Hungary has been trying for years to influence the media in other countries, especially in Slovenia and North Macedonia. Millions have been invested in it, according to Austria’s national broadcaster ORF
According to EU estimates, at least four million euro have been transferred from Hungary to Slovenia and North Macedonia since August 2018 through at least three companies with close ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party, Fidesz. Of that, 1.5m euro went mainly to the Slovenian media, which are close to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa. It is added that 2.5m euro passed through Slovenia to North Macedonia, especially to the media close to VMRO-DPMNE, according to the Austrian public service ORF in a published analysis.
The ORF text states:
“The right-wing populist Hungarian government is severely restricting media freedom in the EU country, undermining the foundations of democracy. The European Parliament, inter alia, condemns this. But that is not enough – Hungary has been trying for years to influence the media in other countries, especially in Slovenia and North Macedonia. Millions have been invested. In fact, there is no other EU country where the nostalgia for the lands which it once held is as great as in Hungary.
In fact, there is hardly any other country in the EU where nostalgia for the territories that once belonged to it is as great as in Hungary. As part of the Habsburg monarchy, the country once lost more than 60% of its territory in World War I. However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who likes to be photographed in front of maps of historic Hungary, is not interested in reclaiming these areas, but rather in favor of neighboring countries and other countries in the Western Balkans.
Orban inaugurated a huge monument to national coexistence in Budapest in August to celebrate the former Greater Hungary. He also announced that he would “launch a new era” with Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. The work of the media seems to be an important part of this plan. For some years now, friends of the Orban Fidesz party have been buying media companies abroad or trying to make deals with local media publishers.
According to EU estimates, at least 4m euro have flowed into Slovenia and North Macedonia since August 2018 through at least three companies with close ties to the Fidesz party. The 1.5m euro are said to have benefited mainly the Slovenian media, which are close to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa and his right-wing conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). It is then said that 2.5m euro went from Slovenia to North Macedonia – especially in the media with links to the nationalist opposition party Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for the National Unity of Macedonia (VMRO-DPMNE). The European Greens further estimated payments of around EUR 2.4 million to the SDS-friendly Slovenian TV station Nova24TV, ahead of the June 2018 elections by various Hungarian companies affiliated with Orban.
According to investigative journalists from North Macedonia, more than 3.2m euro have recently entered the media of North Macedonia, mainly through the Hungarian media director Peter Schatz, who has great influence in Slovenia and manages two media outlets in North Macedonia. This money comes from Hungary for fake ads for olive oil and fridge magnets.
According to the Slovenian news portal Uncensored.si, Orban’s long-term unofficial adviser, Arpad Haboni, is the key player. He is unofficially thought to be the mastermind behind anti-immigration campaigns and anti-Semitic “fake news” about Hungarian-American businessman George Soros, although his position in Fidesz or the Hungarian government has not been proven.
The Slovenian Association of Journalists, meanwhile, noted that attempts to discredit the government of North Macedonia and the intensity of the attacks had reached such a level that they endangered media freedom and democracy in both countries. “Misinformation in the Western Balkans, but also in the EU, is a growing problem of democracy”, Green MEP Thomas Weitz told ORF.at. “Orban’s media oligarchs pose a threat to the new democracies of the Western Balkans”.
Several MEPs, apart from Weitz, as well as the Social Democrats Katie Piri, Tonino Picula and the Austrian Andreas Schieder, are strongly opposed to Hungary’s practice of undermining democracy. “He (Orban) is taking millions into his own hands to oppose the European Union among the population and to discredit pro-European politicians like Prime Minister Zoran Zaev”, Schieder told ORF.at. Schider chairs the North Macedonia delegation and is a member of the Special Committee on Misinformation and Foreign Influence. “Fake news and influence do not always come from China or Russia, but more and more often from Hungary”, Schieder continued. In February 2020, the European Social Democrats submitted an oral question to the EU Commission to comment on the matter. The Commission did not respond.
A study by the EU Parliament states that misinformation campaigns are increasingly being reported in the media in North Macedonia. Among other things, they would aim to damage international relations, for example, with Greece and intensify internal conflicts between Macedonians and Albanians. According to the study, efforts were made to disrupt the elections, such as the referendum to change the name of Macedonia to North Macedonia in September 2018.
The European Greens are therefore calling on the EU Commission to strengthen independent media and ensure transparent funding in the EU. This is especially necessary in the case of North Macedonia, which wants to join the EU. They also want to clarify the transactions already made and the independent and long-term structure for free media funding in Europe.
“If it turns out that Orban really used his influence there to provoke anti-European propaganda, then it is illegal to interfere in another country’s affairs”, Weitz said. The Commission must then clarify where this money comes from, to ensure that there has been no misuse of Community funds.
“Reporters Without Borders’ list of press freedom in 2020 ranks Hungary 89th out of 180, North Macedonia 92nd and Slovenia 32nd”./ibna