FIDESZ propaganda and the Hungarian minority in Transylvania: context, channels, and narratives

October 26, 2021

Over the past three-and-a-half years, until June 2021, the Association for Transylvanian Media Space received approximately 20 million EUR in grants from the Hungarian government. With this funding the association, unknown until recently, has become by far the largest Hungarian-language media trust in Transylvania; according to Sipos Zoltan, editor in chief of the independent publication Átlátszó Erdély (Transparent Transylvania) and founder of the NGO with the same name. One of the purposes of this huge injection of capital was to save the Hungarian-language media in Szeklerland (the name for a Hungarian-majority area in the center of Romania - Ținutul Secuiesc). The Budapest government did not allow them to fade away in the digital area and funded the transition to the digital press. The success of this transformation is relative and thorough research on this topic has been carried out in our investigation Two-a-penny: 5 million euro per year for the Hungarian language media trust in Transylvania. This investigation was the first step in our project. We monitored FIDESZ propaganda in the Hungarian minority in Transylvania offline by tracking the offline funding that goes in the monitored online sources.

Transylvania is home to approximately 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians, almost six percent of the country’s population, and one of the largest ethnic minority communities in Europe. In Transylvania, huge sums are being spent on Hungarian-language media, kindergartens, schools, and churches in order to build a sense of belonging. The purpose of funding media outlets and investing in standards of living is the Hungarian regime’s desire to build a system in which Hungarians from Romania feel like they belong in Hungary. It is called the virtual unification of the nation, overcoming the Trianon treaty by striving to create a virtual nation where every Hungarian, regardless of country of residence, are virtually connected to Hungarian state institutions. The expansion and unification of media space is a very important step in this direction. This has led to strange situations with many Hungarians living in Romania being more informed about the political situation in Hungary than the political intricacies in Bucharest. Tamás Kiss, a researcher at the Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities, described this phenomenon as a system of ethnic parallelism in which Hungarians can live their life in Romania as a part of Hungary.This type of mentality is not unique to Romania; similar funding can be seen in Slovenia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

However, the main difference correlates this territory’s historic meaning for Hungary and translates into the amount of money directed to these communities, which has been biggest in Transylvania – roughly 145 million euros in 2017 and a similar amount in 2018. In 2018, Hungary launched the Pro Economica foundation in Transylvania, the biggest in all the region with non-refundable funds of up to 145 million euros for Hungarians that invest in tourism and entrepreneurship initiatives in the region. While we don't have exact amounts for the more recent years, partial datasets regarding the government grants suggest that the level of funding remained at least the same, and possibly increased.

Media consumption is crucial in analyzing how the Hungarian government is using local and regional media to disseminate Fidesz’s propaganda. We took a thorough look at the Hungarian native media that is present within Romanian territory. We analyzed the last 12 months of social media activity for 23 media outlets, each having at least 10,000 followers. Based on their interaction rates we ranked them and established which of them are the biggest and fastest growing, based on the content they promote and their reach. It is important to note that we have included in our study pages such as the regional newspaper Krónika and one of the most popular Hungarian news portals in Transylvania, Both media outlets are published by Prima Press SRL, a company owned by Association for Transylvanian Media Space, which receives funding from the Hungarian government. The NGO then transfers part of the money to this company.

This report has been prepared with support from IRI's Beacon Project. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not reflect those of IRI.

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The link to the original publication can be found: here.