Slovakia is a landlocked Central European country that got its independence after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Since then, despite being under communist rule and a member of the Eastern Bloc for more than four decades until 1989, the country has reversed its political course completely by becoming a democracy, a member of NATO and the EU in 2004, and of the Eurozone in 2009. However, even in 2017, Slovakia is still branded as a nation in transit according to Freedom House, which gives it a democracy score of 2.61, and Democracy Index 2017 compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which rates Slovakia as a flawed democracy, with a score of 7.16 (44th in the world). Quite symptomatic are also the results of a survey conducted by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute in 2016, in which 52% of respondents stated that Slovakia should serve as a bridge between the East and the West, an idea that Martin Sklenár, Director of the Security Policy Department at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, mentioned as one of the most illustrative examples of how pro-Kremlin disinformation exploits long-held beliefs in the country.
Slovak society is often described as a traditional one. For example, the two largest demonstrations in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 were national pro-life marches organised by the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia in 2013 and 2015 and attented by approximately 80 000 and 85 000 people, respectively. According to the 2011 census, only 13.4% of the population consider themselves to be atheists, while 62% describe themselves as Roman Catholic. Ethnically, the population of Slovakia is homogenous. The idea of Slavic unity or brotherhood has been present since the end of the 18th century, when the area of present Slovakia was under the rule of the Austrian Empire and later Austria-Hungary. Pan-Slavism as a cultural and political movement appeared in the 19th century, and is associated closely with the ideological fathers of the Slovak national revival, including Ľudovít Stur, who is generally considered to be one of the most important figures in Slovak history. Nowadays, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) in 2015, 31% of Slovaks trust Russia, which is the highest number among all Visegrad Group (V4) countries.
While Slovakia’s biggest trade partners are mostly EU Member States, the country is almost completely dependent on imported Russian gas (which supplies approximately 97% of Slovakia’s demands) and oil (approximately 98%), which makes the country very sensitive to any worsening in mutual relations. The situation is similar in the military area, as the Slovak army remains heavily dependent on Soviet military equipment. Even though both energy diversification and modernisation of the Slovak army are high on the agenda of the Slovak parliament, any radical changes are unlikely to happen soon, mainly for financial and technical reasons or, in some cases, lack of political will.
To sum up, Kremlin-orchestrated disinformation campaigns can exploit a shared communist past, the conservatism of Slovak society, the common Slavic ethnic background or the country’s economic dependence on Russian gas and oil to spread their narratives in Slovakia. However, it is necessary to understand that most of these contexts have only limited value for pro-Kremlin propaganda. A shared communist past brings not only nostalgia, but also negative memories of occupation (for example, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion). Conservatism is limited by the different dominant religious beliefs (Orthodox Christianity vs Roman Catholic), and the common Slavic background is problematic because of the geographical distance or the usage of different scripts (Latin vs Cyrillic) that makes Russian hardly understandable in written form, especially for younger generations.
Despite being a part of the Eastern Bloc in the past, Slovakia does not have any significant Russian population that could be considered as an obvious target audience for pro-Kremlin false and manipulative content. Moreover, there is no other important ethnic group that could be exploited by Russian propaganda on the basis of ethnic grievances, as the largest ethnic minority (8.2% of the total population) are Hungarians, of which only 11% think that in Slovakia members of the Hungarian minority have a disadvantageous starting position in every aspect of life.
According to the majority of the consulted experts, Kremlin-originated or inspired narratives are exploiting the country’s economic, historic, societal, ethnolinguistic, and religious context. Vladimír Snídl, a journalist from Denník N, stated that:
‘It is very difficult to identify any specifically vulnerable group, as disinformation campaigns could be appealing to virtually anyone, regardless of their education, age or occupation’.
However, there are certain segments of the society that could be considered as more vulnerable than others.
