2019 EP Election: Informational Threats Targeting Poland

disinformation-media-internet-online-fake-news-russia
Filip Stojanovski // CC

The following narrative analysis takes into consideration the qualitative analysis of the posts on selected Polish portals that publish content that is Eurosceptic and coherent with Russian propaganda. The monitoring shows that the narratives refer to the current events in Poland and around the world.

It is worth pointing out that the closer the elections are, the more visible anti-European, anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-German sentiments become. It also has to be noted that almost every comment on pre-elections interviews in Polish Sputnik was made by the members of one and only one political party.

Methodology

The monitoring covers the period between March 15 and April 15, 2019. The monitored internet portals were the following: pl.sputniknews.com, kresy.pl, alexjones.pl, zmianynaziemi.pl, nczas.com, neon24.pl, magnapolonia.org and dziennik-polityczny.com.

The goals of the research were to analyze and identify the messages and main narratives in two main areas:

  1. The EP election and how the EU is portrayed in the pre-election period;

  2. Russia and Russian actions regarding the aforementioned topic, the war on Ukraine, current situation in Venezuela and Europe.

The research entailed monitoring in the Versus tool and Google Advanced Search. 279 posts were analyzed by qualitative analysis method, 260 of which are currently blocked (163 on Kresy.pl and 97 on Alexjones.pl.).

General Observations

The most frequent topics on the monitored portals were: Brexit, the yellow vest protest in France, Julian Assange, and ACTA 2.

The anti-Semitic content was very prevalent and was related to the current events in the United States related to the bill called Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act (also known as 447 or JUST), passed in April, 2019. This topic has been used to develop various sentiments: anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-European as well as to attack the Polish government and opposition.

That topics conveyed the following messages:

  • The American and European elites work for the Jewish lobby to benefit them;

  • the EU is a project supported by Tel Aviv and favors Israeli interests;

  • Germans cooperate with Israel against Poland;

  • Implying that Israel could have influenced the Polish government or may have more influence than Polish politicians admit;

  • The Polish elite depends on the West and the Jewish lobby, and pursues their interests (both the government and the opposition).

Sentiment Attribution

For the monitoring, we chose three categories of characteristics and we attributed one for each of the topics. It referred to whether a certain issue was presented in a positive, neutral, or negative way. The results are as follow:

wykres modyfikowany ENG

* Overtone of articles referring to selected states and international organisations

It is worth mentioning that there were topics presented only in a negative light: Israel, France, Germany, and Petro Poroshenko.

One topic was presented positively every time it was mentioned: the Konfederacja KORWiN-Braun-Liroy-Narodowcy coalition.

Although Polish Sputnik rarely publishes content that is not a press release, 5 of its 7 interviews with Polish politicians were with the members of the aforementioned party coalition, which makes up 70% of content related to the current situation in Poland in the context of the EP election.

Main narratives regarding Russia are:

  • Europe is too weak to provoke Russia and depends on Russia in the energy sector;

  • Russia can act towards Ukraine and Venezuela according to its politics and does not violate the law by doing so; the main destabilizing agent is the United States;

  • The situation in Ukraine endangers Russia, with Russia trying to protect itself from hostile American actions;

  • Russia is open for a dialogue with Ukraine but there is no room for it as long as the Kiev government stays the same;

  • There are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, Russia acts in Crimea for humanitarian reasons;

  • The threat of the Third World War or a great crisis is real due to NATO’s provocations against Russia, Russia has no choice but to respond to it. The provocations include, for example, encompassing Ukraine into NATO;

  • There is no propaganda in Russia and the topic of Russian disinformation is meant to distract Europe from its serious social issues;

  • The politicians in Poland cause unnecessary anti-Russian panic, while cooperation with Russia is as important as relationships with Europe;

  • There is also content suggesting that Russia is using Poland as much as France or Germany and these three countries are manipulating Poland.

Main narratives on the EU:

  • There’s an EU crisis (it is worth noting that Polish politicians also claim so);

  • The less powerful, smaller members of the EU have no say in the decision-making process, have different interests than the rest of the EU, and are used by Brussels and Berlin;

  • Germany rules the whole EU and protects its interests only, harming other countries;

  • The EU has totalitarian ambitions, it is not democratic (Brexit also violates democratic standards, the bureaucrats and business overpower society), the elites of member countries are corrupted and dependent (being an MEP is, in fact, a bribery or amounts to political retirement),

  • The EU acts to suppress the free speech, introduce censorship, acts against the Polish Constitution and works for its own benefit;

  • The rules of the EU are unnecessary;

  • Eurosceptic parties will succeed;

  • There is no European solidarity, rich countries use this idea only when it favors them;

  • European integration threatens member states and it takes more than it gives back.

