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Slovakia

Slovakia

  • Slovak political representation at the highest level is in a state of denial concerning Russian disinformation and influence operations, with the exception of President Andrej Kiska.
  • Slovak civil society is very active, trying to raise public awareness and enhance education and media literacy amongst the youth.
  • The activities targeting the spread of Russian influence are interconnected with preventing radicalization.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Government using Russia-card for domestic reasons. While these countries have predominantly negative historical experience with Russia, the government uses relations with Moscow for domestic political and/or economic reasons, or as a tool against the EU establishment.[1]

Slovakia belongs to the group of countries that were formerly part of the Eastern bloc and had negative historical experience with the Russian Federation. It is a firm supporter of the counter measures against Russia taken by the EU and NATO following the annexation of Crimea. However, energy dependence and economic ties with Russia lead to occasional capitulation on the Slovak side, for example in the case of the deployment of the US missile shield. Hence, Slovakia remains one of the most pro-Russian countries in the EU.[2] There are pro-Russian fringe elements present in Slovak politics, such as ex-Communist politicians who continue to harbour sympathies for Russia.[3]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


In September 2017, the Slovak Government adopted new strategy documents, namely: the new Security Strategy of the Slovak Republic and the new Defence Strategy of the Slovak Republic. Considering that Slovak´s strategy documents were last updated in 2005, major changes were made to the country´s security and defence policies. [4] While the Slovak government generally highlights the necessity of maintaining pragmatic relations with Russia; one of Slovakia´s foreign policy goals[5] is the support of a comprehensive approach and wider cooperation between the European Union and NATO with respect to countering disinformation and cyber-defence.

Accordingly, the Security Strategy contains an acknowledgement of Russia´s annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law. The document emphasizes that relations between the Russian Federation and the EU and NATO have deteriorated, but also holds that dialogue with Russia on security issues should continue. One of the biggest challenges, according to the Security Strategy, is decline in public trust towards national institutions as well as the EU and NATO. To this point, the document states: “This problem is significantly impacted by the propaganda and disinformation effect of external and internal actors.” There is also an emphasis on political extremism, which is becoming a growing problem in Slovakia. "An important part of this development is the spread of anti-Western propaganda. It is especially effective and easy to promote by means of electric forms of communication, especially social networks."[6]

Similarly, the Defence Strategy also mentions the issue of propaganda and disinformation in connection with social polarization in Slovakia, the disruption of the political system and the weakening of public trust in the democratic process and rule of law. These developments are not, however, mentioned in context of  Russian influence efforts.[7]

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


In June 2016, the Slovak Ministry of the Interior admitted for the first time that Slovakia had become the target of Russian propaganda. The Ministry issued a statement declaring that "like other Central and Eastern European countries, Slovakia has become the target of information influence of the Russian Federation structures. "[8]

 Slovak President Andrej Kiska is one of the few political leaders who acknowledges the threat. On 17 March 2017, he publicly proclaimed that “Slovakia is a target of information war and propaganda and Slovak security services are doing next to nothing to counter it”. Kiska has also recently said that “through different types of channels, the Russians are trying to divide our EU”.[9] Nonetheless, there are no activities on the state level dedicated to strategic communication or any type of countermeasures against disinformation campaigns and influence operations.[10] Notably, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák has stated that there are no plans to establish a unit at the governmental level to fight disinformation and propaganda.[11] 

Slovakia does not actively participate in efforts to counter disinformation at the international level. The Slovak President warned against the danger of spreading disinformation in 2015 during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. However, the Prime Minister and the rest of the political leadership do not consider the threat of Russian influence a priority.

Slovakia became one of the pilot countries for the global campaign “We Are NATO”, which aims to explain to the general public the advantages of being a NATO member and NATO’s role in preserving global peace. A Slovak official noted that “the campaign is set to stress Slovakia’s pro-European and pro-NATO orientation and fight against fake and misleading news concerning these institutions”.[12]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


The Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) published an annual report for 2016, in which it dedicates one section to the topic of subversive foreign influence: “In the foreign policy area, the SIS has watched the Russian Federation activities aimed at keeping neighbouring states in their sphere of influence, confirming their great power and building a multipolar world order. In the post-Soviet space, the Russian Federation seeks to promote its interests through some integration clusters, ongoing ties to the political and economic elite of post-Soviet states, and propaganda.”[13]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


Slovak civil society is, unlike the political representation, a strong player in countering disinformation campaigns. There is a significant number of individuals and organizations trying to tackle the challenges of manipulative and disinforming media, radicalisation and extremism (especially among the youth) and media literacy and education. Most of these groups and individuals are informally associated with a platform for stakeholders including journalists, NGOs and government specialists called the Slovak Forum against Propaganda.

