For the last 12 months, we have been monitoring FIDESZ propaganda present in the Hungarian community in Transylvania disseminated through regional newspapers. The main messages they convey are related to the protection and opportunities that Hungary offers to Hungarians in the diaspora, a message closely related to the preservation of traditional values.
The FIDESZ government exploits the existing narratives in the Hungarian community in Transylvania through regional newspapers which run negative news about the Romanian government and Romanians in general. This is efficient because stereotypes already exist in our society and propaganda can use this historic bias in order to amplify its effects online.
Over the past three-and-a-half years, until June 2021, the Association for Transylvanian Media Space received approximately 20 million EUR in grants from the Hungarian government. With this funding the association, unknown until recently, has become by far the largest Hungarian language media trust in Transylvania; according to Sipos Zoltan, editor in chief of the independent publication Átlátszó Erdély (Transparent Transylvania) and founder of the NGO with the
same name. One of the purposes of this huge injection of capital was to save the Hungarian language media in Szeklerland (the name for a Hungarian-majority area in the center of Romania – Ținutul Secuiesc).
The Budapest government did not allow them to fade away in the digital area and funded the transition to the digital press. The success of this transformation is relative and thorough research on this topic has been carried out in our investigation “Two-a penny: 5 million euro per year for the Hungarian language media trust in Transylvania”.
This investigation was the first step in our project. We monitored FIDESZ propaganda in the Hungarian minority in Transylvania offline by tracking the offline funding that goes in the monitored online sources. Transylvania is home to approximately 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians, almost six percent of the country’s population, and one of the largest ethnic minority communities in Europe. In Transylvania, huge sums are being spent on Hungarian-language media, kindergartens, schools, and churches in order to build a sense of belonging. The purpose of funding media outlets and investing in standards of living is the Hungarian regime’s desire to build a system in which Hungarians from Romania feel like they belong in Hungary. It is called the virtual unification of the nation, overcoming the Trianon treaty by striving to create a virtual nation where every Hungarian, regardless of country of residence, are virtually connected to Hungarian state institutions.
The expansion and unification of media space is a very important step in this direction. This has led to strange situations with many Hungarians living in Romania being more informed about the political situation in Hungary than the political intricacies in Bucharest. Tamás Kiss, a researcher at the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities, described this phenomenon as a system of ethnic parallelism in which Hungarians can live their life in Romania as a part of Hungary. This type of mentality is not unique to Romania; similar funding can be seen in Slovenia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
We took a thorough look at the Hungarian native media that is present within Romanian territory. We analyzed the last 10 months of social media activity for 23 media outlets, each having at least 10,000 followers. Based on their interaction rates we ranked them and established which of them are the biggest and fastest-growing, based on the content they promote and their reach. It is important to note that we have included in our study pages such as the regional newspaper Krónika and one of the most popular Hungarian news portals in Transylvania, Szekelyhon.ro. Both media outlets are published by Prima Press SRL, a company owned by Association for Transylvanian Media Space, which receives funding from the Hungarian government. The NGO then transfers part of the money to this company.
The most popular narratives
Hungarian identity in Transylvania/Szeklerland/Partium is mistreated.
This is a long-time existing narrative in the Hungarian community: the majority (individual persons or state institutions) are mistreating the Hungarians by not being sensitive/compassionate to their special needs (incapacity) or knowingly stripping them of their rights (ill-will), making them “secondhand citizens”. According to this narrative, the ultimate goal of the majority is to assimilate the Hungarian minority. Autonomy and language rights are the only way to preserve the community.
Translated into social media we can see how the main sources fuelling this narrative are the newspapers funded by the Association for Transylvanian Media Space that massively shares content from each other: Kronika and Székelyhon, respectively their main websites and Facebook Pages. We have manually reviewed 183 posts from this narrative, filtered by keywords and we observe it reached 28 thousand interactions in the period of time monitored.
Hungary is a protector of traditional values (protection from liberal elites, liberal EU)
This narrative was created by the Fidesz government during the migration crisis: the Hungarian government is the last bastion of traditional culture in Europe. It protects the traditional family, Christianity, values, etc. in an environment where these are challenged both from outside (migration) and from outside (decadent and weak Western elites).
We have manually reviewed over 200 posts, already filtered with the help of keywords (Details in methodology). The narrative is one of the most prominent in the Hungarian community in Transylvania, with our tagged posts having 25 thousand reactions in the period of time analyzed.
Hungary is taking care of the Hungarian communities abroad.
In Romania, the most popular narratives by a close margin were connected with the needs of the Hungarian community in Romania, both culturally and economically, and how the Hungarian government can take care of their needs, sometimes in comparison with the ill-will or incapacity of the Romanian government. Distrust in authorities is the main theme not only among the Hungarian community but also among Romanians. The role of the Orban regime is to clearly create a sense of ethnic parallelism, in the way of fulfilling the need for belonging to the greater nation of Hungary, but also in practical issues by building kindergartens in Transylvania.
The mission and propaganda are not new, what has changed are the institutional tools and their exploitation in the digital age. The sense of belonging in the virtual world is much easier to obtain due to the disappearance of physical boundaries, especially for a community that wants unification in a way or another. Using this to spread propaganda to create an excessive positive image of the Hungarian government was an easy task especially since it has invested massively in buying or funding regional newspapers in Transylvania. The delimitation of these narratives is mainly for the purpose of our research, they co-exist in the Hungarian society in Romania and are equally spread through the pages that we analyzed. This means that communicating the narrative Hungarian Identity is mistreated in Romania is done at the same time while sending the message that Hungary is a protector of the Hungarian communities abroad.
The narrative had 18 thousand reactions in the 190 posts reviewed, including 190 manually tagged posts.
The complete methodology, all the monitored pages and the followed narratives can be found in detail in the report.
This material has been prepared with support from IRI’s Beacon Project. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of IRI.