analysis carried out by investigative journalists from Direkt36, the current Hungarian government controls the activities of MTI (Hungarian Press Agency), and therefore to some extent also the flow of information in the media. As noted in the analysis: „public media should provide reliable and comprehensive information to Hungarians (…), however, the documents sent to Direkt36 from the last four years prove otherwise”.
Ukrainians as Putin’s provocateurs
As the journalist 444.hu Péter Magyari emphasizes in a commentary for Demagog, one of the main narratives is that Ukrainians are responsible for starting the war. According to this narrative, „Ukrainians should not have provoked Putin” and then there would be no war.
An example of the presence of this type of content in the Hungarian media is the interview with Georg Spöttle on M1 TV. Spöttle is associated with the pro-government Nézőpont Intézet (Hungarian Institute of Perspectives), and as Dr. Ágnes Urbán points out in one of the analyses, Spöttle is also a regular guest of programs devoted to international issues in the public media. During the interview, he blamed Ukraine for the outbreak of the war. He also spoke of „very calm Russian soldiers” who do not attack civilians. Ukraine has „crossed the red line, smashing Putin’s security and getting ready to develop nuclear weapons,” he said. The same accusation against Ukraine was found also in Putin’s speech recognizing the independence of the separatist republics in Ukraine, which emphasizes the convergence of Spöttle’s narrative with Russian propaganda.
In fact, Ukraine did not announce the launch of a nuclear program, and Zelensky spoke about the convening of signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine is a violation of the Budapest Memorandum, of which Russia is a signatory. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, Ukraine decided to abandon nuclear weapons, which was to ensure respect for the inviolability of its borders. Thus, Ukraine gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which consisted of around 1,900 nuclear warheads.
Ukraine as a country aggressive towards minorities
According to a report published by Political Capital, the most popular narrative in the Hungarian media aims to prove that a genocide took place in Ukraine. According to this scenario, the government in Kyiv is presented as aggressive towards minorities, including Hungarians. The ill-treatment of the Russian minority in Ukraine was supposed to initiate Russia’s invasion of this country, in a way, out of concern for its own nation.
The activity of the Számok – a baloldali álhírek ellenszere nevű (Hungarian for Numbers – Antidote to the Left’s fake news) portal, which openly supported Moscow, is part of this narrative. The site has over 85,000 likes on Facebook. Even before the Russian attack on Ukraine, the portal wrote a post in connection with Russia’s recognition of independence, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The author of the post applauds Russia’s decision in this regard („respect and gratitude for this!”), and accuses Ukraine of genocide against the Russian minority. Facebook’s users commenting on the post approvingly reacted to the content presented. One of them wrote: “The West provoked this! The Russians endured it for 8 years, but when Ukrainian tanks began to penetrate Russian territory, the glass became full! ”.
According to Számok – a baloldali álhírek ellenszere nevű, „the Ukrainian regime has been »democratizing« its nation with tanks for 8 years”. The authors of the Facebook posts explain that the reason for the invasion of Russian troops is to counteract the „killing of the Russian people”, therefore „Putin decided to use a targeted attack to destroy Ukrainian military facilities that started the genocide.” The narrative presented in the Számok – a baloldali álhírek ellenszere nevű entries is consistent with the pro-Russian propaganda according to which Russia does not attack civilian objects. Publishers say „Russia is not attacking ‘cities’ but military infrastructure.” We know for a fact that the invasion of Russian troops is also targeting civilian facilities.
Another website called Orosz Hírek (Hungarian News), with over 100,000 followers on Facebook, just after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, shared a photo of a boy crying in front of a destroyed city. According to the author of the post, the photo shows the damage done by Ukrainians, and the text also includes an accusation of Ukraine „killing its own population”. In reality, the photo was taken by Valery Melnikov after pro-Russian separatists entered Lugansk.
The narrative according to which Ukraine committed genocide is so popular in Hungary that politicians are also succumbing to it. Erzsébet Menczer, associated with Fidesz, shared her observations on this matter on Facebook. In her opinion, „the ultra-nationalist government, serving the West, has been endangering its own people and firing on areas inhabited by the Russian minority for 8 (!!!!) years!” In reality, however, there is no basis to claims that the Russian minority in Ukraine is at risk of genocide, as the reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe confirm.
Transcarpathia as a region belonging to Hungary
Materials published in the context of the situation of minorities in Ukraine are presented in parallel in the Hungarian media with the narrative according to which Transcarpathia should be part of Hungarian territory.
