Russia is building its presence throughout the world, hoping to ‘sell’ Russia.
I’m surprised that RT did not fund such an effort in Hungary in 2014, when their budget increased significantly.
It’s good to see that Hungary keeps track of RT. There appears to be a trust issue. Pourquoi?
The story of how Moscow attempted to expand the Russia Today state television network to Hungary, by setting up a Hungarian-language affiliate, is both strange and murky. What we know is that Moscow was interested in establishing a state propaganda media arm in Hungary and the strongest and perhaps first high profile supporter of this initiative was István Lovas, a staunchly pro-Fidesz Hungarian publicist. As some of our readers know, we believe that Mr. Lovas may have published dozens of comments here on the HFP site, using a handful of pseudonyms and IP addresses, all within close proximity to his hometown, west of Budapest.
Mr. Lovas first raised the idea of establishing Russia Today in Hungary in 2014. He later claimed in his blog that Irina Zvonova, the cultural attaché at the Russian embassy in Budapest who spent five years in Hungary, contacted him and expressed serious interest in the idea. However, nothing came of the initiative, due to a lack of funds in the Russian TV’s budget and the decline in the value of the ruble–according to Mr. Lovas’ account.
More surprisingly, it recently came to light that Moscow never gave up on the idea of establishing a Hungarian Russia Today and allegedly contacted journalist László Juszt in the hope of entrusting the development of the Hungarian affiliate with him. This is surprising in that Mr. Juszt has generally been seen as a liberal, left-leaning journalist. The investigative journalism website Átlátszó asserted that in December 2016, Mr. Juszt allegedly met with Mihail Volosin, the head of Russian Industrial Investment, a foundation under the aegis of the Kremlin. Átlátszó provides key detail on this alleged meeting and claims the following:
“Volosin says that Russia Today is a Moscow-based multilingual television station, which intends to launch a Hungarian station in Hungary in 2017-18. They are looking for a prominent television personality, who can become the face of the channel and a regular host. Mr. Volosin knows László Juszt personally and he respects his several decades of work. This is why he recommended him to the headquarters in Moscow. The recommendation was accepted by Moscow headquarters and László Juszt was honoured by the offer.”
According to Átlátszó, Mr. Juszt and the Russian partner allegedly agreed on many of the details, including a 2 million forint monthly salary ($9,000), plus benefits (such as the use of a vehicle and a telephone).
Despite what appears to have been the advanced stage of negotiations, the deal was reportedly cancelled by Moscow, after Russian officials read a piece on the Átlátszó website, which alleged that Mr. Juszt may have had connections with the Russian underworld. Mr. Juszt launched legal action against Átlátszó and is demanding 5 million forints in damages due to this claim.
Russia has already developed a clear presence in Hungary’s media world and not only through pro-Russian organizations like the country’s Echo TV network. Over the years, dozens of news sites have sprung up in Hungary, which are widely suspected of being connected in a clandestine manner to the Russian state. Among the most prominent of these is a site called Orientalista.hu, which bills itself as “the voice of the east.” The Hungarian-language site’s articles are generally anti-American, tend to propagate conspiracy theories about collusion between the U.S. and ISIS in Syria and its editorial slant is explicitly pro-Putin, especially on matters of foreign policy.
Almost nothing is known about the site’s editors and authors, as they generally use pseudonyms like “Crusader,” “Gladiator,” “Johnny Red,” “Syriana,” and “Jack Fall.” The editor-in-chief is listed as “Kassab Adonis.”
The murky world of Russia’s presence in the Hungarian media is certainly deep.