Russian disinformation in the pro-government Hungarian media

About two months ago I read a fascinating article published by Political Capital, a political science think tank, on Russian conspiracy theories and disinformation that circulate worldwide. On the whole the Russian effort is not very successful because few reputable conservative or liberal newspapers are willing to spread its propaganda. Not so the Hungarian pro-government newspapers, which often take Russian “news stories” at face value.

I have written several times about the Hungarian public’s gullibility when it comes to these theories. But it is one thing for an uneducated Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe to believe fanciful fabrications and quite another for pro-government newspapers to help spread the disinformation originating in Russia. In May of this year an English-language study titled Fog of Falsehood: Russian Strategy of Deception and the Conflict in Ukraine, edited by Katri Pynnöniemi and András Rácz, was published. One chapter, written by András Rácz, was devoted to Hungary. Naturally, the author concentrates on Hungarian reporting on Ukraine, but it is also a good source on the overall reporting practices of the official news agency, MTI, as well as publications like Index, Origo, Magyar Nemzet, and Magyar Idők. Since the study is in English and available online, there is no need to say much about it here, except that because MTI often relies on Russian sources, the news Hungarians receive on Ukraine goes through a kind of Russian filter. Since the Hungarian media is centralized and the Orbán government usually takes a pro-Russian position when it comes to foreign affairs, it should come as no surprise that papers that are in essence mouthpieces of the government will often regurgitate the pro-Russian attitudes of the politicians.

disinformation

Political Capital studied five pieces of disinformation circulated by the Kremlin. The first was in connection with the Maidan revolution of 2013-2014, which Vladimir Putin described as a far-right provocation. It was spread far and wide that the CIA organized the “Ukrainian putsch” in order to remove Putin from his position. The pro-government Hungarian media followed suit. From the very beginning Kossuth Rádió called the revolutionaries “terrorists.” One political scientist in the pay of the Hungarian government claimed that it was Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, who dictated the names of the new Ukrainian cabinet to the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev. In Magyar Hírlap a right-wing economist took it for granted that the United States was behind the revolt.

The situation was the same when it came to the death of 298 people on the Malaysian Airline plane that was shot down, as it turned out later, by Russian or Russian-supported forces in July 2014. The Russians came up with all sorts of conspiracy theories to divert attention away from their own responsibility for the disaster. At that time Zsolt Bayer claimed that “even a child of average intelligence can figure out in three minutes that Putin is the one in this equation who had the least interest in the downing of the Malaysian plane.” One of the Orbán government’s so-called security experts, Georg Spöttle, claimed that “there was something on the plane” before it crashed. He based this supposition on a theory put forth by a pro-Russian internet site: that Dutch security forces had planted a bomb on the aircraft.

The pro-government Hungarian media also accepted Russian disinformation in connection with the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, circulated to deflect any suspicion of Putin’s complicity in the murder. The Russians offered several theories. One claimed that radical Islamists were behind the murder. The head of the Russian investigation committee was looking for extreme right-wing elements. Interfax talked about opposition business circles being behind Nemtsov’s death. The Hungarian right-wing media got the message. Gyula T. Máté, son of Gyula Thürmer, chairman of the Hungarian Communist Party, explained why Putin couldn’t possibly be involved in the murder and pointed instead to Ukraine. Zsolt Bayer embellished this story by adding that Nemtsov’s Ukrainian girlfriend had had an abortion and introducing a jealous lover.

The Hungarian pro-government media also picked up a story from the Kremlin-funded Sputnik, according to which two of the suspects of the terrorist attacks in Brussels were actually Belarussian citizens. Behind this bit of disinformation was a Russian-Belarusian spat over Belarus’s too friendly attitude toward the West at the time. Nonetheless, the official MTVA hirado.hu decided to run this bogus story, which was picked up from a historian who read about the brothers in Syrian and Tunisian internet sources. Magyar Idők also devoted a short article to the story, which in this case came straight from Pravda.ru.

Finally, there was the Russian attempt to blame the United States and George Soros for WikiLeaks’ release of the Panama Papers, which was considered to be a personal attack on Vladimir Putin. The Russian president himself in a question/answer marathon blamed the United States for the release of the Panama Papers, saying that “they will keep doing this anyway, and the nearer the elections, the more such stories will be planted.” The pro-government Hungarian media jumped on the bandwagon. Quoting Dmitriy Peskov, the spokesman for the Kremlin, Magyar Idők reported that American officials had apologized to Vladimir Putin for the release of the papers even before they were actually made available online.

These are just a few examples of Russian disinformation being spread by the Hungarian pro-government media. I’m sure that I could come up with many more if I spent a few days combing through the appropriate sources. The lesson? The Hungarian government has closely allied itself to Putin’s Russia. Orbán and his friends use a number of formerly pro-Soviet/pro-Russian journalists who studied in the Soviet Union or whose fathers spent years in Russia. They are fluent in the language and follow the Russian media closely. People of pro-Russian sentiment can be found on the left too, but after Orbán changed from being an avid Russian antagonist to an enthusiastic pro-Russian these left-wingers moved over to the Orbán camp. Thus, Gyula Thürmer, the arch-communist, by 2014 was supporting Fidesz, and his son, Gyula T. Máté, has a regular column in Magyar Hírlap. Strange things can happen in Orbán’s Hungary.

August 27, 2016
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e-2016
Guest

The Balogh Blog’s subject selection is great.