This narrative is shown i.a. in an interview with PestiTv by Ferenc Mernyó. The man, who is in fact a photographer, was introduced in the program as an expert on Ukraine. During the interview, he suggested that Ukraine could be divided „between Russia and some NATO member states.” He did not rule out that Transcarpathia would become part of the territory of Hungary. According to Mernyó, „there is no such thing as a Ukrainian nation and culture,” and the Ukrainian language is just a dialect of Russian. This statement fits in with the narrative identified in the Political Capital report.
PestiTv is a private television set up by pro-government businessmen Miklós Vaszili and Lőrinc Mészáros.
In turn, a page supporting Orban: Milliók Orbán Viktor és kormánya mellett (Hungarian for Millions for Viktor Orbán and his government), shared a Facebook post by Pilhl Művek. The author of the text describes Ukraine as „artificial states created by the evil of Satan” and states that they must be „dismantled” and their territory „returned to their original owners”, which means making a demand for Transcarpathia to be transferred to Hungary. The post also accused the Ukrainian government of „killing thousands of Russian civilians” and „depriving the Russian and Hungarian minorities of the most basic right to use their mother tongue.”
Comments posted below suggest that the readers support the views laid-out by the author of the text. One user wrote: „I completely agree with what has been described, it would be fair if Putin returned our old territory to us.” Another commentator referred to the issue of minorities living in Ukraine as follows: “There are about 10-15 nationalities living in Ukraine. It’s an artificially complex country. „
It is worth emphasizing that the narrative according to which Ukraine is an artificially created state was present in the pro-government media in Hungary even before the Russian invasion. At the end of January this year, an article appeared on the website of Magyar Nemzet, one of the leading pro-government daily newspaper, in which the author calls Ukraine „a puppet state founded and run by the CIA.”
Russia is not among guilty parties of the war in Ukraine
Apart from Ukraine itself, the Hungarian pro-government media blame NATO for the war, as noted in the Political Capital report. On the Facebook page Patrióta Európa Mozgalom (Hungarian for Patriotic Movement Europe), with over 210,000 likes, there are posts according to which the US and NATO are responsible for the war in Ukraine. In one of the posts, the author posted a graphic with the inscription: „The USA is ready to fight Russia until the last Ukrainian soldier falls.” He added that it was „sad, but this is the reality today!” Another post presents a map of NATO countries with the description: „the roots of the Ukrainian-Russian war!”.
Magyar Polgári Együttműködés Egyesület (Hungarian Association for Civic Cooperation), which manages the site, is an organization that has held Viktor Orbán’s annual speech on several occasions. Since 2019, the president of the association has been Mariann Vízkelety, former Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice.
Ukraine’s military support as a threat to the security of Hungary
Internal political disputes hold an important place in the media coverage in Hungary. It has to do with the upcoming elections. Péter Magyari notes in a commentary for the Demagog that an important topic in the Hungarian media is the issue of the potential sending of weapons to Ukraine. This topic was used by the politicians of the ruling camp to fight the opposition in their campaign.
The MTVA news broadcasts (Médiaszolgáltatás-támogató és Vagyonkezelő Alap, Hungarian public broadcaster) reported that opposition politicians would like to send arms and troops to Ukraine. According to the pro-government Origo website, „left-wing politicians try to out-bid each other about how Hungary should intervene in the war” and „Péter Márki-Zay talked about sending troops and weapons on quad bikes”. However, messages provided by the Origo portal are not true. Márki-Zay published a post on Facebook saying that “Hungary, a NATO member, does not send troops to Ukraine in accordance with the position of our military alliance. Hungarian soldiers have no place in the war of an unpredictable tyrant ”.
The sites that spread pro-Russian propaganda are also against the opposition. An example is a photomontage showing Péter Márki-Zay with a cotillion in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in his jacket, published by the aforementioned website Patrióta Európa Mozgalom. The photo was captioned as follows: „you keep talking about the ‘Hungarian interests’ when you basically have nothing to do with them except your mother tongue!” The author of the post thus suggests that the opposition candidate supports Ukraine, which, in his opinion, is contrary to the interests of Hungary.
Ukraine’s fight as a senseless sacrifice of human life
In a commentary for Demagog, Péter Magyari notes that a significant disinforming narrative appearing in the Hungarian media is painting a picture according to which Ukraine’s fight is meaningless, and the fact that Ukraine’s giving weapons to civilians and minors – downright inhuman.
Balázs Németh, MTVA presenter, wrote a Facebook post in which he suggested that Ukraine’s capitulation and Zelensky’s resignation would be a reasonable decision. Németh poses rhetorical questions in his post in connection with the war in Ukraine. They concern, inter alia, that “is taking up a fight a good decision? Can I arm civilians? ”; „Is it worth risking the lives of tens and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians?”; and finally: „What would happen if Zelensky had resigned? Wouldn’t that be a wiser decision? ” Zelensky’s resignation is one of Kremlin’s main goals, and it is part of Russian propaganda to suggest that the Ukrainian president is responsible for the deaths of fighting Ukrainians.
