Roman Máca: “Hunter” of Putin’s radical Czech followers
As a security expert focused on media and the internet, Roman Máca has been very busy lately, monitoring a rise in activity among pro-Russian online voices linked to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Máca, who works for the Institute for Politics and Society, has also been drawing attention to radical individuals, some of whom he calls Putin's Czech "legion".
When did this huge phenomenon of Russian disinformation on the Czech internet really begin?
“It was in 2014, when Russian aggression against Ukraine started.
“Many so-called alternative media, or better to say pro-Kremlin websites, mushroomed. There were dozens of websites.
“Then they switched to the migration crisis, Covid issues and now they are turning back to support Russia against Ukraine.
“This has also been followed with a huge presence on social networks.
“Okamura doesn’t care what is true or not – he’s just doing his disinformation job.”
“We see especially on Facebook many people who call themselves patriots, activists or independent journalists, but they are not speaking about their cooperation with Russian state media or the media of the Russian Army and so on.
“And that is also followed by chain emails, which are full of disinformation and are mostly spread between older people.”
I presume similar things are happening in other European countries – that the Russians are targeting the internet space with all kinds of stuff. What kind of themes are particularly common in the Czech Republic?
“Do you mean now?”
In recent years.
“OK. These pro-Kremlin resources are doing a simple job. They are just repeating Russian official propaganda.
“Also they want to destabilise Czech society, to put fear into society, to divide society and to motivate society to fight against our government, to fight against NATO and the EU.
“They are saying, Russia is our only saviour, with conservative values and with a strong leader.
“They say, If we will be part of Russia or part of the Russian space, it will be better for us.”
Would you say then that the Russians have been successful in this endeavour?
“According to STEM research, a quarter of Czechs trust so-called alternative websites more than traditional media.
“And it is also seen in Czech politics.
“The two biggest pro-Kremlin parties are the Communist Party and – I call them ‘commercial nationalists’ – Tomio Okamura’s party, Freedom and Direct Democracy.
“They are serving Putin’s regime and they have to get 15 percent of the vote.”
I get why the Communists might be doing it, but why do you think Okamura is, in your words, serving the Kremlin?
“When the Russian war against Ukraine started he recognised the so-called ‘Crimean referendum’.
“He was also saying that in Eastern Ukraine it was a ‘citizens’ war’, there is no Russian presence, and also that the West is provoking Russia and the West is aggressive against Russia.
“And if you see Okamura’s Facebook there are many, many posts saying, I agree with Mr. Putin.
“Now they will spread disinformation and hate speech against Ukrainian refugees.”
“Also in 2014 or 2015 Okamura visited Western Ukraine and was speaking with people about separatism and direct democracy, that they should be independent of ‘fascist Ukraine’, and so on.
“And then there are his deputies – one of them Jaroslav Foldyna, is a supporter of Russia and he even joins the Night Wolves motorcycle gang.
“Also Jaroslav Bašta. Today I posted his photo with General Yakunin, a former general of the Russian KGB and close colleague of Vladmir Putin.
“So it is clear.
“The Communists are now out of Parliament, but Freedom and Direct Democracy are still there and they want to weaken the Czech position.
“They are protesting against military supplies for Ukraine.”
That’s what they’re doing. But what’s your sense of why they are doing that?
“Okamura’s party is only here because he found a gap on the political market.
“He is only speaking to his audience and he is saying what the audience want to hear.
“And if this audience is pro-Russian, anti-migrant and so on, he is providing this information to them.
“He doesn’t care what is true or not – he’s just doing his disinformation job because there is a number of citizens who want this information.”
In your Twitter biography you call yourself a “lovec šmejdů”, or hunter of lowlifes, or scumbags. By this you mean that you are highlighting, for example, supporters of Putin here in the Czech Republic. What kind of people do they tend to be? Who are these people?
“These people are still the loyal to the Communist regime of the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
“They are against our freedom and democracy and the fact that we are members of NATO and the EU.
“There are also, let’s say, radical or extremist people and they are friendly to Putin’s regime.
“Also in recent weeks we saw that many of these so-called anti-Covid activists turned to Russian propaganda.
“Because when Covid is less and less topical they are finding a new topic.
“This Covid disinformation was a source of money for them and you see that these activists are in bankruptcy, they did before some not nice jobs – for example, selling fake crypto currencies and so on.
“I have been threatened by these radicals or extremists for many years.”
“They used Covid as a source of money and Covid is out of…”
It’s off the front pages.
“Yes, so they just found a new topic and now they will spread disinformation and hate speech against Ukrainian refugees.”
You say they are doing it for money. How are they making the money? Who is paying them?
“These so-called activists call themselves independent journalists, patriots, fighters and freedom and so on – and they did only stuff like streaming on Facebook, where they were talking about nanochips in vaccines, or they have said that if you join some protests there will be snipers and on the roof who can kill you and it will be the start of the Czech Maidan, and things like that.
“And they ask their supporters for money, to send money to their bank accounts.
“Sometimes these so-called patriots, who call other people traitors of the Czech Republic, secretly work for the Russian secret services, Russian state media.”
So you think they are being paid by the Russians?
“I would say these trendsetters, the main people, are paid.
“Also if you have some person who is under bankruptcy here in the Czech Republic and he is behind some fake news website and is on the edge of the society – and he is invited to Russia, nice hotel, nice parties, and he is named as a famous Czech journalist… so there are not only money but gifts like this.
“We saw it many ‘delegations’ to Crimea, Donbas and Russia.”
When you expose these people online, the members of the so-called Domobrana, or homeland defence, and other people who you call Putin’s Czech legion, I presume they don’t like it. Are you in personal danger?
“I have been threatened by these radicals or extremists for many years.
“The most popular way how to ‘execute’ me is with a bullet, with hanging and also with cutting off my head.
“I’m regularly threatened and when I published this gallery with pro-Russian ‘self-defence forces’ one person from this gallery called me.
“He was not satisfied that he was on the list. This is a guy who presents himself with guns and the insignia of Donetsk People’s Republic, and with a group of these people who are Russian proxies.
“Czech fighters in Donbas were also recruited from these people, who are now punished as terrorists with high sentences.”
Do you ever despair? Do you ever get depressed about how popular this stuff is?
This pro-Russian stuff: fake news, lies, propaganda.
“You know in every society you have a percentage of people who believe in the simple narrative that everything is otherwise than it was said.
“Like the Americans never landed on the moon, September 11 was an inside job and chemtrails and things like that.
“Twenty-five percent of Czechs believe that everything is different from what was said.
“They have their own troubles. They have problems with money, standard family issues and so on.
“And they feel cheated and as victims of the system.
“The guy from the ‘self defence force’ who called also told me that he was unemployed for a long time.
“He said he was a victim of the system.”