The first includes those Slovaks who feel strong nostalgia for their communist past. Many of them feel socio-economically disadvantaged and perceive a low level of social security, especially when compared to the pre-1989 era. A typical example is a representative of the lower middle class or working class, with basic education, working manually or unemployed, typically from a rural region. This group has become more and more disillusioned with the current pro-Western course of the Slovak Republic, as its members do not perceive any social or economic benefits of the post-communist era. As the results of a poll by Focus in 2007, and another by Focus and the Institute for Public Affairs in 2014 suggest, most in this sector of society are retired people (age 60+), but the ratio of the negative perception of the system change in 1989 is also higher than the average in society within the 45+ age group (31.8%). According to a survey conducted by GLOBSEC Policy Institute, 42% of Slovaks would define the country’s geopolitical orientation as ‘in between’, neither West nor East oriented, 59% want to stay in the EU, and 56% of respondents would agree that NATO membership is good for Slovakia’s security.
A surprisingly vulnerable group is composed of young people aged under 25. One of the main reasons, besides systemic flaws in the educational system, is arguably the grim future prospects for students with high school diplomas, and of those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who are unable to find decent jobs. In September 2017, youth unemployment (under 25s) was at 14.9% in Slovakia.
As the last parliamentary election showed, a higher percentage of first-time voters supported the right-wing extremist party Ľudova strana nase Slovensko (LSNS), whose leader Marian Kotleba openly promotes his pro-Russian, anti-systemic politics based on anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric. As an example, in 2014 he sent a supportive letter to the then president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and later, during his term as a chairman of the Banska Bystrica self-governing region, he welcomed members of the Night Wolves motorcycle club with the flag of the president of Russia raised on the government building. At the same time, 30% of young Slovaks are undecided about their country’s geopolitical orientation, which creates space for potential propaganda exploitation.
Most importantly, there are political parties in Slovakia promoting pro-Russian views. One of the most significant is LSNS (8.04% in the 2016 parliamentary election) with its pro-Russian political pan-Slavism and strong anti-EU and anti-NATO stance. LSNS is also connected to the rest of the far-right spectrum in Slovakia, which is very pro-Russian in general. However, pro-Russian tendencies can be observed even in traditional parties, especially in nationalist, conservative Slovenska narodna strana (SNS) (8.64%). Its leader, Andrej Danko, recently stressed in his speech in the Russian State Duma the importance of the common Slavic culture, and expressed a will to cooperate with Russia in many areas, including education.
Furthermore, even Prime Minister Robert Fico, the leader of the largest ruling party SMER (socialna demokracia, SMER–SD, 28.28%), reflected a traditionally positive image of Russia among the Slovak population, and of Slovak dependence on Russian gas in his ‘friendly-pragmatic’ condemnation of the sanctions against Russia. Mirek Tóda, a journalist of Denník N, repeatedly stressed the negative impact of this kind of populism on Slovak politics and the public sphere, and even labeled it as one of the key information security challenges for Slovakia. Moreover, he added that:
‘The majority of the highest representatives of the state, probably only with the exception of the president, are not willing to criticise Russia openly in any situation for various reasons’.
To sum up, even though the main direct target group of Kremlin-inspired propaganda is very limited, as it includes mainly the far-right nationalist anti-systemic spectrum that already has strong pro-Russian views and serves mainly as a proxy for spreading propaganda, a substantial number of Slovak citizens are sympathetic towards Russia.
Other vulnerable subcategories are socio-economically weaker people of 45+ years of age, who feel a sense of nostalgia for the previous regime, and young disillusioned people with grim socio-economic prospects. Those are the people who are dissatisfied with the current situation in general, and are therefore prone to believe Russian propaganda as an alternative based on economic, historical, societal, ethnolinguistic or religious similarities. In addition, as some of the interviewed experts emphasised, it is necessary to include active and retired armed forces personnel in the list of groups vulnerable to the effects of Kremlin-led propaganda, as the activities of openly pro-Russian groups such as the Association of the Slovak soldiers (ASV) might pose a significant security risk.
The World Press Freedom Index placed Slovakia 17th in the world rankings in 2017, out of 180 countries. However, compared to 2016, Slovakia has fallen in the ranking by five places, mostly because of the growing number of defamation actions against journalists being brought by businessmen, politicians and judicial officials. Any journalist convicted of such an offence faces up to eight years in prison.
