by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 22
November 2022
Dispatch
15:37

Ukraine sceptics censored across Central Europe

State broadcasters and politicians are silencing debate on a key issue
by William Nattrass
Robert Fico

Prague

To what extent should a platform be given to those unhappy about support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia? This question loomed over Central Europe at the weekend following controversies at Czech and Slovak public broadcasters during a holiday to commemorate the start of the Velvet Revolution, when then-Czechoslovakia rid itself of Communist rule. 


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Heads rolled at Slovakia’s public television and radio broadcaster RTVS after the airing of a speech by the Leader of the Opposition Robert Fico, who has been a critic of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russia sanctions since the war in Ukraine began. Kyiv this summer put him on its blacklist of “disinformation” spreaders, to which he retorted:

Anyone who has a different opinion to the Ukrainian President is a criminal. Such is liberal democracy in Slovakia too. First, they try to silence you in the media, and if that doesn’t work, they lock you up.  
- Robert Fico

Fico’s views are not fringe. A recent academic study suggested that over half of Slovaks want Russia to defeat Ukraine, with 20% wanting a “clear victory” for the Kremlin.  

This presents serious difficulties for Slovakia’s pro-Ukraine political and media establishment, and the sackings at RTVS showed a continued inability to deal with conflicting views in wider society. The director of RTVS claimed staff broke impartiality rules by airing Fico’s speech — but it’s a strange kind of impartiality when merely presenting the views of the Leader of the Opposition is deemed unacceptable. 

The media doesn’t seem to trust the public to make up their own minds, so it’s no surprise that Slovaks distrust the media in return. Those with views contrary to established narratives on issues from Covid to Ukraine have had such little representation that many have taken their news consumption online, now preferring to trust “citizen journalism” on social media.  

Something similar is happening across the border in the Czech Republic. A protest movement called “Czech Republic First” has held rallies attracting tens of thousands of people in Prague, calling for the resignation of the government and a reversal of the country’s stance on Ukraine. Here, too, the national holiday opened up a free speech controversy.  

Ladislav Vrabel, the leader of Czech Republic First, protested with thousands of followers outside the studios of the national television broadcaster, demanding ten minutes’ airtime to present his views. As with Fico in Slovakia, Vrabel’s stance on Ukraine – calling for an end to Russia sanctions and non-interventionism in the war – is a reflection of strong currents of popular opinion, but the public broadcaster refused to give him a platform. 

Of course, setting a TV schedule is the broadcaster’s prerogative. But as some Czech commentators have pointed out, such power comes with the responsibility to present opposing views — especially those already prevalent in society — and let them stand or fall on their own merits. Far from being a fringe view, opposition to Western involvement in the war has become a major strand of public opinion across central Europe, from Hungary’s well-established anti-sanction stance, to growing support for similar political movements in Austria, and frequent rallies against Ukraine policy in eastern Germany. Trying to shut down these voices only causes resentment to fester.  

As they commemorate their victory over Communist totalitarianism, the Czech Republic and Slovakia should know that when the media no-platforms dissent, it shows democracy in a poor state of health. The debate isn’t about the rectitude of the Ukrainian cause; it’s about whether or not Czechs, Slovaks and others can be trusted to make up their own minds about the choices being made by their politicians.

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M. Gatt
M. Gatt
17 days ago

In Canada one cannot openly discuss the idea that maybe the expansion of NATO might be seen in Russia as a threat to her national security. And any talk of historical context is immediently dismissed. Any view other than the official view of the Canadian esstablishment is rapidly silenced.

Jim R
Jim R
17 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

@M.Gatt – I can’t agree more with you. The same thing goes for Covid vaccines – Trucker Protest – Ukraine. Our prime minster chastised some of us for holding “unacceptable views” – being those views that don’t agree with the establishment view.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
17 days ago
Reply to  Jim R

The fascist views of the “truckers” are unacceptable. But they are still perfectly able to share and discuss their ideas.
What they are not able to do is to illegally occupy the capital city, intimate the citizens and deny access to the people who live there.

Fred Austere
Fred Austere
16 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Maybe you are the fascist.