Németh also touched upon the subject of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. He asked: „can the president take people of Hungarian nationality to a war? (…) Who should the Hungarians fight for? For Ukraine? For the president? For the government in Kiev? ”.
Hungarian refugee comparisons in 2022 and 2015
Bulcsú Hunyadi, an expert on right-wing extremism at Political Capital, notes in a commentary for the Demagog that the Hungarian media juxtapositions the current situation of refugees from Ukraine with the refugee crisis in 2015. At that time, Orban was against accepting refugees.
According to Semjén Zsolt, the head of the KDNP, one should distinguish between Islamist migrants and refugees from Ukraine. There were posts in social media consistent with the narrative contained in the politician’s speech. On pro-government Facebook pages, there are comparisons of photos of people currently fleeing Ukraine with photos of the situation in 2015. Posts of this type were published, among others, by Apa mondta., Trombitás Kristóf, Demokratikus Mémek, Albert, a déli and BalFake New. According to the narrative presented in the posts, Hungarians welcome women and children fleeing the war, while 7 years ago, aggressive men came to Hungary, only claiming to be refugees in need of help. Pictures of calm women and children are a stark contrast with pictures of hostile men.
In a statement for Demagog Bulcsú Hunyadi said that, right-wing extremist organizations in Hungary are now also „indignant that non-Ukrainian refugees are arriving, and the Hungarian government allows them to enter Hungary without thorough verification.”
Hungary-Ukraine relations are not easy, and the center of the dispute is the Transcarpathian region. Nevertheless, Hungarians are committed to helping refugees from Ukraine, and anti-refugee narratives are not that common in Hungary.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Orban’s close ties with Russia are not without significance for the current balancing of the Hungarian government between humanitarian aid for Ukraine and the declaration of non-involvement in the military confrontation. Anti-Ukrainian narratives are spreading in Hungary with great popularity, and one of their sources is the media close to the current government. Among those scenarios, the main topics are: responsibility for the outbreak of the war, the improper treatment of the Hungarian minority by the government in Kyiv and the sending of weapons to Ukraine.
Parliamentary elections will be held in Hungary in the beginning of April, so the topic of Ukraine has become one of the areas of political struggle and an opportunity for the ruling party to discredit the opposition.
How do Slovaks support Ukraine?
The Slovaks also became involved in helping refugees from Ukraine. As in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Germany, Slovakia also offers free travel for Ukrainian citizens on all trains of the national “Železničná spoločnosť Slovensko” (Slovakia Railway Company). Free public transport for all Ukrainian citizens is offered in Bratislava, while the authorities of the Košice country, located on the border with Ukraine (equivalent of a Polish voivodeship) offer free bus transport for Ukrainians from the Ukrainian-Slovak border.
In the capital of the country, Bratislava, as well as in some smaller towns, we can see rallies of support for Ukrainians taking place. Numerous Slovak organizations became involved in supporting refugees from Ukraine, e.g. Slovak volunteers are involved in helping Ukrainians at the Bratislava train station.
Slovak authorities have officially spoken out against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Prime Minister Eduard Heger called Russia’s actions „brutal aggression” and expressed hope that the actions taken by the EU and NATO would „de-escalate the conflict and put a stop to the Russian aggression in Ukraine”. President Zuzana Čaputová expressed solidarity with Ukrainians, publicly stating that „We are all Ukrainians „. She also called for a transfer of weapons to Ukraine.
Slovak government helping refugees from Ukraine
From March 1, Ukrainians fleeing the war and their relatives, as well as non-citizens of Ukraine, can receive temporary aid in Slovakia, which allows access to employment, social welfare, and education for refugee children.
Already on February 15th, i.e. 9 days before the Russian invasion on Ukraine, the Public Health Office of the Slovak Republic issued a decision that facilitates entry into Slovakia for all fleeing the armed conflict from the territory of the neighboring country. This became the basis of the fake news that the Russian invasion was actually a planned conspiracy of the world’s elite.
The number of Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia
By March 28th, 2022, the Ukrainian-Slovak border was crossed by over 280,000 people, of which almost 56 thousand have applied for temporary aid (dočasné útočisko / temporary refuge), and fewer than 200 people have applied for asylum.
Policemen, firefighters, customs officers, soldiers, members of the clergy, volunteers and members of foreign organizations are officially involved in helping refugees from Ukraine on the border with Slovakia.
Data from the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that Slovakia is one of those neighbors of Ukraine, whose borders have been crossed by the least number of refugees from Ukraine (as of March 28th fewer Ukrainian refugees go only to Russia and Belarus).
