Slovenia’s Prime Minister Is a Far-Right Conspiracy Theorist and Twitter Addict Who Won’t Admit Trump Lost
Janez Jansa has built a powerful propaganda network with backing from Hungary.
They call him Marshal Tweeto.
Janez Jansa, the right-wing prime minister of Slovenia, used Twitter to declare Donald J. Trump the winner of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4, saying, “It’s pretty clear that American people have elected @realDonaldTrump @Mike_Pence for #4moreyears.”
Alas, this turned out to be, as Jansa’s hero likes to say, fake news—although Jansa has doubled down on it since. But the tweet was nothing new for the Slovenian prime minister. Jansa has moved from left to far-right over the years. He was once one of the founders of an independent Slovenia who had made his name in the 1980s as a journalist, writing for the left-leaning magazine Mladina. In 1988, he was arrested by the Yugoslavian authorities for publishing a stream of military leaks. After popular protests for his release, he joined the political movement that won the first democratic elections in Slovenia in 1990.
In 1993 he became the president of the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), and he still holds the title to this day. He is also a three-time prime minister—but after a vote of no confidence in 2013, he was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges. The sentence was confirmed by the Higher Court in Ljubljana in April 2014, but subsequently unanimously overturned by the Constitutional Court of Slovenia a year later.
Jansa is a avid Twitter user, using social media to insult journalists, political opponents, the general public, and anybody who does not agree with him. Peddling misinformation on his Twitter profile is pretty usual for the prime minister. In July, he retweeted a video from the QAnon series The Fall of Cabal, which details an ugly conspiracy theory, and invited people to join him on the Parler social network, where he follows far-right figures such as Paul Joseph Watson, Katie Hopkins, Jack Posobiec, and Alex Jones’ conspiracy network Infowars.
He also likes to attack journalists and public figures, insulting them and spreading falsehoods about them. According to the SparkToro Fake Followers Audit, nearly 75 percent of his Twitter followers are fake, but his tweets are regularly picked up by mainstream media outlets in Slovenia, extending their reach.
“Jansa has a two-prong approach to media relations,” said Andraz Zorko, a public opinion expert, “where he uses Twitter to form outrageous statements that agitate the general public and his opponents, and at the same time appears perfectly rational in traditional media outlets.”
In the summer of 2015, Jansa and his colleagues from the SDS funded and launched a media outlet called Nova24TV. Its slogan is “First in the service of truth,” but the reality is anything but. The party-linked propaganda outlet spews regular falsehoods on the refugee crisis, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community, spinning and twisting the truth in order to fit the right-wing party agenda. Left-wing parties have labeled it a “hate factory.”
“Like Trump, Jansa ended up with nothing but yes men around himself, effectively starting to drink his own Kool-Aid, dispensed by the very media apparatus he created in order to disrupt the liberal democratic consensus,” explained Aljaz Bitenc Pengov, a political analyst.
“I am not surprised that the prime minister running a fake-news government would publicly endorse the fake-news electoral victory of incumbent Donald Trump,” said Anuska Delic, editor in chief at Ostro, a center for investigative journalism in the Adriatic region. “In a year and a half since the launch of Ostro’s media fact-checking project, the media controlled by the SDS and majority-owned by members of the inner circle of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have been the main sources of fake news, disinformation, and misinformation in Slovenia.”
“Our findings indicate a symbiotic relationship between the party, its policies and goals, and the content that is being churned out by this media,” Delic explained. “At publication, the content is usually disseminated on social media by the party’s members (many of them current public officials), its sympathizers, and possibly trolls to exert pressure on opponents and skew the public debate. The same methods are also used on ‘unruly’ journalists who receive questions from one of these media which usually concern their professional or personal activities, or those of their family members. That content is further used to smear, harass, and attack reporters online.”
In 2016, Hungarian investors joined the Nova24TV media venture with an investment of 800,000 euros that turned out to be connected to the Orban regime. They invested again in 2018, bringing a total sum of Hungarian investments into the SDS-related propaganda outlets to more than 3.5 million euros.
Nova24TV’s other income is sourced from advertising contracts with partially state-owned companies such as Telekom Slovenije, insurance company Triglav, the Petrol Group, and others which, when publicly called out, could not explain the market reasoning behind them. Critics say they fund the channel to suck up to the party in power.
According to Primoz Cirman, editor of media outlet necenzurirano.si, “The Orban-Jansa alliance formed after the so-called migrant crisis in 2015. Bothsaw the opportunity to establish themselves as defenders of Christian Europe. Jansa’s motives were logical. In 2014, the SDS lost a parliamentary election while he was in jail. As a result, the party needed a new platform, and Jansa found one in anti-globalism. There was only one problem: SDS needed channels for spreading its new ideas, so it started to establish its own media outlets. Since 2017, a huge influx of Hungarian capital has come into media companies, established by prominent SDS members or the party itself.”