One of the most successful civic projects, Konspiratori.sk, was launched by the company Net Success. They created a database of dubious websites with false, conspiratorial or propaganda content. The sources in the database are evaluated by an independent committee. They cooperate with over 1,400 Slovak companies that take down their advertisements from the outlets in the database and therefore refuse to support the authors of these websites financially.

Another strong actor on the non-governmental front is the Globsec Policy Institute, organizer of the yearly GLOBSEC Bratislava Global Security Forum, which conducts analyses and studies of disinformation campaigns and Russian influence operations. They also authorized a project of two young youtubers who published misleading videos about each other which caused a lot of hate among their fans. Afterwards, they made another videos in which they explained how easy it is to become misinformed[14]. The Slovak Security Policy Institute focuses on research and analysis of security challenges and has established an internet portal dedicated to cyber-security (CyberSec.sk). It also runs the page Antipropaganda.sk where it debunks myths about foreign and security policy. It also organizes numerous discussions with high-school students all around Slovakia to counter the myths related to the Slovak foreign policy.

The Slovak Foreign Policy Association, established in 1993 serves as an open non-partisan discussion forum for international and foreign policy issues and also focuses on the topic of disinformation. There are also numerous individuals who try to raise public awareness and point out disinformation attempts. Their commentaries are often published in a special online section of the Slovak daily Denník N called “Disinformation Hoaxes Propaganda”.

There are also initiatives to enhance media literacy, such as creating education materials for students and teaching them how to distinguish disinformation from serious news. The Media Literacy Centre, established in 2010 by the Faculty of Mass Media Communication at the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, includes several research activities and its main output is the information interface medialnavychova.sk. The Faculty also provides accredited bachelor and masters study programs in applied media studies, which focus on the preparing specialists for the field of developing media literacy, new media and media platforms and programs used in education.[15]



[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] Dariusz Kalan and Ágnes Vass: “Big Gestures, Small Actions: Paradoxes of Slovakia’s Policy towards Russia”. The Polish Institute of International Affairs, 43 (775). 27 April 2015. Available at: http://www.pism.pl/files/?id_plik=19695 
[3] “Kremlin Playbook“ Center for Strategic and International Studies. October 2016. Available at: https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/1601017_Conley_KremlinPlaybook_Web.pdf 
[4] http://mepoforum.sk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/N%C3%A1vrh-Bezpe%C4%8Dnostnej-strat%C3%A9gie-SR.pdf  
[5]“Focus of the foreign and European policy of the Slovak Republic for 2016”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Available at: https://www.mzv.sk/documents/10182/2198827/2016+-+Zameranie+zahrani%C4%8Dnej+a+eur%C3%B3pskej+politiky+Slovenskej+republiky 
[6] http://mepoforum.sk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/N%C3%A1vrh-Bezpe%C4%8Dnostnej-strat%C3%A9gie-SR.pdf  
[7] http://mepoforum.sk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/N%C3%A1vrh-Obrannej-strat%C3%A9gie-SR.pdf 
[8] https://dennikn.sk/481082/stat-prvykrat-priznal-ze-ruska-propaganda-utoci-prozapadne-smerovanie-slovenska/ 

https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/344132/kalinakov-rezort-priznava-slovensko-je-predmetom-posobenia-ruskeho-vplyvu/ 
[9] https://www.prezident.sk/en/article/kiska-diskutoval-v-slovinsku-o-ekonomike-aj-zahranicnej-politike/ 
[10]“Vulnerabiltiy Index.” GLOBEC Policy Institute. April 2017. Available at: http://www.cepolicy.org/sites/cepolicy.org/files/attachments/globsec_vulnerability_index.pdf 
[11] https://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/419656/vali-sa-na-nas-ruska-propaganda-kalinak-prisiel-o-experta/ 
[12] https://spectator.sme.sk/c/20708269/slovakia-launches-campaign-pointing-to-the-benefits-of-slovakias-membership-in-nato-and-the-eu.html 
[13] http://www.sis.gov.sk/pre-vas/sprava-o-cinnosti.html#zahranicnopoliticka-oblast 
[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=RJdwJzM89jo 
[15]“Mapping of media literacy practices and actions in EU-28.” European Audiovisual Observatory. 2016. Available at: http://www.obs.coe.int/documents/205595/8587740/Media+literacy+mapping+report+-+EN+-+FINAL.pdf/c1b5cc13-b81e-4814-b7e3-cc64dd4de36c 

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