Additionally, many of them do not treat Slovakia as a final destination, which is confirmed by data on the submitted applications for temporary residence. It was also confirmed by the Slovak Prime Minister, Eduard Heger: “We are currently a transit country. Ukrainian citizens go to other countries, to the Czech Republic, to Germany, probably with a vision of a better life. The quality of life in these countries is higher” explained Heger. The Slovak head of government noted that Slovakia has 80,000 jobs vacancies, and Ukrainian refugees may take up employment for jobs that have long remained vacant.
Who is to blame for Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv? Surprising results of the Slovak public opinion poll
Despite a clear declaration from the Slovak leaders and the scale of help of the Slovak society, the Slovaks are divided on the assessment of the Ukrainian-Russian war, which is illustrated by public opinion polls.
At the end of January 2022, i.e. before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Focus agency presented the results of a survey conducted between 19th and 26th January on a sample of 1,017 respondents. It shows that 44.1 percent of Slovaks were to blame NATO and the United States for tensions between Russia and Ukraine at that time, and only 34.7 percent pointed to Russia. On February 26th (second day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine), results of a similar poll (conducted on February 25th on a sample of 1,000 respondents) by the OKO agency were announced. The survey showed that over 62 percent. Slovaks blame the war in Ukraine on Russia. 25 percent believe that the US is responsible for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and 8.9 percent of Slovaks point to NATO’s responsibility. These results cannot be directly summed up – the respondents could choose from multiple possible answers.
Russian-Slovak relations and the trap of Pan-Slavism
As presented in the report „The image of Russia in Central & Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans” published by Globsec in 2021, Slovakia is one of the most pro-Russian countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Western Balkans (Russian sentiments were examined in countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Montenegro, the Czech Republic, Hungary, North Macedonia, Romania, Poland). As much as 42 percent of Slovaks consider Russia as their most important strategic partner (the average for all surveyed countries is 30 percent, the Serbian society turned out to be the most pro-Russian in this respect – 59 percent).
56 percent of Slovaks believe that NATO is deliberately provoking Russia by surrounding it with military bases. This belief became the basis of the popular fake news, which was also circulating after the Russian invasion. The average for all surveyed nations is 45 percent, Poles are the least likely to agree with this view, where only 23 percent of people support the claim of Russia being provoked by NATO.
Dr. Łukasz Lewkowicz from the Institute of Central Europe explains the pro-Russian attitude of some Slovaks:
„An important role in mutual [Slovak-Russian relations – ed. Demagog] is played by Russian cultural influence in Slovakia. The official Russian diplomatic institutions operating in Bratislava are very active in promoting soft power. Russia uses the still popular ideology of Pan-Slavism and quasi-Russophilia in its disinformation efforts towards Slovakia. In order to strengthen its influence, the Russian side also uses historical politics and a certain sentimental perspective of some in society towards the communist period ”.
Łukasz Lewkowicz, „The Russian Federation in the internal and foreign policy of the Slovak Republic (1993-2020)”, UMCS Publishing House, 2020, p. 84.
Furthermore, in the analysis by Dr. Lewkowicz:
„From the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine [2014 – ed. Demagog] various alternative media presenting anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian narrative are very active in Slovakia. The pro-Russian narrative is also present on social networks, mainly Facebook. Far-right parties, which present themselves as pro-Russian, anti-EU and anti-NATO, are gaining more and more importance on the Slovak political scene. In recent years, Slovakia has also experienced high activity of Russian paramilitary groups, which may pose a threat to the state security system ”.
Łukasz Lewkowicz, ” The Russian Federation in the internal and foreign policy of the Slovak Republic (1993-2020)”, UMCS Publishing House, 2020, p. 84.
Are Slovaks vulnerable to disinformation? What does the research say?
A report „Voices of Central and Eastern Europe”, published by Globsec in 2020, shows that among the surveyed countries, Slovak society displays the highest degree of faith in conspiracy theories and disinformation. The report covers Latvia, Austria, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia. In the country of Poland’s southern neighbors, as much as 56 percent of citizens believe disinformation, while it is 17% in Latvia and 20% in Austria.
In Poland, according to the cited report, 34 percent of respondents believe in disinformation, in Hungary – 35 percent, and in Romania – 39 percent.
Who is distributing pro-Russian disinformation?
On March 3rd, a Slovak technology company, Gerulata, published a list of pro-Russian actors disseminating pro-Russian propaganda. The list is very long, because – as its authors note – it includes „opportunists, trolls and useful idiots”. The list also includes actors who are directly linked to Russia, as well as opinion leaders who publish disinformation for genuine reasons or for particular political gain.
