Czech disinformation websites draw hundreds of thousands, share readership with anti-EU, neo-Nazi and pro-Kremlin websites
Until very recently, the website called Středoevropan.cz ("Central European.cz") has been one of the most successful purveyors of disinformation in the Czech language. Its boss, Filip Vávra, who has roots in the neo-Nazi scene, alleged a few months ago that as many as 200 000 unique viewers follow it every month.
In April, however, Vávra went quiet, both through that Internet page and on social media. Prior to that, he had complained on his personal Facebook profile in February that Facebook had deleted Středoevropan's profile there, alleging it had represented "32 000 fans, two years of work and dozens of subtitled videos viewed several million times."
Vávra then re-established the profile on Facebook and carried on with an exponentially smaller base of less than 2 000 followers. Why the content of that profile was problematic will be discussed further below.
Up until then, the most successful videos on the Facebook page of Středoevropan.cz actually had about half a million views and thousands of shares. For example, a video interview by a German journalist with an unidentified citizen in Chemnitz had been shared 18 000 times from the profile.
Another video of a speech by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had been shared 16 000 times. According to the Monitor service, the articles published on Vávra's website provoked 71 % negative reactions, such as feelings of anger, hatred, indignation or injustice.
What the Pope did not say
In the past, the Středoevropan.cz website demonstrably disseminated a great deal of disinformation and manipulation. The following examples are just some of the many that could be described.
The website was the first to report on allegations that asylum-seekers - refugees - had committed an attack in Brno. Vávra uncritically transcribed a video made by a local group called "Decent People" (Slušní lidé), who described the conflict so as to place themselves in the best light and garner as much media coverage as possible irrespective of the facts.
Later it was demonstrated that no refugees had been involved in the case and that the assailants were longtime residents of the Czech Republic. Another example of such manipulation was an article that did its best, through its headline and opening paragraphs, to imply that "France is lowering the legal age for sexual intercourse to 13", although those who read further would then learn what the actual state of affairs was.
In fact, laws about the age of consent to sexual activity in France were becoming stricter, to the effect that any such contact with a child age 13 or younger would be automatically considered rape. Středoevropan.cz also published an article alleging that a raped dog had been found dead in Greece's Skaramagka refugee camp.
The source for that article, the website Zoosos.gr, had reported the dog's death, but never alleged it had been raped. Vávra's website was also the first Czech one to disseminate a hoax about pre-paid debit cards funded by George Soros being distributed to refugees by the United Nations.
The website Manipulátoři.cz ("Manipulators.cz") then demonstrated through its own reporting that the cards at issue function in a completely different way than Vávra had reported. He also disseminated a faked quotation from the Pope about migrants.
Středoevropan.cz has also been listed by the Slovak website Konspiratori.sk ("Conspirators.sk") as having dubious content. That particular list is created by a committee of experts.
Vávra contacted that project and demanded that his website be removed from the list. He did not succeed.
Central European Vávra
Vávra is generally considered to have established the neo-Nazi organization Národní odpor ("National Resistance" - NO) in the Czech Repblic. At the close of the 1990s, the organization carried on the activities begun by the Prague branch of the international neo-Nazi organization Blood and Honour.
That movement had been based on notions of antisemitism and white supremacy. The organization espoused the ideology of National Socialism and used color combinations and symbols referencing Germany under Hitler.
Persons who have committed racially motivated crimes were associated with the NO. In 1999, Vávra recalled his childhood for a television reportage.
"I grew up in a rather busy neighborhood where there were clashes between our white majority and the gypsies, and I have disliked them ever since, I have always longed for a movement of resistance, where the white guys will unite and show their unity to the gypsies. The gypsies have their roots elsewhere and I think they should go back where they belong," he told the cameras.
Many years later, Vávra was also very active in the unrest that took place at the Janov housing estate in the Czech town of Litvínov. After local Roma deterred him and his fellow extremists from committing a pogrom against them there in 2008, he promised to return some day to the housing estate, posting to his website that "We will perform that little scene again with a different director and a lot of white extras."
By the age of 16, Vávra had been prosecuted for attacking a gay club in Prague and for rioting in front of a synagogue. In 2010 police accused him of felony incitement to hatred of a group and incitement of restrictions on their rights and freedoms.
That charge was associated with his dissemination of materials with neo-Nazi themes. Last year a court put a stop to his prosecution.
Prosecutor Zdeňka Galková then filed a complaint against the decision issued by Judge Dana Šindelářová in that case. Political scientist Jan Charvát assesses Vávra's work on the extremist scene as follows: "Filip Vávra has belonged not just among the most important ideologues, but also the most important organizers of the Czech neo-Nazi movement, first as a young skinhead in the 1990s, then as the founder of National Resistance. He has always belonged among the main ideologues of the entire movement."
