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This is a copy of Re:Baltica’s English newsletter, sent on Sept 12, 2018. If you want to receive newsletters like this via e-mail, sign up!


Good Wednesday morning!

The big thing…

1. Spending by parties on social media rises, but keeping track is impossible.

  • According to the anti-corruption agency KNAB’s latest figures, some parties are spending in excess of tens of thousands of euro. Pro-Russian Harmony has spent or plans to spend EUR 25 000 on social media plus EUR 15 000 for ads on the internet. In terms of amounts, they are exceeded by the populist Who Owns The State (KPVLV), who have planned to spend almost EUR 46 000.
  • These figures are confusing, because the volume of ads placed on Facebook by Harmony in the past month is five times greater – some 300 items – compared to 40 for KPVLV. We cannot keep track of the amount of ads on YouTube, but we get reports from the public that Harmony is dominant there as well, with ads popping up between music videos, films and children’s cartoons in Russian.
  • The sad thing is that KNAB has no way to oversee or audit party spending on Facebook and Google. KNAB has said hitherto that it has the tools to do so, but decline to disclose. According to the off the record information, KNAB had hoped for cooperation from Facebook, but so far nothing has happened.
  • Possibly there will be more clarity next week, when representatives of Google and Facebook will meet with journalists in Riga. I will keep you informed.
  • Expenses of the election campaign declared to the KNAB by political parties (source):

2. Pre-election tango on Kremlin TV channels.

As usual, before these Saeima elections, the pro-Kremlin Latvian Union of Russians (LKS) is being helped by the Kremlin’s TV channels and the “news portals” Sputnik and Baltnews.

  • Re:Baltica‘s analysis shows that LKS, which wants mandatory teaching of Russian in all schools in Latvia and calls Latvians fascists, is working in symbiosis with Russian print and written media.
  • One example is Aleksandrs Gapoņenko, a pro-Kremlin activist arrested for anti-state activities in April. He wrote on Facebook that an “anonymous American friend” had told him that NATO soldiers would create riots in Riga that would later be ascribed to Russia. As a result a concentration camp for Russians would be installed in the Skonto Stadium in the center of Riga.
  • The pro-Kremlin media and LKS made the whole Gapoņenko saga part of their pre-election rhetoric, portraying Gapoņenko as a martyr persecuted by Latvian law enforcement. LKS organized picketing in support of Gapoņenko, these were reported on Sputnik and Baltnews, with LKS then linking and commenting the stories on Facebook. Read the story in Russian here.

3. And fresh news from our partner @DFRLab.

Read here on how Influencers on Facebook pivot to support a Latvian populist party.

  • The populists fell into their own trap. A public service TV investigative program obtained and published a four-year old telephone conversation between the current leaders of KPV LV. In the call, lawyer Aldis Gobzems is instructing the actor and newly-elected Saeima deputy Artuss Kaimiņš (elected from the Latvian Regional Alliance, which he later quit) about who to cooperate with in a coalition. When Kaimiņš expresses doubts that his electorate may not understand what he does, Gobzems says that for most of them it suffices “to get drunk and to have a hamburger (kotlete in Latvian). Now “kotlete” has become a hot phrase in Latvian politics.
  • Meanwhile, pro-Russian Harmony has turned to the National Electronic Mass Media Council, which oversees public service broadcasting, asking to examine the actions of journalists in publishing the phone conversations. This action lends credence to speculation that Kaimiņš party may be a Trojan horse for getting Harmony into a government coalition. Rumor has it that Kaimiņš recorded his own phone calls.

Thank you for reading,
Inga

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