The list of the 10 most influential accounts in Slovakia that have been sharing pro-Russian narratives for years is as follows:
- Ľuboš Blaha (Facebook Page)
- Slobodný vysielač (Facebook Page)
- Veľvyslanectvo Ruska na Slovensku / Посольство России в Словакии (Facebook Page)
- Extraplus (extraplus.sk)
- Tomáš Taraba – predseda ŽIVOT NS (Facebook Page)
- DAV DVA (Facebook Page)
- Hlavné Správy (Facebook Page)
- nocomment.sk (Facebook Page)
- Hlavný denník (hlavnydennik.sk)
- Slovenské Hnutie Obrody (Facebook Page)
According to Karin Kőváry Sólymos, disinformation expert from the Ján Kuciak Investigation Center, the most active Slovak actors spreading disinformation about the Ukrainian-Russian war are disinformation portals and Slovak politicians.
“The most visible promoters of pro-Kremlin propaganda and fake news include disinformation portals (such as InfoVojna and Hlavné správy), but also politicians from parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties. The former chairman of the Slovak parliament and chairman of the Slovak National Party (Slovenská národná strana) Andrej Danko, member of the Republika party and MEP Milan Uhrík, former judge and former Minister of Justice Štefan Harabin, use clear pro-Russian rhetoric. The most visible politician is SMER-SD party member Ľuboš Blaha, who has a huge number of followers. The Russian embassy in Slovakia also plays an important role in spreading disinformation on this subject. „
Karin Kőváry Sólymos, disinformation expert from the Ján Kuciak Investigation Center (Investigatívne centrum Ján Kuciak) for the Demagog
Narrative I – refugees get more support than ordinary Slovaks
Globsec expert Dominika Hajdu argues in an interview with Demagog that after Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv, there are three main topics of the pro-Russian narrative, and only one of them concerns refugees from Ukraine. According to it, Slovaks become second-class citizens in Slovakia, and Ukrainian refugees will receive more support from the Slovak government than ordinary Slovaks. Which is not true, as the former Slovak president and founder of the foundation supporting, among others, Andrej Kiska’s sick children describes in the entry titled „It is a pity that our family does not have cancer, or that I am not from Ukraine”. Aid for Ukrainians is aimed at supporting war refugees who were forced to abandon their homes. So it is not that the Ukrainians are fleeing in search of a better existence on a whim, but because of Russia’s invasion on their homeland.
Fanpage Neverím falošným politikom published a post in which there was information that on one of the internet forums, the Slovaks allegedly refused to hand over a stroller for a Slovak woman in need, explaining that it was intended for refugees from Ukraine. “They would rather give to strangers then their own people. What a time to be alive”, we read in the post, which received over 1,300 reactions and an additional 500 shares. In another Facebook post we read that the support of the Slovak government for Ukrainian refugees will turn them „into demigods, and the Slovaks in turn will go hungry”.
Such a narrative is often accompanied by views that helping Ukraine is not in Slovakia’s interest, and Slovak leaders should put Slovak issues first. „Dear politicians, do you want to help the Ukraine military? Go there, but don’t involve all of Slovakia in the war”, wrote Slovak MEP Milan Uhrík from the Republika group on Facebook.
A similar narrative can be found in the entry by MP Ľuboš Blaha from the SMER-SD party, which refers to Slovak Stormers, i.e. national activists who played a key role in the formation of the Slovak nation and the codification of the Slovak language in the 19th century. The politician criticizes attitude of Slovak politicians supporting Ukraine, reminding that the Stormers put Slovak issues first. In another post, the same politician published an appeal to President Čaputova and Prime Minister Heger. In it, Ľuboš Blaha accuses the most prominent Slovak politicians that they do not care about Slovaks, but rather focus on helping Ukrainians. A photo was attached to the post, which read: „They have money for weapons for Zelensky, not for Slovaks anymore”.
Narrative II – supplying Ukrainians with weapons supports the war
According to this scenario, the supply of military equipment to Ukraine only translates into supporting the war and increasing the number of deaths
MP Ľuboš Blaha from the SMER-SD party argued on his official Facebook account that the supply of weapons to Ukraine is only in the interest of defense companies and drives the „war frenzy”. Popular journalist and Youtuber Martin Daňo on Facebook wrote that „the fastest way to end a war is to lose it”.
What weapons does Slovakia provide to Ukraine?
“On February 26th, the Slovak government approved aid for Ukraine in the form of supplies of military equipment for approximately EUR 11 million. Specifically, it is about delivering 10 million liters of diesel oil, 2.4 million liters of aviation fuel and 12 thousand pieces of ammunition. Following a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Heger and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Slovak authorities decided to provide additional military equipment worth EUR 4.41 million. The aid was approved on February 27th at an extraordinary government meeting. „
” Slovakia in the face of the first phase of the conflict in Ukraine”, Institute of Central Europe
According to the data of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on March 3rd, Slovakia was one of 19 countries that supported Ukraine militarily.
