Former Macedonian strongman’s escape to Hungary triggers a flood of disinformation


By publishing unconfirmed, unchecked and misleading information about former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s flight to Hungary to avoid a 2-year prison sentence, many Balkan media outlets have helped create confusion and mistrust among the general public, writes “Global Voices”, adding that the main source of the confusion was the re-publishing of articles back and forth between Macedonian, Hungarian, Serbian and Albanian media without basic journalistic verification.

According to Balkan Insight, it is now known that Gruevski passed illegally from Macedonia into Albania, and was then transported in diplomatic vehicles through Montenegro and Serbia to Hungary by staff from the Hungarian embassies in those countries.

Flying on a non-existent airline?

One of the most influential pieces of disinformation came from the formerly reputable Serbian newspaper Politika, which on November 15 published an article claiming Gruevski had “escaped” on a Malév Hungarian Airlines flight from Tirana, Albania’s capital, to Budapest. Conveniently for the Serbian government, which has close ties to the Macedonian and Hungarian populists involved in the operation, the Politika story conveniently omitted Serbia from its description of the route taken by the fugitive.

While many Balkan media republished the story unmodified, some took the exceptional step of assessing and debunking the information within. Macedonia’s Meta News agency pointed out, for instance, that Malev Hungarian Airlines had ceased operations back in 2012.

181115-Gruevski001

Serbian media fact-checking site Raskrikavanje.rs further debunked the Politika article by reporting that the only flight from Tirana to Budapest on any airline on November 13 was late in the evening, and the airline was the low-budget Wizz Air. As Gruevski had announced on Facebook that he was in Budapest at around 13:10 hrs that day, it would have been impossible for him to have taken the Wizz Air flight, or any flight from Tirana.

The article in question was removed from Politika’s website without explanation. However, the Macedonian website Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens  – CriThink retained a screenshot of the page as part of their fact-checking. Besides analyzing the information in the story, CritThink pointed out that the anonymous author of the misleading article had not cited any sources to support their claims.

For not a single piece of information in the article, for not a single claim there is no source where it emerges from or who gave the information. They are not even stating that there were anonymous sources – unofficial or official, which additionally raises the doubts on whether what was published was actually true.

За ниедна информација во написот, или за ниедно тврдење нема наведено од каде тие потекнуваат и кој ги дал информациите. Нема ни повикување на анонимни извори – било официјални или неофицијални, што, исто така, дополнително го зголемува сомневањето дека она што е објавено е, всушност, невистина.

Did  Gruevski escape disguised as a woman?

Another popular item of misinformation was the widely republished claim that Gruevski crossed borders dressed as a woman. This claim inspired numerous memes, possibly in retaliation for his regime’s weaponization of misogyny and homophobia and use of anti-LGBTI propaganda to mobilize support.

Made in Hungary? Mr. Nikolas Steal and Run.

The source for this claim was a November 14 interview by well-known Macedonian law professor Vlado Kambovski on the reputable website SDK.mk. At a time when the details of the incident were still unknown, Kambovski speculated that anything was possible, even something as outrageous as the macho conservative politician donning women’s clothing in order to evade the law.

The [self declared] big hero and patriot Nikola Gruevski, who possibly disguised himself in woman’s clothes and escaped Macedonia, did a double offense in addition to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison that he was supposed to serve… By escaping he provided rock-solid evidence of his guilt.

Големиот херој и патриот Никола Груевски, кој можеби и во женски алишта се скри и побегна од Македонија, стори двоен прекршок покрај кривичното дело за кое е осуден на двегодишна затворска казна која требаше да ја издржува… Тој со бегството си ја зацементира вината.

Several Hungarian media took this offhand remark literally and published articles with sensationalist headlines claiming that Gruevski had actually crossed the borders dressed as a woman, citing SDK as the source of the information.

To complicate matters further, some Macedonian media amplified the disinformation from these sources with headlines such as “Hungarian media: Gruevski crossed the border dressed as a woman.” These media leaned so heavily on these third-hand sources that they failed to realize that the rumor had, in fact, originated in their own country.

Gruevski’s regime, which ruled Macedonia from 2006 to 2017, invested heavily in propaganda and disinformation. Much of their infrastructure, including some of their media allies, is still in place and continues to manipulate information that often increases in sensationalism and inaccuracy as it travels back and forth across the region’s borders.

Journalists and fact-checking projects may be working hard to debunk them, but the flood of false claims and counterclaims within the general media sphere erodes trust in journalism as a pillar of democracy among the public, sinking them further into political apathy.