Nova24TV’s website and TV station of the same name are just the central parts of Jansa’s propaganda empire in Slovenia. His party is also connected to more than 20 local online media outlets that are used to anneal the messages of party propaganda, which are further distributed by a network of Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“By analyzing his Twitter behavior, we can note that the prime minister is spending more and more time on Twitter,” said Maja Cimerman of Today Is a New Day, a Slovenian nongovernmental organization. “During the U.S. elections, we calculate he spent at least three full hours a day on Twitter, with tweets appearing even at 4:30 in the morning. His behavior often indicates a form of escapism from the actual issues in the country, connected with the second pandemic wave where government policies are sorely lacking effectiveness,” she adds.
Jansa owes more than just his media network to the neighboring Hungarian autocrat. He won the general election in the summer of 2018 but was unable to form a coalition, since other major parties denounced his hard-right stance. A New York Times article from June 2018 drew connections between Orban and Jansa, claiming that Jansa was following Orban’s footsteps. Orban praised Jansa on Nova24TV during the election campaign in 2018, saying, “Jansa is exactly the kind of leader Slovenia needs.”
From 2018 until the spring of 2020, Jansa’s party was busy developing a relationship with Orban and other leaders of countries in the Visegrad Group. The COVID-19 pandemic offered a new window of opportunity.
In March, the country’s center-left coalition fell apart, and Jansa was able to form a center-right coalition with him at the helm and other right-wing and centrist parties playing second fiddle to his regime. He immediately went to work, proposing legislation to gut the public media outlet RTV Slovenija, shift more public money into funding his propaganda outlets, and repress NGOs.
At the same time, Orban and Jansa started forging long-term strategic cooperation, including efforts to tie the two countries’ power grids together and potentially build a new joint oil pipeline. Also in the talks were military contracts between the two countries, since the Slovenian government recently approved a military investment budget of a staggering 780 million euros over the next six years.
“The alliance grew stronger and expanded to North Macedonia, where the same Hungarian proxies bought several media outlets that support right-wing party VMRO-DPMNE,” Cirman explained. “SDS and [Orban’s party] Fidesz are virtually synchronized in European Parliament voting. Jansa was one of the few European leaders that opposed the rule of law as a condition for any EU member to be eligible for EU coronavirus funds. The alliance presents a new challenge for Slovenia, as Hungary has strong economic, cultural, and political interests in our country, especially in the field of infrastructure, energy, and banking.”
Beyond Orban, Jansa favors the global “alt-right.” Jansa is no stranger to retweeting other outlets such as the Daily Caller, Project Veritas, Breitbart, PragerU, and other far-right Twitter accounts. Media outlets connected with Jansa and the SDS feature interviews with controversial guests from the global alt-right universe such as Kevin MacDonald, Daniel Friberg, Martin Sellner, and Renaud Camus, all of whom Jansa regularly retweets.
“Jansa’s affection for the global neo-Nazi movement is simply an extension of his right-wing politics,”explained Boris Vezjak, a philosopher and professor at the University of Maribor. “These [shared] feelings are then reflected in the connections of the SDS party with the Generation Identity movement or in supporting local neo-Nazi groups to break up anti-government protests,” he added.
“As with Slovenian paramilitary units, Serbia has also seen the formation of anti-migration self-organized groups,” said Katja Lihtenvalner, a researcher at the Commission for International Justice and Accountability. “In Bosnia we followed the formation of … vigilantes and groups who were increasingly taking matters in their own hands, under the pretext of protecting the safety of others and public order. Generally, the impression is that authorities themselves are not able or willing to prevent the formation of such groups, the most radical of which are in Slovenia, where self-appointed ultranationalist groups were patrolling the border with fake guns and military uniforms.”
Jansa has many political enemies, but his politics are a grim reminder of the turn things have taken in Slovenia.
Barbara Rajgelj, an assistant professor of law at the University of Ljubljana, explained: “For the past 30 years, we were convinced Slovenian society was autocracy-resistant, but we are now seeing that isn’t true. Part of this irresponsible public media tolerance was that Jansa was never confronted about his statements made on Twitter, even though his attacks towards the public media are well documented.”
The future, however, looks bright for Jansa right now.
With a parliamentary majority in which Jansa’s party is calling the shots, while weaker coalition partners tremble in silence , the pandemic allows him to repress anti-government protests, a general culture of fear which makes people afraid to speak out because of fear of retribution, Slovenians are walking down the path of failed states. Despite Jansa’s having promoted far-right figures and built a propaganda network funded by a foreign regime, many Slovenians are still attracted to his maverick way of constructing his own reality, which is slowly sucking the air out of Slovenia—one tweet at a time.
Domen Savic is the director of Drzavljan D (Citizen D), where he focuses on developing long-term projects related to digital rights and media regulation.