Narrative III – the US and NATO are responsible for the war in Ukraine
According to this narrative, it was the US and NATO who had been provoking Russia for a long time beforehand, which made Russia feel threatened. Thus, the US and NATO are responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Such information can be found, among many outlets, in an article published in 2021 on Napalete.sk or in the piece by Ereport.sk.
It is worth noting that the Russians are the attacking party in this case, and the military support allows Ukrainians to defend their country.
According to information from the Polish Institute of International Studies, on March 3rd, the USA announced additional military support for Ukraine worth USD 350 million, while Canada pledged USD 33 billion, and Australia – USD 50 million.
How is Slovakia dealing with pro-Russian disinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv?
Karin Kőváry Sólymos from the Ján Kuciak Investigation Center praises the actions of the Slovak government in the fight against disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Already on the day of the outbreak of the war, they tried to warn people on their profiles that there could be a flood of disinformation and fake news on social media. Some of them revealed and explained why exemplary given statements were not true, ” says Karin Kőváry Sólymos. The Slovaks quickly adopted the law, which, inter alia, amended the Cybersecurity Act. New regulations allow the National Security Office (Národný bezpečnostný úrad) to block websites that spread disinformation. At that moment, the office decided to block four Slovak-language websites until June 30, 2022: hlavnespravy.sk, armadnymagazin.sk, hlavnydennik.sk and infovojna.bz.
An example of good practices in the fight against pro-Russian disinformation may be the official profile of the Slovak police, where fake news about the Ukrainian-Russian war, popular on the Slovak-language Internet, is debunked on a daily basis.
Probably due to the relatively small number of refugees from Ukraine and the fact that they treat Slovakia as a transit country thus far, the main topics of disinformation in Slovakia in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are not limited to Ukrainian refugees. Pro-Russian actors spreading disinformation take advantage of the pro-Russian attitude of a significant part of the Slovak society, as well as the relatively high number of Slovaks believing in conspiratorial content.
It is quite disturbing that pro-Russian narratives are spread by currently active Slovak politicians, hugely popular in social media, such as Ľuboš Blaha .
Particularly noteworthy is the strong pro-Ukrainian sentiment displayed by the most important Slovak political leaders, including Prime Minister Eduard Heger and President Zuzana Čaputova. Slovaks officially began to fight the pro-Russian propaganda about the Ukrainian-Russian war relatively quickly. An example would be the adoption of a law that allows the blocking of websites that spread disinformation. It is also worth appreciating the actions of the Slovak police, which on a daily basis denies the popular fake news about the war in Ukraine.
Romanians were actively involved in helping refugees from Ukraine. There were created both government support plans, internet platforms offering help, and social initiatives of individual citizens via Facebook groups. Protests against Russian aggression against Ukraine are gathering hundreds of participants. Demonstrations are held not only in the country’s capital, Bucharest, but also in smaller towns. Romanians take refugees into their homes, offer transport, provide food and help with translation.
Number of refugees
According to the latest data of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 623,000 citizens of Ukraine have entered Romania since the beginning of the Russian invasion of that country.
Rules for the entry of Ukrainians to the territory of Romania
Ukrainian citizens can enter Romania with a valid biometric passport. Asylum seekers may also cross the border on the basis of another identity document (ID card, birth certificate) or, in exceptional cases, also on the basis of the declared identity, without presenting an identity document. Ukrainian citizens do not need a visa to enter Romania.
Refugees are admitted to Romania with their animals. The Romanian National Food Safety and Veterinary Authority (ANSVSA) has granted a temporary derogation from certain regulations regarding the transport of pets from Ukraine.
Regarding the pandemic legislation, Ukrainian citizens are exempt from quarantine regardless of whether they come directly from their home country or enter Romania across the border with the Republic of Moldova.
In order to be able to work legally in Romania, without the need for a work permit, Ukrainian citizens must conclude a full-time employment contract for a maximum period of nine months.
In relation to refugees arriving in Romania, a number of initiatives were taken at the government level. Among others, The Working Group on Refugees was established and with it individual points in areas within the country’s territory to coordinate assistance to refugees from Ukraine. The Romanian Ministry of the Interior announced that ‘territorial support points are to assess specific needs and be in constant contact with the central-level working group responsible for coordinating all activities.”
The government is also offering financial support to Romanians who have accepted refugees into their homes. For a period of 60 days, the state will transfer 20 lei per day per person.
The Romanian authorities have also launched a dedicated website that provides information on government actions for refugees and steps to be taken to obtain asylum in Romania. On the website you can also find information about medical services and the right to work for Ukrainian citizens.