According to the Media Pluralism Monitor, Slovakia has good results (22%, low risk) in the area of basic protection (regulatory framework, status of journalists, reach of traditional media, etc.); medium results (35%, medium risk) in the area of market plurality (transparency of media ownership, prevention of concentration of media ownership, competition enforcement, and state protection of media pluralism, etc.) and social inclusiveness (34%, medium risk). The area that scores the highest risk (53%, medium risk) is political independence (political control over media, regulatory safeguards against political bias), as there are issues with political control over local/regional/municipal media, editorial autonomy, and funding.
The recent murder of Jan Kuciak, member of an investigative team at Aktuality.sk, who was found shot dead with his fiancée on February 25, was the first time a journalist had been killed since Slovakia gained independence. This crime shocked Slovak society and could lead to deep political consequences. Kuciak’s last published articles uncovered the activities of alleged Ndrangeta mafia members in fraud and corruption allegations regarding EU funds, and involved the relationship with high-ranking individuals in the Slovak government.
There are four big media groups who control most of the TV market in Slovakia. The biggest one is Bermudian CME (25.7% share of the market as of the 51st week, December 2017) with the most important channel TV Markíza. J&T Media Enterprises Group controls 23.6% of market and owns channel TV JOJ. Other significant players include public broadcaster RTVS (13.6%) with channels Jednotka and Dvojka, and the business giant Grafobal Group (1.3%) with the news channel of TA3. Despite some rumours of a lack of political impartiality, for example in the case of TA3, there have been no signs of pro-Kremlin narratives from any of the significant TV broadcasters on any of the mentioned channels broadcast in the Slovak language.
The biggest radio broadcasting network is public RTVS (25.9%). The single most popular radio station is commercial Radio Express (19.3%).Probably the most important ‘alternative’ radio station is the Internet radio station called Slobodny Vysielac, which serves as a hub for the disinformation spreading community and individuals. Documents regarding NATO information operations, colour revolutions, and Oliver Stone’s documentary about Vladimir Putin can be found under the sub-page called Warsonline. As there are no precise data available about Slobodny Vysielac’s popularity, the only indicator for measuring its audience are numbers published by the Radia.sk website, focusing on Slovak radio stations and their Internet streaming applications. According to data from November 2017, Slobodny Vysielac had a 2.7% share of the app users market with 5 673.68 hours.
Regarding mainstream print media, no title has a pro-Russian bias. There are however some marginal weekly and monthly magazines, such as Literarny tyzdenník and Nove slovo, which support pro-Russia views. The most important one is Zem a vek, a monthly magazine spreading hoaxes, pro-Russian propaganda, and conspiracy theories. There are no reliable data available, but according to Tibor Eliot Rostas, editor-in-chief of Zem a Vek, there 25 000 copies were published monthly in 2015, and there were almost 7 000 subscribers. In comparison, the most circulated (64 864 copies sold) monthly magazine Novy Cas Krízovky published 91 510 copies in November 2017. Andrej Matisak, a renowned Slovak journalist, sees the Slovak media market as rather fragmented and extremely small:
‘We are struggling to find a sustainable business model. Lack of resources, both financial and human, is leading to a situation when a single journalist is expected to master Twitter, Facebook, and of course deliver source-rich, fact-based pieces. Everything is done under huge time stress’.
Slovak print media reacted to the digital era by enhancing business models with paid for online content. Jana Polacikova, a news media researcher and scholar, argues that this model is understandable, but it also leads to a paradoxical situation, in which young people, who consume information predominantly online, naturally prefer free sources, sometimes of questionable quality, rather than the paid content of traditional media. According to the Global Trends study by GLOBSEC Policy Institute, 12% of respondents consider online disinformation sites as a legitimate source of information, while 40% of respondents do not trust mainstream media.