Main Polish-related narratives, including those referring to the election preferences of their citizens:

  • Poland is not sovereign nor independent, it is a subject of politics, the Polish elites are corrupted and influenced by external agents, Poland implements bad international policies;

  • The USA and Jews are threats to Poland;

  • The alliances with Western countries destroyed Polish autonomy;

  • The EU membership is bad for Poland and Polish citizens were not properly informed on the consequences of it;

  • Poland is in danger of the military conflict with the West and Russia, and needs to be sovereign and apply different politics to avoid this threat;

  • Seeking American military support (a permanent base) by the Polish government is exposing Poland to Russia’s attack (bombing); Russia is compelled to defend itself against NATO;

  • The Western countries (the EU, the USA, Germany, and Israel) are acting against Poland and have conflicting interests with Poland;

  • The opposition parties, in particular Civic Platform (PO) and Wiosna, are not pursuing Polish interests but the Western ones, are pro-German and anti-Polish, reaffirming German hegemony in Europe;

  • PO and Law and Justice (PiS) do not care about Poland, so there’ is a need for an alternative that would make Poland less dependent on Germany (the EU) and the United States, which would confront Berlin and Tel Aviv and would put a stop to Ukraine’s so-called colonization of Poland;

  • It is blatantly stated that Konfederacja is the only truly Polish party that favors Poland and would work against the aforementioned threats. Besides that, it has high chances to win.

Main Ukraine-related narratives are:

  • Ukraine is weak and is keeping up appearances, puts its neighbors in danger;

  • Ukraine has no democracy but an oligarchy that is robbing the country, the Kremlin’s allies take part in it;

  • The current government in Kiev is reheating the conflict with Russia and pursues confrontational politics on purpose;

  • Petro Poroshenko is a factor that destabilizes the relationship between Ukraine/Russia,

  • The Ukrainians are fed up with the war and seek peace;

  • The annexation of Crimea was legal and irreversible;

  • Ukraine’s accession to NATO would lead to the Third World War;

  • Ukraine is not an important partner for Poland, it poses a threat.

Main narratives regarding security and transatlantic relationships:

  • NATO is in crisis;

  • Polish army is disintegrated;

  • Russia is compelled to respond to the aggressive politics of the USA (such as pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty),

  • The USA is following hostile international policies, violating the law and attacking other countries;

  • The USA is imposing its politics on Europe; Europe is not seen as an ally but as a subaltern colony of the USA;

  • The imperialism of the EU is a threat to world peace, it destabilizes Europe, whereas Russia and China try to confront it;

  • The USA competes with Russia and together with their European allies take action that is hostile towards Russia;

  • China wants to cooperate with Europe and is an alternative for the USA in economic terms;

  • Democratic systems have failed;

  • The USA supports Israeli interests and their politicians, which can result in escalation of conflicts and deaths of civilians;

  • The USA is responsible for the wars in the Middle East, Georgia, or Ukraine, and its politics caused the migration crisis in Europe.

Conclusions

The recurrent topics in the monitored articles refer to the image or Russia, Ukraine, European security as well as the EU. There are topics that push narratives that are meant to shift the Polish perception of current events and are related to the imminent elections.

The main message regarding Russia portrays a Europe threatened by the Third World War and showing Russia as compelled to react to NATO’s hostile actions. These narratives are coherent since the fast approaching catastrophe would be the result of the West’s hostile politics, mainly that of the USA, which provoke the Russia.

Another point that is often being made is that it is Western countries that are prejudiced in relation to Russia and use it as a red herring in a political debate. Meanwhile, Russia has no bad intentions and is open for a dialogue and cooperation.

Regarding the EU, the message emphasizes the lack of solidarity, abusing the less powerful member states, and American co-dependency. European integration is portrayed as a threat and European democracy as a facade.

Regarding security and transatlantic relationships, the following issues are discussed: hostile American politics, using foreign countries for its own interests, supporting Israel whilst harming other countries and stirring up the military conflict with Russia. The EU, the USA, and Germany are cooperating with Jewish lobby against Polish interests, while Polish elites do nothing about it.

Those narratives can directly influence the negative perception of Polish allies, lessen the approval of the presence of American military in Central Europe, harm the credibility and trust towards Poland and Polish international and internal politics, and create panic.

They correlate with narratives on Poland and can shape Polish electoral preferences.

In this regard, the most important narratives involve the PO and PiS parties portrayed as anti-Polish and dependent on foreign agents. This narrative coexists with the message that Poland needs someone who would work in favor of Polish independence from the EU and American dependency, whilst PO and Wiosna are seen as pro-German parties.

The aforementioned narratives are in contrast with the narrative regarding Konfederacja, which is portrayed only in a positive light as the only one protecting Polish interests.

It is worth mentioning that the analyzed narratives are built on negative sentiments and particular topics are presented negatively on purpose. Curiously, many portals refer to Russian sources.

Although this is not inherently negative phenomenon from a journalistic standpoint, in many cases it disrupts the logical structure of the article, since it is a copy-paste of a Russian press release or a statement by a Russian politician.

Such articles also fail to present the whole picture and instead focus on the aspects that favor one perspective on current issues. Presenting Russia in a semi-negative way in non-important issues also serves to create an illusion of objectivity.

It is crucial to stress the importance of the anti-Semitic sentiment in the context of information threats that target Poland. In the monitored period it was used to create tensions and give an impression of a threat and undermine trust towards its allies.

This may contribute to the sense of Polish alienation in the international arena, the sense of a lack of sovereignty,  injustice, and victimhood.

In other words, it manufactures dissent and portrays pro-democratic politicians as traitors or “useful idiots” whilst promoting Euroscepticism.

Adam Lelonek
Michal Marek
Role of Russia in 2019 EP Elections