The nascent internet played a key role in defeating the military coup in Russia in 1991, writes Andrei Soldatov. However, the democratic promise of the web was never fulfilled. In the 2000s, it became a means of escape for a disaffected middle class closed out of the political process. The failed protest wave of 2011–2012 bore the mark of this ‘lost decade’. Meanwhile, in the era of political trolling, online participation has come to mean something very different.
Comrades in compote
‘The Russians are in the pantry already!’ The Hungarian adage is from a 1960s classic comedy The corporal and the others in which a bunch of deserters team up to try and survive the chaotic final weeks of World War II. The tricksters keep adapting their stories and uniforms to match the ever-changing and ever so nonsensical demands of military superiors who come and go around the double frontlines.
Quartered in an abandoned countryside castle and expecting the advancing Red Army to arrive soon, high-ranking Nazis, rouge Arrow Cross militias and servicemen of the disgraced Hungarian military are all scared to death when they find one Russian soldier in the building: a young private is stuck in the pantry. The reaction is panic, the solution is to run amok.
This scene comes to mind when observing how the European Union reacts to Russian interference around its latest elections – by taking measures that are long overdue, and yet far from enough, as Péter Krekó explains in his recent article in our Mood of the Union focal point.
Though various politicians in the member states have been openly leaning toward Vladimir Putin for some time, the EU only recently responded to the spread of disinformation and still seems to rely on the states themselves to tackle matters individually.
This could be considered quite sarcastic if we remember that Viktor Orbán, for instance, first declared his rhetorical war of Hungarian independence back in 2013 by taking loans from Russia – instead of from the IMF. And he’s not alone: it seems like certain European politicians are running a selfie contest with Putin, while buliding their strategies on heavyweight propaganda.
It is vital to admit that however the Kremlin tries to interfere with elections, it wouldn’t get anywhere without opportunistic domestic politicians to provide it with a platform. Identifying external threats is only one step of the way. Another would be recognizing entry points and finding out who can or cannot be trusted with countermeasures.
After all, disinformation tends to be much more effective when broadcast on state television.
Réka Kinga Papp
Published 11 July 2019
Original in English
Greece, Lithuania and Denmark after the EP elections
The results of Greece’s snap general election, triggered by Syriza’s defeat in May, are eagerly awaited. Support for the far-right Danish People’s Party has collapsed, while Lithuania has grown more conservative. But isn’t there more to European politics than national swings and roundabouts?