Pro-Kremlin narratives (NATO wants to destroy Russia, Russia is the only protector of conservative values and traditions while the West is decadent, a planned U.S. military base in Slovakia, etc.) are mostly visible on the Internet. In 2015, there were at least 42 web pages of Slovak and Czech (as a result of language similarities, the online space of Slovakia and the Czech Republic is shared to a large extent) origin spreading Russian propaganda. One of the most popular websites spreading pro-Kremlin narratives (‘Putin forces out dollar with golden ruble’, ‘Brits are ready to emigrate to Russia en masse’, ‘OSCE observers confirmed illegal organ transplant stations in Ukraine’) is a news website called Hlavne Spravy. According to the Similarweb, Hlavne Spravy has a country rank of 80 with 4.58 million visits in December 2017. In comparison, the most popular news website Sme.sk had more than 25 million visits in the same month, while the fifth most visited, hnonline.sk, had more than 17 million.
The limited long-term impact of ‘alternative media’ is also confirmed by Snídl, which stresses their ability to reach a wider audience through specific topics such as migration. According to activist Juraj Smatana, who was first to come up with a list of web pages spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda, it is a decentralised network with three main branches: anonymous websites publishing lies and disinformation, half-anonymous websites without any names, but their owners willing to communicate via email or telephone, and web pages with published real names of the authors. The components of this network are very closely interconnected, with social media being the main tool of connection.
Legal regulations and institutional framework
The media regulatory framework in Slovakia is based on Article 26 of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, which guarantees the freedom of expression and the right to information. It also provides everyone with rights to express their opinion and declares that no approval process shall be required for press publishing while ‘[e]ntrepreneurial activity in the field of radio and television broadcasting may be subject to permission from the state’. The rest of the article prohibits censorship, specifies that ‘freedom of expression and the right to seek and disseminate information may be restricted by law only if it is regarding measures necessary in a democratic society to protect the rights and freedoms of others, national security, public order, protection of health, and morals’, and declares that ‘public authority bodies shall be obliged to provide information about their activities in an appropriate manner in the official language’.
The most important act for TV and radio providers is the Act on Broadcasting and Re-transmission published in 2015. It regulates ‘the status and competence of the Council for Broadcasting and Re-transmission’, of which members are nominated by the National Council of the Slovak Republic, and ‘the rights and duties of a broadcaster, a re-transmission operator, the provider of an on-demand audio-visual media service and legal entities or natural persons’.
Besides the nationwide active media, which received their licences by the decision of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, all regional TV and radio broadcasters obtain their licences and registration from the Council for Broadcasting and Re-transmission, which also has the right to fine them or revoke their licence or registration for re-transmission if they break the rules of the Act on Broadcasting and Re-transmission. Furthermore, ownership of more than one type of nationwide media is prohibited. In 2017, Tibor E. Rostas, editor-in-chief of Zem a Vek, was charged with the criminal offence of defamation of a nation, race, and belief because of his article about Jews called ‘Klin zidov medzi Slovanmi’(‘The Legion of Jews among the Slavs’).
Unlike TV and radio, the print media environment is not regulated. The only obligation for publishers is to register at the Ministry of Culture and to report all changes. The self-regulation of printed media is based on the Association for the Protection of Journalistic Ethics (AONE) and its executive body the Print-Digital Council of the Slovak Republic (TR SR), which follows the Code of Journalistic Ethics. AONE was founded in 2001 by representatives of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists and Slovak Press Publishers’ Association. Later, it was also joined by the biggest association in the Slovak digital market, IAB Slovakia (the Association of the Internet Media). However, as membership of all these organisations is voluntary, not every journalist or media outlet is a member. Moreover, as Julius Lorincz, a former chairman of the Print-Digital Council of the Slovak Republic stated:
‘The powers of TR SR are limited in practice with admonition being their only tool of punishment’.
‘Better transparency of the funding and ownership of the media has to be implemented, through an obligatory registration at the relevant state agency’.
With regard to the alternative media scene, it became more organised in 2016 when representatives of Zem a Vek, Slobodny Vysielac, Hlavne Spravy and Medzi a Dav Dva established their own organisation, the Association of the Independent Media (ANM). Besides media regulation, Slovakia does not yet have a specific legal framework focused on information security.
