Marián Balázs is a Slovak publicist, university lecturer, and theologist. He writes for PRII what the outcome of the Slovak election tells us about the shifting nature of CEE politics, truth, and political analysis.
The result of the Slovak election was a mosaic of multiple factors. But overall, we can conclude that attacks based on emotion, manipulation and fear-mongering had a major impact.
Analysts of CEE politics therefore find themselves in a rather complicated position. That is because analysts have experience with evaluating data from a political sphere, where the truth is binding. However, this tradition has been disturbed. In the case of Slovakia, it is most problematic in the subject of foreign politics, which sees Prime Minister Robert Fico commenting on various points about supporting the EU and Ukraine. However, it remains to be seen how realistic Fico’s promises are. For analysts used to working with credible open information, this is therefore going to be difficult, and they should remain aware of these risks. It is an unenviable position and I worry that this signals the creation of two parallel worlds. One official, full of political claims, and the other, realistic, turned inward.
Disinformation and demagogy can be understood as fear-mongering and attacks on the most basic human instincts and emotions. People generally wish to live in a safe environment, where they have the ability to predict upcoming developments. When something new and unfamiliar appears, we have a psychological need to return to safety.
When someone attacks our emotions, our brains react emotionally, rather than rationally. Only then comes the phase of critical thinking and rational processing. If people remain stuck in their emotional and impulsive reactions, this leads to irrational behaviour, which consequently impacts politics. We should be more educated, more prudent, more experienced, and develop our critical thinking and other skills in order not to be subject to emotional reactions alone. That is why critical thinking and media literacy are such major topics today. Because disinformation targets our basic instincts.
It is true that people such as Robert Fico, who turn to demagogy and authoritarian methods, are afraid of the truth. Historically, dissidents with no army, weapons, or soldiers, armed with only their own words, have shown the immense power of the truth. Authoritarian leaders fear this power, which is why they target non-governmental organisations and the independent media.
It is important to support initiatives and politicians actively engaged in defending truth and accountability. It is important to continue educating ourselves to resist the power of disinformation. And most crucially, we must not give up on the truth or think that when the truth loses in the political context, it also loses its power.