Victor Whisky
Victor Whisky
15 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

In Ukraine, in the US funded coup in Kiev, protesters shut everything down, US politicians came to Kiev and encouraged them. Imagine Russian politicians coming to Ottawa or Washington DC to encourage the January 6th protest. When the Kiev protests went nowhere, snipers were introduced, shooting both protestors and the police. Nothing gets a revolt going like dead bodies. The protests turned violent, they burned buildings and one, Sasha Biley, pointed a gun to the heads of Donbass parliamentarians and forced all of them to resign. They, including the Ukrainian president were promptly replaced by Victoria Nuland’s (the engineer of the coup) un-elected hand picked men. The entire US congress, Canada and the EU hailed this illegal coup as democracy in action, while now, the US is hunting down and arresting demonstrators who participated in the January 6th Capital building incursion. That incursion was a picnic compared to the brutality and destruction of he US funded coup in Kiev. To say the west is hypocritical is a huge under statement.
By the way, Sasha Biley, the man who threatened Ukrainian parliamentarians to resign less they be shot, made a video where he said the Ukrainian police would assassinate him, or turn him over to the Russians for them to do the job. A week after he posted the video, the Ukrainian police hunted him down and he was killed. Why? He performed Victoria Nuland dirty work by forcing the Donbass parliamentarians to resign, he should have been rewarded. Looks like dead men tell no tales.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
14 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

I will assume then that burning a Federal building, police stations and billions of dollars of private property (for BLM) is acceptable, however?

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
17 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

What happens when you discuss you ideas? Do the brutal Canadian secret police come and take you away to the gulag? Who silences you? And if you are silenced how come you are here?
Or are you talking nonsense?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
17 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Trudeau, like many of his ilk, is a vey illiberal Liberal. All he appears to have done so far is shut down peoples bank accounts but give him time and he will become almost as bad as Putin. Its just that some of his followers (only some) are a bit squeemish or perhaps they still have some conscience left. For what may become of Canada I feel sorry for ordinary Canadians.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
16 days ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

Trudeau as bad as Putin? That’s quite the stretch!

Sean Ohsee
Sean Ohsee
16 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

He would be as bad if he could get away with it. Canadians owe the US for that!

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
15 days ago
Reply to  Sean Ohsee

Owe the US for what? You think you are somehow safeguarding Canadian democracy? That’s pretty comical!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Many’s the tyrant that started out as the people’s hero! Power corrupts!

Brett H
Brett H
17 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

“What happens when you discuss you ideas?”
Thats not what M Gatt said. He was not referring to discussions, he was referring to views that Trudeau regarded as unacceptable, like those of the truckers. What right does a government have to shut down someone’s bank account? Your exaggerations aren’t persuasive.

Graeme McNeil
Graeme McNeil
16 days ago
Reply to  Brett H

That is literally what he said.

Brett H
Brett H
15 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

Actually, you’re correct.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
14 days ago
Reply to  Graeme McNeil

You don’t have to apologize for being a Marxist. It’s your choice. But it’s also ours to vehemently disagree with silencing our opponents by confiscating their property and ruining their livelihood.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
16 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

I agree. Just because the idea that Putin feels ‘threatened’ by NATO is beyond ridiculous doesn’t mean his Canadian acolytes must be silenced.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

We must ALL fight to restore the right to free speech.. indeed even those on the establishment side, if they have values, should object to this totalitarian style censorship!

William Perry
William Perry
17 days ago

”…over half of Slovaks want Russia to defeat Ukraine”
No suggestion of why. Is this simply due to their dependency upon Russian gas? Some historic antipathy to Ukrainians? Anti-Western sentiment? Or maybe a kind of delayed Stockholm syndrome, a feeling of sympathy for their erstwhile oppressors?

D Walsh
D Walsh
17 days ago
Reply to  William Perry

I want the Russians to win too, and I think they will

The same people who lie to me about covid are lying about the Ukraine and a long list of other things

William Perry
William Perry
17 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

You still don’t say why you want Russia to win, other than a general feeling that you are being lied to. Or is that sufficient reason in itself?

D Walsh
D Walsh
17 days ago
Reply to  William Perry

I also know that the neocons behind the war hate me as much as they hate the Russians
Most of the serious problems in the West are caused by the same people, anyone fighting them has my full support

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
16 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Goodness. What have you done to upset them so much?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Why not ask what the West has done to upset him (and me) so much? Here’s a few hints:
NATO expansion despite promises.
Iraq and its million dead!
Afghanistan and it’s dead!
Syria, Libya, Somalia etc etc etc
And Vietnam abd its 3 million dead! Where are the war criminals from all those illegal invasions?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
14 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Why stop there? If we follow your logic, we should go all the way back to Cain and Abel or ancient Greece or Rome for heaven’s sake. Or does history only begin in the 1960’s for you?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  William Perry

Imagine a similar situation in a say Pro Russian Mexico which decides to persecute the many US expats living there! Would the US invade Mexico to protect its own citizens? How about if the same Mexico cosies up to Russia and accepts heavy Russian weaponry right on the US border? What then?

Snapper AG
Snapper AG
17 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

You know the neo-cons and the woke elite who lied to you about COVID are two entirely different groups, right? Your also delusional if you think Putin wouldn’t happily cooperate with them if it would get him what he wants, and crush your rights in the process.
The Western elite is truly awful, but Putin makes them look like Mother Teresa. Xi is even worse. You can’t let the enemy-of-my enemy logic lead you to embraces evil.
Wanting the Ukrainian to suffer under dictatorship to try and get some petty revenge for your grudges is a really ugly look.