Information about strategic propaganda practices and the threat of disinformation campaigns can be found in a 2016 white paper about defence regarding the Slovak Republic. The document evaluated previous activities of The Ministry of Defence in strategic communication:
‘Communication concerning national defence lacked strategy, making it underdeveloped, ineffectual and largely reactive. All this in an era when the information channels in the Slovak Republic are being filled by domestic extremist groups and foreign players spreading their message and propaganda aimed against the security interests of the Slovak Republic’.
The updated official documents, Security Strategy of the Slovak Republic (2017) and the Defence Strategy of the Slovak Republic (2017) consider this area specifically, and suggest broad counter-measures. The Security Strategy describes disinformation campaigns as a subtype of hybrid threats. The document suggests developing special strategies to develop resilience against hybrid threats, and building capacity in strategic communications. The Slovak Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MFEA) created the Strategic Communication Unit in July 2017. The head of this unit, Miroslav Wlachovsky, described the current state of institutional preparedness to counter propaganda influence:
‘We are moving forward. We have adopted a Concept of Strategic Communication of MFEA, and cooperate closely with partners in the international arena. Several ministries are developing their own strategic communication activities, but so far we lack broader concept and strategy. Now we need to move forward and synchronise on a governmental level. The only truly effective approach would be a whole government, whole society approach to disinformation and hostile narratives’.
The planned counter-measures include strengthening the confidence of the population through strategic communication, active dialogue, support of the development of civil society, focus on the younger generation, etc.
‘Positive and assertive narratives communicated from the top down through the political elite should be at the very heart of our communication. Messages and statements coming from the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic are a good example how to do that’.
‘Positive and assertive narratives communicated from the top -down through the political elite should be at the very heart of our communication. Messages and statements coming from the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic are a good example how to do that’.
However, as Martin Sklenar added:
‘International cooperation on a European level is the only meaningful way for Slovakia to put pressure on huge online platforms such as Facebook and Google to implement additional restrictions and regulations if needed’.
Cooperation between Sputnik and The News Agency of the Slovak Republic
The Sputnik news agency announced the signing of a cooperation agreement with TASR, which is the official public news agency of Slovakia, on April 29, 2017. TASR confirmed the cooperation agreement, which resulted in a strong negative reaction from journalists, civil society, and politicians. The minister of culture officially requested an explanation from the director of TASR, and publically criticised the agreement. Shortly after the incident, TASR announced the cancellation of the agreement. While the whole incident ended with public outrage and suspension of the agreement, it is quite disturbing that the Slovak public found out about agreement one month after its approval, and from Sputnik rather than from TASR, established and is funded by the state.
Digital debunking teams
Fact-checking and debunking initiatives are deeply rooted within Slovak civil society. Some projects were initiated by individual activists, while others were created under research think tanks or NGOs. The first Slovak fact-checking project, Demagog.sk, was founded in March 2010, inspired by PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org, political fact-checking projects monitoring public speeches and political campaigns in the U.S. environment. Since its foundation, the Demagog.sk team has analysed about 700 political debates and more than 13 000 statements.
Project director Lenka Galetova says:
‘Currently, a team of five members of senior staff and ten interns, mostly university students, are involved in the project’.
The project was initially strictly focused on fact-checking of political debates on TV. Later, Demagog.sk expanded its activities to educational lectures for secondary school students, fact-checking of electoral campaigns together with one of the biggest Slovak daily news outlets SME, and established a special section focused on the European Union and Visegrad policies. There are no other fact-checking projects or initiatives, and no media networks have developed their own capacities for traditional fact-checking. Demagog.sk was able to fill a gap successfully, and has become a synonym for fact-checking in Slovakia.