In addition, Romania has developed an information platform to support Ukrainian refugees with information about their rights in the country where they arrived. On the website, you can register the need for temporary accommodation, as well as apply for food, clothes, cosmetics. Romanians can offer help to refugees via the platform.
Quick reactions and long-term help
According to the information provided to Demagog by the Eurocomunicare Association, Romania’s response to the current situation regarding incoming refugees is twofold.
The first layer of intervention is based on emergency responses. In the light of the Eurocomunicare Association comment, this response includes ‘deployment of resources at major border crossing points, humanitarian transport, shelter, food, basic medical assistance’.
The second layer of assistance activities focuses on the long-term protection of refugees and the social integration of those who decide to live in Romania permanently. For this purpose, the government has set up six working groups to develop protection and integration measures in the following thematic areas: health, education, work, housing, people in need, children and young people. Madalina Turza, an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, said the groups will „develop an action plan, dedicated measures on each line to support refugees in Romania.”
Historical relations between Romania and Ukraine are marked by disputes over the territory of Bessarabia. This is due to the annexation of the Romanian part of Bessarabia by the Soviet Union in the 1940s. After the collapse of the USSR, the territory of Bessarabia was divided between Ukraine and Moldova.
The friction between Bucharest and Kyiv is also caused by the Ukrainian law on the state language. According to the census conducted in 2001, there are 151,000 people living in Ukraine. Romanians. Romanian media wrote that the rules introduced by the law work ‘to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of children who speak Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian or Polish at home’. The Romanian embassy in Ukraine also informed about such problems of the Romanian minority in this country as: financing the activities of Romanian minority associations, preserving religious identity, representation at the administrative level, lack of parliamentary representation.
There was also a dispute between Romania and Ukraine over the Serpent Island, which has become a symbol of the heroism of Ukrainian soldiers. Located in the Black Sea, 45 km from the coasts of today’s Romania and Ukraine, the island was taken over by the USSR in 1948. During the Cold War, negotiations were held several times as to which state should belong to the area, and then, when it was taken over by Ukraine as the ‘heir’ of the USSR, further discussions in this regard were held with Romania. This issue was resolved by the International Court of Justice in 2009.
Romanians’ approach to refugees
A survey by INSCOP Research, before to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, showed that 12.3 percent Romanians say that Romania should accept all refugees unconditionally, 38.8 percent believes that the country should only accept certain categories of refugees, and 47.3 percent strongly opposes the admission of any refugees. Most of the people accepting refugees are under 30 years old with a university degree. On the other hand, the dominant group among those who are against accepting refugees are people with lower education, above 30 years old.
Social mood in Romania
Most Romanians feel strongly negative about Russia. Almost two-thirds of the Romanian population perceives Russia as the greatest threat to the country’s security and, at the same time, as the most important supplier of disinformation.
Moreover, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has increased Romanians’ confidence in NATO. Parallel to pro-NATO narratives, nationalist sentiments and fear of the economic consequences of the war that will affect Romania are growing.
Who is spreading disinformation in Romania?
As noted in the Funky Citizens report, all communication channels are used to spread disinformation in Romania, but most misinforming narratives are made available online. The most used medium in Romania is Facebook.
The Ministry of National Defense warns against Russian disinformation
The press department of the Romanian Ministry of National Defense published an article on its website in which it provided tips on how to deal with recognizing false information. Among the above-mentioned tips were, among others those related to checking the credibility of the source of information, verification of photos and thorough reading of all texts, not just their headers.
The Ministry of National Defense also presented the main pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian narratives that can be found in the media. The article notes that Russia is misrepresenting itself as an ‘eternal victim’ and shows its military intervention as ‘a forced response to alleged actions by the US, allies and partners’. It added that ‘Russia accused the US of inciting or organizing riots in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa’. The Romanian Ministry of National Defense also drew attention to the Kremlin’s historical policy, writing that Russia „denies historical events or distorts historical relations’. In the light of the article ‘Russia is spreading the false claim that Western civilization is falling and deviating from traditional values’ because it ‘works to ensure the safety and equality of LGBTQI + people and promotes concepts such as equality of women and multiculturalism’.
Anti-Western narratives in Romanian media
Much anti-Western content has been disseminated in Romania in recent years. According to a report by the Funky Citizens organization, no direct evidence linking the publishers of these materials with the Kremlin has been found, but there is no doubt that supporting this type of narrative serves Russia’s interests. According to the information contained in the report, anti-Western content in Romania is most often disseminated by nationalist politicians and news websites describing themselves as ‘alternative’, ‘independent’ and ‘free’.