 

Global Voices is an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists.


Soros is mentioned 53 times in Gruevski’s mega-interview


Skopje, 4 January, 2017 - 21:00 (META) 

During the first two parts of the interview that was given for the electronic edition of the weekly magazine “Republika,” VMRO-DPMNE’s party leader Nikola Gruevski is dueling with the American billionaire George Soros and during the conversation, his name is mentioned 53 times which plastically can be presented like this:

“Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros.”
Macedonia is mentioned 37 times, the Albanians – 18 times, the term “nationalist” – 15 times as much as the acronym SDSM.
In this “mega interview” Gruevski is giving an enormous attention to dueling with “Soros and the millions he is pouring into Macedonia” and with “corrupted journalists, media owners professors, intellectuals, analysts, activists which are al fronted by professional protesters.”

-If it wasn’ for Soros with his whole network stretching into the NGO sector, media, politicians, inside and outside, that are on his pay list, his influence in the most powerful states in the world and the enormous influence when it comes to smaller states like ours it wouldn’t have been so hard and the economy would have been stronger, we would have had more job positions – said Gruevski in the interview with an indicative title “The Civil sector must not remain in the hands of Soros.”

According to him, in the future, the civil sector “must not remain in he hands of Soros and the foreign governments.”


Popovska: This is an arrogant show of power, and will lead to new destabilization


Skopje, 18 January, 2016 - 18:58 (META) 

MPs in the absence of opposition began the debate on the proposal by VMRO-DPMNE and DUI to dissolve Parliament.

Against the decision to put this item on the agenda were MP Pavle Trajanov and MP Ljiljana Popovska.

Pavle Trajanov said that the decision goes against the Constitution and that such decisions should be decided together with all political parties, especially when discussing a political agreement.

MP Liliana Popovska said she was against the dissolution of Parliament without the opposition present because, as she says “we all fought for their return to Parliament, and it is required for important decisions.”

For Popovska this is “arrogant, incorrect, unprincipled and will lead to a new destabilization of Macedonia.”

For now, a total of eight MPs are enrolled for discussion regarding this matter.


If elections take place on April 24, the Prime Minister needs to resign by tomorrow the latest


Skopje, 13 January, 2016 - 17:41 (META) 

On January the 3rd, the Prime Minister announced that he would resign before January the 15th in order to fulfil the Przhino Agreement.

“In accordance with the agreement, on January the 15th a new government with a Prime Minister will be elected for the conduct of parliamentary elections. Previously, of course, I will resign, and as for who will be the President of the Government to conduct until elections will be announced after VMRO-DPMNE make the decision. That decision will be publicly promoted by VMRO-DPMNE via statement or by press conference, ” stated the Prime Minister.
If all terms and deadlines are respected, even though the agreement isn’t exactly precise as it contains wording like “in due time” and “resign in time”, the Prime Minister, along with his current government, should resign the latest tomorrow.
After that, President Gjorge Ivanov should hand the mandate over to the party who won the most seats in Parliament at the previous parliamentary elections, in his case, to VMRO-DPMNE. However, this party need to elect a Prime Minister through its executive committee to be voted in Parliament with a simple majority.


Gruevski: Apart from a cold and my sinuses, I’m very well, thank-you for asking


Skopje, 10 December, 2015 - 21:06 (META) 

The Prime Minister, in an interview with the portal “Press 24,” answered the question how the he felt personally.

“24 Press”: Prime Minister, a few months after he “bombs” the epilogue of the Przhino Agreement, general opinion is that , but first how do you feel personally?

Gruevski: You caught me unaware on this question. Hardly anyone asks me how I feel, probably people rush to announce their problems, and certainly have quite a lot, and, understandably, a few ask how I am. Therefore, you have surprised me with the question. Firstly ,I’m in great health, and apart from a cold and a sinus infections that I occasionally get, but generally, thank God, I’m fine. My family, too. And that’s the most important thing when you ask a man how he is. But when a politician has gone through a turbulent period asking this question, one can certainly follow and explain everything he felt and went through. My loved ones and I went through a serious, quite turbulent and fairly difficult period, where we were under attack, and it was a campaign designed to personally discredit me, a campaign that aimed to bring down Nikola Gruevski as Prime Minister and to destabilize state institutions, to bring unrest, strong division, hatred in society, in particular among the ethnic Macedonian. All this is a violation and in breaks over my back, but not only mine, and the backs of my associates and my family, who are subject to a disgusting campaign, but on the backs of the people in the streets, in the shops, among neighbours, relatives, friends …