"However, at the same time, he has been considered unreliable by his own fellow fighters, accusations have been made against him by the Brno hooligans that he's a police informer, or that he's too naive. Despite that development he has determined, to a significant degree, the direction in which the Czech neo-Nazi movement has headed," Charvát said.
Vávra has been doing his best to cut himself off from his own past. For example, on the Czech-language Wikipedia entry about him he has attempted more than once to adjust the article to promote himself and has also deleted information there that is disquieting.
The entry on him was established in brief form at the beginning of January 2018. Vávra subsequently repeatedly did his best to edit the information included there about the Středoevropan.cz website.
Vávra absolutely transformed the original wording of that part of the article, describing the website as focused on "delivering news reporting from Europe and the rest of the world that is customarily ignored by the traditional media". He further edited the entry to state that "in its articles, [Středoevropan.cz] painstakingly makes sure to cite its original sources."
His effort to present the website as an objective, serious information source is apparent from this work. When editing the Wikipedia entry at the close of December 2018, Vávra did his best to downplay the doubts raised as to the objectivity of Středoevropan.cz, attempting to create the impression that nobody besides the Manipulátoři.cz website was questioning its veracity.
That allegation, however, was deleted by the Wikipedia administrators because it was untrue, which they demonstrated by citing Konspiratori.sk's assessment of Středoevropan.cz. Vávra responded to that correction by casting doubt on that source as well and downplaying its significance.
With those he considers his friends, however, Vávra shares very controversial content through his personal Facebook profile. "I am longing for a civil war. I hate the other half of this republic," he wrote in response to news reports that Czech President Zeman had taken to the Prague Castle gardens last year to ceremonially burn the gigantic pair of red boxer shorts that some pranksters had managed to substitute for the standard of the Czech President in 2015.
"I love nothing more than cops or white people listening to hip-hop and even going to such concerts," Vávra posted sarcastically on another occasion. "Whenever anybody plays that stuff, I always want to stomp on their throat."
After Theodor Gebre Selassie became the first player of African origin on the Czech national football team, Vávra posted: "All of football can go to hell. Don't write to me anymore about this fucked-up game."
Just like Milada Horáková
On 30 May 2018, the District Court for Prague 1 halted Vávra's most recent prosecution. He had originally been charged for putting up National Resistance movement stickers around Prague on 4 December 2008.
In its decision, the court said that during the time the case has been prosecuted, there has been "an absolutely fundamental change to the political and societal situation, especially to aspects of the approach toward how people express themselves here on the issue of nationality questions, of migration, aspects of right-wing and patriotic opinions, and their public presentation." The ruling further states that "in the given cultural/political/societal situation, political extremism per se cannot be considered a priori criminal today, when basic human rights do exist here."
According to the court, it is also not possible to equate National Socialism with Nazism, as it argued through this rhetorical question: "After all, JUDr. Milada Horáková was also a member of the Czech National Socialist Party, but would anybody here dare call her a (neo)Nazi on that basis?" According to information published by the daily Právo in September, however, the prosecutor has filed a complaint against this ruling, so Vávra's trial is not over yet.
He is not alone
Vávra is not the only person in the Czech Republic in contact with neo-Nazis who also presents himself as a journalist. Dominik Bastl is one of those who has not yet been covered much in association with disinformation, hateful posts and propaganda.
Bastl has been among the active figures on the right-wing extremist scene for many years. He has run his own channel on YouTube for nine years, which currently has about 6 000 subscribers.
Of course, it is interesting that Bastl is present at practically all of the important right-wing extremist events. His videos promote the Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS), i.e., the successor party to the banned Workers' Party (DS), which was dissolved by court order in 2010 because of its association with neo-Nazism.
Among his favorite books are, for example, Lukáš Beer's pamphlet "Hitler's Czechs", which denies that Hitler viewed Czech people negatively and is de facto a promotion of Nazism (the promotional video for the book is here). In addition to that, of course, we can also see him among those who claim not to be extremists.
For example, Bastl has appeared alongside the pro-Kremlin activist Žarko Raptor Jovanovič, or alongside Zdeněk Chytra (see below), Jiří Černohorský, or Jana "Yngland" Hrušková during an action "not welcoming" German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Prague (you can see him in this video after 24:00 standing next to the activist Milan Kubinec). Another example of such a "journalist" is Michal Urban, who comes from the Autonomous Nationalist environment.
Urban has established a branch of "Generation Identity" in the Czech lands, which has been mentioned more than once by the Czech Government's regular extremism report as an ultra-right group. On his blog for the iDNES.cz news site he has published intolerant texts in which, for example, he calls those who participated in the Prague Pride parade "deviant exhibitionists".
Honor, Freedom... and antisemitism
Contacts between the disinformation scene and the antisemitic and neo-Nazi environments are apparent among those representing the "Honor, Freedom, Respect" movement ("Čest, svoboda, respekt"). In the Czech Republic, Zdeněk Chytra is one of the main figures in its campaign against the Global Compact for Migration.