One of the most popular anti-Western narratives in Romania appearing on social media is the anti-NATO narrative, among which fake news about NATO secret armies is common. The example of his presence in the Romanian media is illustrated, by an article published on the Departamentul de Informații România. The author of the text states that ‘in addition to a large official international army, NATO has other »secret armies « operating in various countries with the tacit consent of their governments’. It accuses NATO of ‘provoking terrorist attacks, first of all to maintain the atmosphere of tension and fear, and then – pointing the finger at other »perpetrators«’. This narrative is intended to instill confidence in NATO among members of Romanian society, and thus convince them to take the side of Russia.
Among the anti-Western narratives in the Romanian media, the anti-EU narrative also stands out. In the light of this type of content, Romania is presented as a ‘second-class’ country in the EU, and belonging to the union a bringing the state more costs than real benefits. An example of the use of this narrative is an article published by gandeste.org website. Romania was described in the text as ‘sad, devastated and brought to the status of a corporate colony under foreign military occupation’ as well as ‘a colony of the New Soviet Union Empire and a »Strategic Partner « (read EU and US)’. The page gandeste.org on Facebook (Gandeste Romania – from Romania. Think about Romania) has over 140,000. likes, and the article itself was shared over 500 times on this portal.
Narratives questioning the war in Ukraine
In Romania fake news, which are also known in other countries, gained popularity, especially those that spread information that there was no war in Ukraine at all.
One of the proofs that the war in Ukraine is a spectacle was to be a film that was published in large numbers in various countries, including Romania. The recording shows the bodies wrapped in plastic bags and has been described as if it was supposed to illustrate the victims of the war in Ukraine. One of the characters covered with bags moves at some point in the film, which was supposed to prove that the war in Ukraine is a fiction.
AFP Verificat announces an example of fake news that has been spread in many other countries. He also did not bypass the Romanian Internet. People publishing the video of a man putting artificial blood on his face say that the video proves that there is no war in Ukraine and that the victims of the war are actors. In fact, the movie was shot in 2020 on the set of the series ‘Contamin’ and has nothing to do with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian internet is misinforming about Romania
According to the Stop Fake portal, Russian propaganda media provided fake news about the Romanian MIG-21, which was supposed to be shot down by a Ukrainian missile on March 2, 2022. Rostov.tsargrad.tv, News-front.info, Mosregtoday.ru and other portals claim that Ukraine shot down a Romanian plane. The articles cite ‘official Romanian sources’, but the spokesman for the Romanian Ministry of National Defense, brig. Constantin Spinu noted that ‘any link between the situation in Ukraine and the crash of the MIG-21 and IAR-330 military planes last night in the Constanta County is excluded’.
On the Facebook page called Новости и Политика (Russian News and Politics) there is a video taken from the YouTube channel Аспекты (Russian Aspects). The video states that Romania, along with Russia, Poland and Hungary, plans to divide the territory of Ukraine and take over part of it. Similar information was disseminated by the uf.ru portal, according to which ‘Poland has already divided Ukraine’. The article stated that ‘the military has already distributed new maps in Poland, where Ukraine is distributed among Poland, Russia, Romania and Hungary’. This map is actually several years old and was created in connection with the letter of Vladimir Żyrinowski, a deputy of the Russian State Duma, to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The politician advises how the territories of Ukraine should be divided
False call-ups into the army
False orders to join the army appeared on the Romanian Internet, allegedly issued by the military base in Devesel. According to the information contained in the letter, the Romanian military requires the person who received the order to report to the military base in Devesel or other nearby military facility. The communiqué warns that failure to appear is considered desertion and may result in imprisonment. The Ministry of National Defense denied this false information and recalled that compulsory military service in Romania was suspended at the beginning of 2007. The broadcasting of false military orders was aimed at creating information chaos in connection with the war in Ukraine.
Romanian-Ukrainian relations were not perfect, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine made Romanians become involved in helping refugees. Government initiatives as well as social support ideas arose. The Romanian authorities are trying to resist disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine, as evidenced by, inter alia, the activity of the press office of the Ministry of National Defense. Disinforming content appears in Romanian media in line with anti-NATO and anti-EU narratives, as well as questioning the war in Ukraine. In Romania, the main area of spreading fake news is the internet.
We would like to thank the following experts for their help:
Dominika Hajdu , Globsec
Veronika Hincová Frankovská , Slovak Governance Institute
Grigory Mesezhnikov , Institute for Public Affairs
Karin Kőváry Sólymos , Investigative Center of Jan Kuciak
Blanka Zöldi, Lakmusz
Patrik Szicherle i Bulcsú Hunyadi, Political Capital
Péter Magyari, 444.hu
Ionela Ciolan, European Policy Centre
Presented data is up to date as of 01/04/2022.
Photo: Flickr, Mirek Pruchnicki