Everybody can use a primer in the subject of Kremlin subversion tactics, reaching 150-200 years into the past.

It includes disinformation, terror plots by proxis, encouragement for local wars, and genocides.

A certain US blog can be a useful addition to the fight against disinformation:

https://conflict-backchannels.com/2016/05/01/russias-disinformation-history-elements/

Doy
Guest

Write about the Saudi-led coalition devastating Yemen, with the help of the US and the UK, fucken Jewess.

LwiiH
Guest
Member

@Doy

We don’t use that kind of language here. We don’t even share hateful thoughts.

Doy
Guest

Political Capital. The laughing stock of Hungarians after the revelation that it worked for the Hungarian secret service under the Gyurcsany regime.

Alex Kuli
Guest

Political Capital did not conduct the study, they just reviewed it in their blog. The study was done by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
http://www.fiia.fi/en/publication/588/fog_of_falsehood/

Alex Kuli
Guest

Apologies, I misread the Hungarian article. Political Capital did its own work. That doesn’t make Doy’s cowardly comments any more palatable.

Guest

Alex, it’s no use trying to discuss with a troll like Doy! Either we ignore the creature (or Eva bans it …) or we use it as a deterring example – that’s what I do when people complain about me being too aggressive …
Doy is a “nice” example of what lurks in the back of the Tiszta Magyar mind …

Guest

Great cartoon image! It suggests another one from a cinematic film fantasy ‘The 5000 Fingers of Dr T ‘which was done back in the 50’s. The film has a musical ‘dictator’, a Dr. Terwiliker, who forces 500 kids to play the piano all in unison thus the ref to 5,000 fingers. One though rebels in doing any piano playing. Theodor Geisel, known as ‘Dr. Seuss’ wrote the storyline which some have suggested explores a theme of domination which had come out of WW II. Mr. Putin in the 21st would seem to be the new and improved Dr Terwiliker now of disinformation posing as ‘truth’.

And here in the early 21st the Russian ‘lullabyes’ are playing oh so slyly once again not on their pianos ( or balalaikas!) but on a Western invention, the Internet. And it would seem those in the East like the ‘trustworthy’ law firm of ‘Orban, Fico and Zeman’ could arguably be going on slowly and surely into that long and deep sleep good night.

Istvan
Guest
What an odd issue for Doy to bring up, the US involvement in the Civil War in Yemen. Well maybe it’s not odd at all maybe it’s consistent with the theme of Eva’s essay on Russian conspiracy theories and disinformation that circulate in Hungary. Add to that Doy’s open antisemitism. It is indeed true that Saudi planes and Egyptian warships have launched very unrestrained attacks against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen. It’s also true that the United States has provided logistical support for those attacks. Retired US Army Col. Derek Harvey, who served as a senior intelligence officer at U.S. Central Command has publicly admitted that the Saudi coalition has been inflicted high levels of collateral damage and civilian casualties in Yemen. As is now well known Russia has become an ally of Iran and has an $8 billion arms deal in the works with Iran that includes the Su-30 warplane, Yak-30 training aircraft, military helicopters such as the Mi-8 and Mi-17, K-300 Bastion coastal defense systems, new surface ships, and even new diesel-electric submarines. (See https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/iran-seeks-russian-fire-power-52050 ) The possibility of such a deal between Russia and Iran only became possible following the implementation of last year’s nuclear agreement between… Read more »
Ocsi
Guest
Guest

Thanks, Ocsi!

Though actually this is nothing new for most people here, it’s always good to be reminded of those efforts by Putin’s manipulators.

Luckily they are so crass/stupid/naive that only extremists believe them!

Istvan
Guest

Neil MacFarquhar NY Times article was well worth reading and is totally consistent with Eva’s essay. Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov who was quoted in the article on the use of propaganda in warfare is on list of persons against whom the European Union introduced sanctions ″in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine″. The US military refers to this as Gerasimov’s theory as “hybrid warfare” and it is discussed in some detail in this article http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/grading-gerasimov-evaluating-russian-nonlinear-war-through-modern-chinese-doctrine .

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Seryukov was sacked by Putin supposedly for corruption along with General Nikolay Makarov who Gerasimov replaced. But the biggest reason for this flip was that Seryukov started purchasing arms abroad instead of spending the enormous sum (over $700 billion) allocated by the state on the re-equipment of the army to support Russian military industries which are controlled by the oligarchs. The reason Seryukov did this is because much of the Russian stuff is to put it simple worth shit “stoit der’mo.” Here is a funny article about Putin inspecting a Russian jeep and having to watch the door latch fall off http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-autos-idUSKCN0Y328W

Bowen
Guest

Like many in Fidesz, and the Alt-Right in general, Bayer comes across as a manipulative, abusive little man, probably relishing the fact that he has a platform and an audience.

Meanwhile, the number of people who have returned their knights cross medals has just reached 100.
http://444.hu/2016/08/22/visszaadott-lovagkereszt-szamlalo

John Christmas
Guest

There is a major disinformation campaign that has fooled the Western media. In 2008/2009 over $1 bln was embezzled from confirmed Tambovskaya Mafia money-launderer ‘Parex Bank’ of Latvia. The Latvian government and EBRD organized a confirmed fraudulent bailout. However the media isn’t publishing this true story and instead publishes fiction that Sweden caused the Latvian economy to collapse.

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