With regard to fact-checking or debunking propaganda stories, hoaxes, and fake news coming from various sources, the first reaction in Slovakia came on an individual level, from anti-corruption and civil society activists. Secondary school teacher Juraj Smatana published the first version of his list of websites spreading disinformation in 2015, and he also created a popular Facebook page focused on debunking hoaxes and fake news (Dezinformacie Hoaxy Propaganda). Activist Jan Bencik systematically reveals and publishes stories on his blog about Slovak far-right extremists and their ties to separatists fighting in Donbas. As Tomas Cizik, director of the Centre for European and North Atlantic Affairs, commented:
‘Civil society and NGOs are most active in countering disinformation campaigns in Slovakia. They are organising public debates, seminars for students and teachers, and leading debunking sites, etc’.
YouTubers against Hoaxes and Hate Speech
Two popular Slovak YouTubers Selassie and Expl0ited attacked each other in a series of videos with fabricated claims and fake news on Instagram and YouTube. Their fan-base immediately polarised into two camps exchanging thousands of negative comments, dislikes and messages in a small virtual war. The last video made together by both YouTubers revealed it was all part of a campaign by PR agency Seesame and the GLOBSEC Policy Institute to raise awareness of false information, emotionally driven hate speech, and hoaxes online. The campaign has produced a significant reaction among young people and media.
The website Antipropaganda.sk was created in 2015 by a group of individuals from security and foreign policy think tanks, as a part of a broader programme by the Slovak Security Policy Institute. The page publishes regular analysis reacting to hoaxes, stereotypical stories about the European Union, NATO and other topics promoted by Kremlin-inspired disinformation campaigns. There are several other notable projects countering disinformation. The the GLOBSEC Institute website Counterdisinfo.org is a virtual one-stop shop, a toolkit for civil society organisations and active citizens concerned about their information environment. The GLOBSEC Institute also developed an online course called Media and Disinformation. Blbec.online, a website developed by unknown vigilantes, aggregates and processes open sources of online data from Facebook groups, showing most viral fake news and their sources from the Czech and Slovak online space. Project Konspiratori.sk is creating a database for individuals and companies who are trying to avoid having their paid online advertisements on websites spreading hoaxes and fake news.
NetSuccess, an online marketing agency, is behind the project Konspiratori.sk. The company was looking for a solution for its customers, who didn’t want to have their brands and products associated with controversial, misleading hoaxes and websites spreading disinformation by supporting them financially through paid adverts. Therefore, NetSucces established a database of websites with controversial content. This database was created and is regularly updated by an expert commission consisting of various professionals from academia, media, the business world and other areas. The commission uses clear and simple criteria for its evaluation. The database, commission and criteria are public and can be found at the website Konspiratori.sk.
Media literacy initiatives
Media literacy and critical thinking are not new topics in Slovakia’s public debates or public policies. In the area of formal education, the first experimental programmes can be traced back to the years 2005 to 2007, when the State Pedagogical Institute prepared educational texts, methodological guidelines and workshops for teachers with the engagement of journalists, mass media theorists, and other experts. It was the first programme of its kind to be implemented in Slovakia. In 2011, the concept of media literacy in the Slovak Republic within the context of lifelong education was adopted by the Slovak government as a key document defining goals, strategy, and assumptions in creating an effective media education system.
Media literacy and critical thinking are most often in the curriculum or broader agenda of organisations dedicated to furthering teacher training, reforming Slovakia’s educational system and empowering civil society. One example is the Comenius Institute, with its workshops on critical thinking and argumentation of what a teacher should know about disinformation. Another is the Institute for Active Citizenship, which runs a broad programme of civic education. Another noteworthy initiative is the InfoKompas project, created by the Strategic Policy Institute and Demagog.sk.The aim of their activities is to provide mentoring for teachers to improve their thinking and media literacy, seminars for students, and an evaluation of the current state of education in media literacy of pedagogics students and secondary school teachers. The Slovak Debate Association is creating projects from elementary school to university level, including a special programme for teachers.
Two main vulnerable groups within Slovak society can be identified. The first are young people who consume digital information, predominantly from the disinformation-polluted online environment, and who are struggling with challenging economic prospects, and are easily exploited by anti-establishment rhetoric, calling for leaving the EU and NATO. The second group includes people with a strong sense of nostalgia and perceptions that the promises of economic success and standards of living improvements associated with EU membership have not been delivered.
