The Weaponization of Culture: Kremlin’s traditional agenda and the export of values to Central Europe

2016-08-10

Political Capital’s most recent study explores the topic of Russian soft power in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Austria. In the involved countries, the Kremlin purposefully aims at monopolising, manipulatively representing and disseminating “traditional” societal and Christian values used to ideologically underpin the system. Putin contrasts the allegedly “nihilistic” and “decadent” West with the Christian-conservative Russia and this way he tries to present his own autocracy’s moral superiority.

The Eurasian ultraconservative ideology is being disseminated through three main channels:

  1. Public diplomacy events (forums, conferences) organised with the help of pro-Russian organisations.
  2. Official international media of the Kremlin, for example Russia Today or Sputnik.
  3. Intervention based on the alleged protection of Russian citizens and minority living abroad, including the provision of adequate cultural, ideological information and “patriotic” news to them.

In the countries involved, the following tools are used to gain influence:

  • In general, the Kremlin’s cultural influence can become the most decisive where it is made possible by the general proximity of Russian culture (e.g. Panslavism in Slovakia), the pro-Russian attitude of the population or, finally, the pro-Russian stance of the elite in foreign politics (e.g. in the Czech Republic to some extent or Hungary).
  • In Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary public diplomacy still plays an important role in representing values and ideologies favourable to the Kremlin. At the same time, the majority of the public in the five countries involved are not pro-Russian, thus cultural influence is preferably spread indirectly and, as a general rule, through fringe organisations – as it is easier to convince them to play this role and, either literally or figuratively, “purchase them”.
  • For the reasons detailed above, the main agents of Russian cultural and ideological influence vary from country to country. In Hungary, as a consequence of the domestic right-wing’s geopolitical turn towards Russia, the so-called “Eastern Opening” places Fidesz-KDNP, Jobbik and their satellite organisations in the epicentre of spreading the Kremlin’s influence. In Slovakia it is a range of paramilitary organisations, while in the Czech Republic pro-Russian media plays the most important role. Austria and Poland are similar in that no direct cultural influence is visible in either of them, because of cultural distance in the former and for historical reasons in the latter country. Influence in Poland is even more indirect, besides some determined supporters of Russia, such as the leader of the Change Party Mateusz Piskorski, who was recently indicted for spying similarly to Béla Kovács, it mainly aims at inciting historical-nationalistic animosities for example between Ukrainian and Polish nationalist movements.

The Kremlin’s ultraconservative values are a threat for the countries involved and Europe for three main reasons.

  • Cultural influence spreads in a more unnoticeable way compared to direct military, political or economic interventions, thus it often comes as a surprise to mainstream political and civil actors.
  • The Kremlin’s tries are realised in cooperation with other (worldwide) organisations, including the Russian Orthodox Church and a range of American or European fetal protection and pro-choice organisations, etc.
  • Russia is the only developed country that is able to partake in the aforementioned global “traditionalist network” using all of its propaganda-machinery, economic weight and world-class secret services, practically bending any ultraconservative organisation to its will.
  • The long-term effect could be the reversion of post-World War II human rights developments, the abandonment of the principle of solving conflicts between European nations peacefully, which would ultimately mean the reversal of historical progress.

The complete study is available here.

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