The Great Unification and disinformation


Executive summary

  • One of the main conclusions of the study is that the notion of disinformation campaigns does not fit the reality of the Romanian information sphere, as the actors are fairly divergent in their aims and initiatives. Fringe outlets do support each other on a regular basis in the dissemination of content, but coordinated, sustained disinformation efforts on specific issues have been rather rare.
  • Despite their minimal impact on Romanian political discourse and foreign policy, fringe pro-Kremlin and anti-Western media outlets employ a specific set of network strategies to disseminate pro-Kremlin narratives in Romania by legitimising their content through hyperlinks to other trusted, mainstream sources or by cross-publishing contents of fellow fringe outlets.
  • While Russia does not have a strong, open presence in Romania’s information sphere, the analysis of the most prominent far-right Facebook pages, and the pages disseminating narratives favourable to Russia’s interests, highlights two societal backgrounds vulnerable to fringe messaging: one related to the Romanian Orthodox Church and another to a leftist group of organisations. The success of these pages’ in social media may be attributed to their large number of followers or the communist practice of discouraging critical thinking, and feeding instead nationalistic myths of great power and secret conspiracies facing off against brave national heroes defending Romanian exceptionalism.
  • Russia is less successful in the spread of revisionism-related disinformation, as openly pro-Russian outlets tend to struggle with gaining credibility in a country like Romania that has strong historical grievances with the Eastern power. Still, animosity between nations, minorities or majorities related to the historical revisionism of Trianon is certainly significant on a regional level, and it plays out throughout different pro-Kremlin media networks present in Romania, Moldova or Hungary.
  • One instance of concerted disinformation activities playing out both in Hungarian and Romanian media, and multiplying pro-Kremlin narratives, revolved around the Uz Valley (Valea Uzului) incident, which pitted against each-other the Romanian majority and Hungarian minority in the area and allowed for Romanian far-right nationalists to promote their divisive agenda. As a consequence, the Hungarian and Romanian diplomatic establishments were dragged into a tense exchange of remarks, forcing even the Hungarian President, János Áder, to voice concern over the use of the cemetery of the two World Wars. The online escalation of the inter-ethnic conflict, by promoting manipulative, disinformation, fits into the general destabilising efforts of the Kremlin in the region, to upend the post-World War I borders and create favourable conditions for questioning territorial sovereignty and justifying intervention (the case of Ukraine being the most relevant for our region).
  • In Romania, we identified 10 inflammatory and/or disinformation revisionist narratives that exaggerate nationalism, the victimhood or Romanians related to the Great Unification or detail Hungary’s or the Hungarian minority’s hidden revisionist agenda against Romania.
  • These narratives can be divided into two main sets: the first set (domestic-borne narratives) is about nationalistic, ethno-centrist narratives, exaggerating the unique role that the Romanian population played in achieving the Great Unification and romanticising the events surrounding the Great Unification; the second set comprises narratives describing Hungary’s alleged subversive behaviour and its hidden agenda in dividing Romania by supporting the autonomous efforts of the Hungarian minority. The “Hungarian enemy” narratives are successfully utilized by pro-Kremlin actors (or “useful idiots”) in or outside of Romania to fan the flames of nationalism and the support or fear of territorial revisionism on both the Hungarian and the Romanian sides.
  • Altogether, societal resilience to Russian disinformation is the lowest among people from low-income and low-education backgrounds. Another vulnerable category are Christian conservatives, fighting liberal tolerance and Western values and questioning Romania’s western geopolitical trajectory.

 The full study is available here (pdf, 3,645 KB).

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