Anti-democratic propaganda in Bulgaria 2013 – 2016

Anti-democratic propaganda in Bulgaria is aimed at preparing the public for the country to leave the EU and NATO, as well as the systematic blocking of judicial reform and all efforts to democratically impose the rule of law.

This emerges from monitoring 3,305 media reports from 2013 to 2016 via press clippings and a standardized matrix. The analysis, entitled “Anti-democratic propaganda in Bulgaria”, was prepared by a team from the Human and Social Studies Foundation. The measurement was done using the SENSIKA system, which contains an electronic archive of items in 3,080 Bulgarian-language news sites and blogs from the beginning of 2013 onwards.

The quantitative measurement covered media that during this period put out the most propaganda. These are Russia Today, PIK news agency, Glasove website, A-Spekto magazine, Pogled-Info website, and the newspapers Trud, Duma and Weekend.

The study was divided into four leading topics that anti-democratic propaganda attempts to push among the Bulgarian public: “The decline of the West”, “The rise of Russia” (divided into sub-themes), “The United States/NATO as a global hegemon and puppeteer” and “the elites selling out Bulgaria”.

The study found that from 2013 onwards, the propaganda language on each of these leading topics multiplied by dozens and hundreds of times.

The most intense attack was on the theme of the “elites selling out Bulgaria” which aims at discrediting civil society. The thesis is that all Bulgaria pro-democratic and pro-European civil movements and protests, all advocates of judicial reform (the Bulgarian Judges Association, former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov, Supreme Cassation Court President Lozan Panov, and others), all politicians and parties who hold consistent pro-European and pro-Nato positions (President Rossen Plevneliev, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the Reformist Bloc, DSB, ‘Yes, Bulgaria’), as well as human rights organisations and NGOs and media, are being systematically attacked and discredited by propaganda media in the country. The first peaks in the media attacks were in autumn 2013 and were directed against anti-government protests. New, even higher peaks were registered against the founding of a pro-reformist coalition in autumn 2014, against Hristo Ivanov’s initiative on judicial reform in 2015 and during the 2016 presidential campaign.

From 2013 to 2016, articles attacking civil society in Bulgaria increased 23 times, from 494 in 2013 to 11,394 in 2016.

Over four years, Eurosceptic propaganda increased by 16 times and was in line with the Russian political calendar. At the same time, anti-US and anti-NATO propaganda increased by 34 times and also was led by the Russian political calendar.

This period also saw a significant increase in propaganda articles about the “rise of Russia” while the largest increase was on the topic of the “enemies of Russia” – by 144 times, from 2013 to 2016. In 2013, Russia had no “enemies”, even though NATO had long since expanded and reached its current format. But after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the “hostile discourse” was sparked – the West, and NATO in particular, suddenly turned into enemies of Russia.

The other two major themes that saw steady growth throughout the period were “sanctions against Russia”, while the “power of Russian weaponry” (which peaked during the intervention in Syria in 2015) and “the US/NATO as a global hegemon and puppeteer” decreased in 2016.

Besides quitting the EU and NATO and the undermining of judicial reform, this propaganda aggravates the risks of creating an environment of public cynicism of the “they’re all scoundrels!” type and the growth of a lack of confidence in all common principles, values and institutions and the superseding of the legal order at international and national level, and the replacement of the force of law with the law of force. The objectives are the de-institutionalization of democratic mechanisms of separation and checks and balances of power, including the possible rejection of parliamentarism, the silencing and discrediting of civil society as an environment for free and specific defining of the common good, and support for creeping authoritarianism of a populist or “referendum” type.

The research found that eight thoroughly analyzed media followed a common framework – anti-Western and pro-Russian (Russia most often is the “good guy” in the articles), but different emphases are applied. In Russia Today and A-Spekto magazine, the US and NATO most often are the arch-villains. In Duma newspaper, Glasove and Pogled-Info, the arch-villains most often are Boyko Borissov and the GERB government. President Plevneliev (in office from 2012 to 2017) also customarily is denigrated, though rarely is among the arch-villains – the attacks on him are intended at marginalizing him. Conversely, PIK and Trud newspaper behave almost neutrally or even are pro-government (pro-Boyko Borissov) while putting the “Capital Circle” most often in the role of arch-villain, as the personification of pro-reform politicians, media, members of the judiciary and NGOs.

In the denigration of the West and the praising of Russia, the propaganda is mostly through unsigned articles, while signed articles predominate in the defamation of domestic opponents.

The study concludes: “While there is no doubt that a strong Russian ‘influence’ exists in Bulgaria, the function of the existing local Bulgarian propaganda actually serves to distract attention from the Russian economic influence. The reason for this is that Russian economic influence in Bulgaria traverses the entire political spectrum and penetrates deeply in the Bulgarian business community. In this sense, the study shows the picture not of Russian propaganda in Bulgaria, but of Bulgarian media that spread the “pro-Russian” outlook as a form of disinformation, the aim of which is to exert influence on the political process”.

The scope of the study was limited to news sites and print publications in Bulgaria for the period 2013-2016. This segment of the media cannot currently be sustainable on a market basis and is subject to shadowy forms of financing. On the other hand, however, it is a major producer of media content that is distributed through television and radio stations and social networks.

In the period covered by the study, from 2013 to 2016, no counter-propaganda media were identified.

More information you can find HERE.

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