Slovakia’s media deal with challenges similar to those faced in other countries around the world. Fragmentation, financial pressures, and ownership structures are the defining factors of the internal media landscape dynamics. Alternative media spreading Kremlin-inspired viewpoints are not overwhelmingly popular. While traditional media suffer from a lack of trust, online platforms spreading disinformation and hoaxes do not seem to be a straightforward alternative for the general public.
Slovakia’s institutional preparedness is in the first stages of development and capacity building. Relevant official documents do reflect the new threats related to this topic, and a basic framework for strategic communication is being developed. With regard to specific legislation, as some of the interviewed experts have suggested, even the existing media regulatory framework is not in need of improvement, mainly because of the risk of violating freedom of speech and other related issues. If a decision to move toward more restricted and regulated online media environment is made, Slovakia should join the ongoing discussions and look for possible solutions on a European Union level.
The civil sector has served Slovakia well as an early warning system, and still creates a huge part of the country’s response to propaganda-induced threats. Debunking and fact-checking initiatives are currently getting follow-up activities focused on developing the media literacy and critical thinking skills of the young generation. The spectrum of third-sector activities is rather broad, resulting in the projects being arguably underfunded, and its long-term sustainability is in question.
1. To acknowledge publically the presence of pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation campaigns in order to be able to adopt effective counter-measures involving all the relevant subjects including state agencies, media, and NGOs.
- The state should develop a robust strategic communication strategy and prepare an adequate institutional framework for its realisation. An assertive, self-confident, both internally and externally-oriented positive narrative of the Slovak Republic should lie at the very heart of such strategy.
2. To increase the openness of the state institutions towards the public with open and clear communication.
- It is necessary that all the mentioned subjects express clearly that Slovakia is ‘Western’, and explain the benefits of membership of the Euro-Atlantic structures that are in the interests of the nation.
- Moreover, to overcome the growing distrust of the general public towards state representatives and institutions, it is necessary to be able to communicate clearly not only through official channels but also through mainstream media.
- Departments for strategic communication, such as the one which already exists at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should be established at other ministries. These can be led and coordinated by a specialised body on a government level, or by the Security Council of the Slovak Republic, with strategic communication recognised as a vital part of its agenda.
3. To improve grant schemes for civil society support.
- Relevant ministries should, within their strategic communication departments, develop synchronised grant schemes for civil society support. Aligned grant schemes would allow the state to plan synergic steps in its strategic communication. At the same time, this would be helpful for NGOs and activists in preparing their activities and projects on a broader scale.
4. To improve cooperation between the relevant subjects.
- NGOs and civil society activists should pay more attention to cooperation. Several projects with almost identical goals, methods, and audiences can be identified in many cases. Close coordination between different organisations should begin at the preparation and planning phases and conclude with the projects’ realisation. If NGOs work together, networking and cooperation would help to broaden the projects’ reach and make them more effective.
- The state should cooperate actively with mainstream media and relevant NGOs in order to create a platform (i.e. regularly organised round tables) to exchange experiences and knowledge, and to provide some guidance to the mentioned subjects.
5. To raise awareness of disinformation, hoaxes and propaganda campaigns among the general public, and increase the media literacy of the population in general, in particular students at secondary schools and relevant state representatives.
- To organise workshops and seminars for state representatives and active or retired members of the armed forces, with the involvement of media and NGO experts, in order to increase their media literacy and strengthen their resilience to propaganda or disinformation.
- To improve current media literacy initiatives in the state curriculum, in order to educate not only the students but also their teachers. To do that, the The Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Sport of the Slovak Republic, as the central body of the state administration, has to cooperate actively with relevant experts from media and NGOs, in order to create an effective and meaningful curriculum for media education as a subject at school level. To create a sustainable model, it is necessary to educate pedagogues in the first place.
- To organise events, workshops, and campaigns for the general public, involving representatives of the media and NGOs.
6. To improve legislation in regard to the ownership and funding of the media.
To cooperate actively on the European level in order to persuade international online platforms to adopt policies against disinformation, hoaxes, and propaganda.