Last edited 17 days ago by Snapper AG
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  Snapper AG

The nice West has 6 million dead following its genocidal attacks on sovereign natuons over recent years.. What are the Russian and Chinese counts? Of course of you are unconcerned with the deaths of brown skinned peoples you won’t count sny of the 6 million as important? They’re all monsters but the West has easily the biggest tally. Where is the support for Palestine in a similar situation to Ukraine? Yep: more unimportant brown skinned people!

Edit Szegedi
Edit Szegedi
16 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Living in Romania, which has the longest border in the EU with Ukraine, a Russian victory would be rather a nightmare.

mark underwood
mark underwood
16 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Welcome to free speech my Russian Brother. What other lies have been told? Mr Putin promised the world he would not invade Ukraine. Then he did. Covid is real and vaccinations have saved lives.
What lies have you been told?
Verifiable facts please.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  mark underwood

NATO promised it wouldn’t encroach close to the Russian border.. and have you heard of the Minsk Accord? And who scuppered peace talks? …there are two sides: both guilty, both degerate killers and liars!

Vladimir Kalmykov
Vladimir Kalmykov
16 days ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Dear Sir, I would like to correspond with you. My email: [email protected]

Last edited 16 days ago by vakalmykov180350
Edit Szegedi
Edit Szegedi
16 days ago
Reply to  William Perry

The Western part of the Ukraine belonged in the interwar period partially to Poland and partially to Czechoslovakia.
Because until 1945 neither Czechs nor Slovaks had any direct contact to Russia, Russia was seen as Saviour of the Slavs.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  Edit Szegedi

..and indeed it was the saviour of Slavs and all of Europe as well! Ot was Russia that defeated Nazi Germany:

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  William Perry

Maybe it’s a bit all those things (with the exception of Stockholm syndrome)? And maybe too it’s a balanced view? If you weigh up all the rights and wrongs it’s possible to hold an opposing view. Yry not to be too amazed!

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
16 days ago

This is the entire western world on every issue from Ukraine, mass immigration, covid to ‘rainbow’ rights. Only one narrative is allowed airtime. Others are always presented, when presented at all, as either insane or nazi. Welcome to the Uniparty!

James Olson
James Olson
16 days ago

The truckers should have all stayed home and not delivered any goods nationwide. Ottawa would have had to come to the table

Iris C
Iris C
16 days ago

The best decisions are made when different points of view are heard For example, if those who opposed lockdowns (proposing isolation for the elderly and vulnerable instead) had been allowed a debate, we may not be in the financial pickle we are today.
The same applies to Ukraine. No one was given air time to debate Boris Johnson’s aggressive military stance. Fortunately our new Prime Minister is more amenable to diplomacy. During PMQs this morning, he intimated that the UK was sending humanitarian and social aid and did not mention military hardware. He said that he would be in conversation with President Zelensky today and I await the outcome..
Ukraine has been destroyed because of the American refusal to contemplate a diplomatic solution to NATO membership. (As far as I remember Russia pressed for this over a three week period before frustration took hold)
It is time the Ukrainian people had peace and the beneficial relationship Europe had with Russia prior to this conflict was restored..

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
14 days ago
Reply to  Iris C

3 weeks?? It was over 8 years.

Frank Freeman
Frank Freeman
16 days ago

Censorship is a sign of an authoritarian regime, to label something “misinformation” is simply an admission that the information in question might be embarrassing to the authorities should it be true, and if it needs to be censored, than it is almost certainly true.
Ukraine needs peace, and so does Russia. A deal where Russia can withdraw to lines as of Feb 23rd would almost certainly be accepted by Russia, they are, after all, loosing. To continue this war so that Ukraine can re capture Crimea and the Eastern Donbass would not only cost thousands of lives, and delay Ukrainian reconstruction, but it will result in the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Russians from Crimea and the Donbass, with Massacres of tens of thousands. The time for peace is now!
It should also be noted that Ukraine’s toughest soldiers would be very useful on building sites as Ukraine rebuilds, but only if they survive the war without life changing injuries.

j watson
j watson
17 days ago

Public make up their own minds without interference from either side?
Is it a more complex dilemma perhaps than the article presents? Does anyone believe Russia won’t be doing all it can to interfere with public opinion in these countries seeking to maximise division at every opportunity? How is a State to counter this and rebalance things, esp when the potential threat is existential to near neighbours, and thus by ‘potential’ to itself?
Yet media freedom such a priceless value too. Not an easy choice. But Europe is not neutral in this conflict. We’ve taken a side, and the right one too.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Do you imagine the West doesn’t do exactly the same in virtually every country on the planet? ‘ever hear of a guy called Julian Assange? He’s the beneficiary of the West’s great support for free speech and journalistic freedom! (for exposing exactly what you’re talking about: interference in sovereign nations). He’s lucky he’s not in Russia isn’t he where he might be sanctioned or even arrested?