Chytra is also a frequent disseminator of hoaxes and the widest possible variety of delusions. For example, he is responsible for the rumor that the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women will somehow protect pedophiles, or the rumor that Germany has made it lawful to use its military to wage a war of aggression once more.
The tabloid server Parlamentnílisty.cz as even written of Chytra as an activist for the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Chytra himself claims to "just" work for the organization of AfD vice-chair Beatrix von Storch.
Chytra is also in contact with Adam B. Bartoš, the antisemite who has been convicted of various crimes. Chytra even authored a brochure for "National Democracy", the party that Bartoš chairs.
Another representative of the "Honor, Freedom, Respect" group is Jiří Černohorský, who recently presented at a public hearing about the Istanbul Convention in the Czech Chamber of Deputies. He is also a regular disseminator of hoaxes.
Černohorský once shared a video through Facebook filmed during protests against the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in which he blamed "immigrants with a greater amount of pigmentation" for committing violence. The images of the aftermath of the violence that he claimed had been committed by such persons, however, actually captured the state of the city after both left-wing and right-wing radicals of various nationalities and "pigmentation" had fought with police there.
Not a pro-Kremlin, but an anti-EU website
Středoevropan.cz does not fall into the category of a pro-Putin or pro-Russian presence like the websites AC24, Aeronet, Nová republika or Sputnik CZ do. Petra Vejvodová of Brno's Masaryk University classifies the disinformation server as anti-EU.
"Such servers don't follow the political interests of other countries and they are not attempting to offer an alternative. They dislike the EU plain and simple, for different reasons," she says.
"Typically these are various websites promoting either ethnopluralism [Translator's Note: a hypothetical far right and neo-fascist-associated model where self-governing regions divided by ethnicity would be established], or the idea of a nation state that is unfettered by the liberal project of a united Europe, or nationalism, and they reject capitalism, the forces of globalization, and multiculturalism," the academic asserts. While Vávra himself may avoid singing the praises of Russia and its president in his own articles, a common link among all the above-mentioned conspiracy theory and disinformation websites is their battles against migration and/or multiculturalism.
The ranking of the websites that users visit immediately after they visit Středoevropan.cz, however, demonstrates that its readership is partially shared with the Czech-language readership of pro-Russian disinformation websites. The top three websites in that ranking are aeronet.cz, sputniknews.com and parlamentilisty.cz, irrespective of whether there is a direct link to their content in the articles or social media posts accessed on Středoevropan.cz.
This article was written for the Institute for Independent Journalism in the Czech Republic, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in publishing information, journalism and news reporting. Its analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all equally for use under certain conditions.
- Facebook adopts new measures to combat dissemination of disinformation
- Czech experts prepare for disinformation in campaigns for elections to the European Parliament
- Disinformation servers allege Czechs depicted as "white trash" in new comedy series
- Inspiration from Sweden could aid Czech Republic with combating disinformation
- Facebook closes some disinformation pages covertly associated with Russia
- Czech high school students can learn about disinformation through a new escape game
- Czech Internet trolls have competition - "elves" are combating disinformation and propaganda
- Czech MP spreads disinformation alleging that Florida school shooter was an Antifa member
- Czech pro-Kremlin disinformation Facebook page sparks wave of racist, vulgar comments about non-white infant
- Czech MP spreads disinformation about terrorist threat, Interior Minister sharply objects
- Czech party proposes lower house security committee be led by man who has spread disinformation online
- Czech online media spread disinformation about refugees in Sweden
- Czech Interior Ministry monitoring up to 40 disinformation servers
- Czech disinformation outlet misinforms readers that a refugee camp "like Calais" is growing in Prague
- Czech Interior Minister and President disagree about disinformation unit
- Czech Center against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats will refute disinformation online
- Czech bank pulls advertising from disinformation websites, costing them revenue
- Germany: Extremist group in the AfD party says it is dissolving
- Irena Biháriová on developments in Slovakia: Who is really being ostracized?
- Czech and Slovak extremists do their best to profit from the COVID-19 pandemic, attacking the EU and public broadcast media
- Czech lower house committee suspends discussion of stripping ultranationalist MP of immunity from prosecution for xenophobic remarks
- Czech Republic declares state of emergency over coronavirus pandemic, International Romani Day celebrations postponed
- Czech court returns to case of hate speech online targeting non-"white" first-graders
- Czech journalists find the man behind the Aeronet disinformation server
- Slovak elections: Opposition OLaNO wins, no growth in votes for fascist party
- Czech Prosecutor General working with OSCE to prosecute hate speech more effectively
- Czech Interior Ministry: Hate speech increased in intensity last year
- Another victim of the German terrorist attack, a young man from Romania, is also from the Roma minority
- Czech Police investigating racist video posted by fanclub of ultranationalist party