j watson
j watson
15 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I’m sure the West’s values and ideas will be percolating throughout the world, via different means and that’s quite self-evident from the progress made the last century or so. That arc of progress is bumpy of course, but still strong. But i suspect it’s not quite as state sponsored as you imply. And furthermore what elections can we interfere with in Russia, or China or Iran etc ?
Nonetheless it’s true that it’s not always a comfortable balancing act. The analogy doesn’t quite hold but it is fascinating to go back and look at the censorship and work of the Ministry of Information once Chruchill took over in 1940.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
17 days ago

You have to feel sorry now for the politicians, in central and in other parts of Europe in the way that it’s possible to feel sorry for Czar Nicholas II c1916. Yep he was certainly no angel, not a good egg, but you can see what’s on the cards, and they’re drifting away from reality on a little dinghy when they think they are on a super-yacht… those amongst them who can glimpse it must be absolutely terrified, and with some justification. If history is anything to go by it is probably going to get worse before it gets better, for both them and for us.

Time to fess up, folks.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
16 days ago

Its about time people particularly in the UK stepped back into the real world. Russia is going to destroy Ukraine not just defeat it and European NATO as well, if they’re dumb enough to join in or instigate terrorist acticivities. Our leaders don’t need much persuading, just payment later for ‘services rendered’. A bit like Zelinsky if he gets out.
Don’t worry the Ukrainians will all be able to live in western Ukraine only it’ll be called Galicia and every misfit with a fascist tatto can move there and do what they like, in the dark.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  Jeff Andrews

Reality is the last thing we deluded, misinformed, amnesiacs need at this time: thank you! We’re happy fighting the Reds from our nice armchairs so please: no more reality! You’re spoiling the war game!

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
16 days ago

The Visegrad group seems to be disintegrating.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
16 days ago

“A recent academic study suggested that over half of Slovaks want Russia to defeat Ukraine, with 20% wanting a “clear victory” for the Kremlin.”
Apparently to support this line, it included a link to an article in Slovakian. Or in Czech — I wouldn’t know the difference, as would an overwhelming share of UnHerd readers; for all I know it may suggest that Martians just landed in Bratislava. And why is this writer citing a study that merely suggested something? Seems like shaky ground for erecting support for Russia.
All this notwithstanding, I’m perfectly willing to admit the probability of a sizable segment of the Slovak population favoring Russia; and I would suggest that they are the younger age cohort: those most ignorant of 20th-century events, and without any personal recollections of Russia’s 45-year reign of terror in central Europe.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
16 days ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

Well, Ukraine was a part of the USSR till 1991, you know, and walked off with a sizeable chunk of Central Europe in 1945, after being what they call in the case of Croatia a puppet state of Germany between 1941 and 1944.it was quite a shock to me in 2989 to stand in the Czechoslovak border and look across it to the USSR.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
16 days ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Your points involving Croatia and the year 2989 are not entirely clear to me, but I would point out that by the time Hitler invaded in 1941, the Ukrainians had suffered tremendously under Stalin’s yoke. Ever heard of the Holodomor? Or any of the other genocides inflicted on them by the Russians since 1917? That history makes it understandable that some welcomed the German troops as liberators.

Kerry Davie
Kerry Davie
16 days ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Well the fact that you were able to time travel that far into the future, and that the USSR and Czechoslovakia were both re-constituted at that time, is somewhat surprising. What’s your secret technology?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
16 days ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

Maybe they are aware of (and even grateful for) Russia defeating Nazi Germany: the real war was fought and won by Russia! The war in the West was a skirmish by comparison. Maybe they recall the Ukrainians sided with the Nazis in WW2 (and many remain Nazi to this day! eg the Azov Battalion …and the glorification of their own Nazi hero Bandero.) Maybe they have a more balanced view of the conflict and maybe the see the West for the lying, duplicitous, warmongering monster that it is with its 6 million dead thanks to ITS recent murderous invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Syria, Libya etc etc.. Maybe they’re less naïve than their Western counterparts?

Peter B
Peter B
13 days ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Isn’t is curious that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact resulted in the Soviet Union collaborating with Germany in the invasion of Poland (they both invaded in September 1939) ? Along with the supply of huge amounts of critical raw materials and fuel from the Soviet Union to Germany to enable its war efforts from 1939-1941.
The Soviet Union played an active part in initiating WWII. Unlike the “warmongering West” you affect to despise.
Also, that the Red Army drove to Germany largely in American trucks.
Your implication that all Ukranians supported trhe Germans in WWII is wrong.
Your view of history is unbalanced and is appallingly ignorant of some basic and well-known facts.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
15 days ago

Cue comments from the disaffected…..