This is the second text in a series in which Datalyrics confronts influential opinion-makers whom wrongly claimed that their radical views are based on academic research. The aim of Datalyrics is to prevent such views from becoming normalized. You can read the first article in the series here.
NO OTHER AUTHOR's books have attracted more readers in the Czech libraries in the last six years. In a country of ten million, Vlastimil Vondruška has sold over a million copies. His novels tell an adventurous, caricatured story of medieval history.
In the summer of 2015, he started to write political commentaries. He explains his disgust for migration, Islam and the European Union. His views arise, he claims, from historical analogies.
Petr Žantovský, a member of the Council of the Czech Press Agency, regards his commentaries as “a fountain of openness and impartiality.”
For his work, he received a special award from the Association of Independent Media (two out of four of its founders run disinformation websites) and some less tainted honours. Petr Žantovský, member of the Association as well as of the Council of the Czech Press Agency (ČTK), regards political commentaries of Mr Vondruška as “a fountain of openness and impartiality.”
Miloš Zeman, the Czech president, too, takes lessons from Mr Vondruška. In 2017, he gave both aforementioned persons a state Medal of Merit. It was an article by Mr Vondruška to which the managers of Prima, the Czech third most-watched TV, gestured when they asked their reporters in September 2015 to either break journalistic standards and portray migration as a threat in the news, or, leave.
Mr Vondruška emphasizes the necessity of “debate”. But only declaratively. Other historians have criticised him for twisting history at least since 1997. He does not argue with them. He prefers to respond by vague allusions to stealthy encroachment on freedom of speech. He believes that the true motive of his critics is his political incorrectness. Mr Vondruška labelled families, men, women and children coming to Europe in search for asylum as “a barren invasion of hordes”.
The fake quote Mr Vondruška uses to illustrate his mistrust to international cooperation originates in a speech by a radical-right MP who was earlier prosecuted for fearmongering.
He declined an interview with a Datalyrics correspondent, noting that he “does not comment on controversial issues in interviews.” In talks with servile interviewers, he has commented on controversial issues more than a dozen times in the last three years. Five times, he did so in mainstream media.
Mladá Fronta Dnes, the major daily owned de facto by the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, has published 38 of his political commentaries. The last one arrived, after a long pause, last week.
He has recently presented his worldview in a book of political ruminations called “Breviary of Positive Anarchy” (Breviář pozitivní anarchie). He does not support his views with evidence. Instead, he sustains his opinions with impressive quotations. A number of them are feigned.
One such is an evergreen well-known to observers of the international disinformation ecosystem. Before introducing the fabricated quote, Mr Vondruška pauses to claim that “in the study of history, … only facts can be accepted.” Then he seemlessly continues :
“The power of Russia could be undermined only by separating Ukraine from it. Ukraine should not only be torn away from Russia but also set against it. We should play off one part of the single nation against the other and watch one brother killing the other. In order to accomplish this we need to find and cultivate traitors among the national élite and using them we have to change self-consciousness of one part of the great nation to such an extent that they would hate everything connected with Russia, they would hate their origin not even realizing this. All the rest is about timing. Believe it or not, this political conception was formulated in the second half of the 19th century by the “Iron Chancellor” of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck!”
Mr Vondruška uses the fake quote to support the imagination that Euromajdan, a series of civil unrest in Ukraine in 2013, and the preceding wave of revolutions in northern Africa were triggered by “a small group of people” from abroad aiming to “dismantle an inconvenient political system”.
He leaves the conventional understanding, that is, that these uprisings were a spontaneous expression of political and economic grievance for which many demonstrators paid with their life, unnoticed.
As StopFake has shown, the conservative German Chancellor did not plan to set East Europeans against one another. He never made the statement. He couldn't because the term Ukraine was not used in his lifetime.
The second central motive in his work is that international treaties are “foisted” upon us [Czechs]; we should be suspicious of the officials in “Brussels” as well as NATO allies because they always have some hidden agenda. Mr Vondruška implies that mistrust of this kind was adopted already by the second Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš:
“It may happen that my decrees, issued by the decision of the victorious powers of the second world war, will be in time to come declared to be void. It may happen, like it did in the past, that there will be “so-called Czech patriots” who will apologize to the Sudeten Germans for their removal and that they will be inclined to accept their return. Don’t let yourself be fooled and don’t allow the comeback. Hitlers leave but the aspiration of Germany to capture Europe remains.”
As the late historian Karel Novotný from the Charles University has shown, this is another feigned quote. There are multiple inconsistencies that rule out the authorship of Beneš: Beneš never spoke of the decrees as of „[his],“ because he was neither their author or initiator but merely a signatory; also, the removal of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia was executed on the basis of conclusions from the Postdam Conference and no special decree that would order or legally tailor the removal was issued. This sharply contradicts a longer version of the quote that makes rounds in the Czech Republic.
The first feigned quote is of Soviet provenience. The second comes from Prague. On occasion of the presidential election in 1998, the latter was recited by Jan Vik, a secretary of the Republican Party of Czechoslovakia, a radical-right party that enjoyed limited influence in 1990s. Three years earlier, Mr Vik had been prosecuted for fearmongering in connection with stirring suspicion against the Sudeten Germans.
It is likely that Mr Vondruška discovered both feigned quotes on the Czech disinformation websites. But the writer is far from seeing his texts as quirky confessions of a hack who syntetizes stereotypes from unreliable sources. He describes his work as “historical analysis” the conclusions of which are inextricably tied with “historical facts”.
Many buy it.
As Vojtěch Bažant and Martin Šorm, historians from the Charles University, point out, the City library of Prague has bought 43 copies of the book. To this day, many libraries advertise the book on its websites as “an analysis” based on a “deep knowledge of the development of human history”, “supplemented by very apt and amusing quotes”.
Traditional media call him “a historian”. Still, most of them keep a degree of restraint. Two do not. The first is called ParlamentniListy.cz, a website producing news-like content with hyperpolitical agenda similar to Breitbart or Unzensuriert. The second is Mladá Fronta Dnes. The daily did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Most other historians either don’t suffer from irresistible urge to participate in the public life or cannot express the conclusions of their research in way that is understandable to more than six of their playmates from a local bridge club. That is another reason why the Czechs are for now stuck with Mr Vondruška.
Some historians believe that the discrepancy between his commendable aim to “help” readers “separate the wheat from the chaff” and the resulting spreading of falsehoods, half-truths and flapdoodle is associated with his inability to speak English. Petr Kreuz, a historian at the Prague City Archive is sterner. He believes that Mr Vondruška “consciously works” with “schemes” and stereotypes acquired by his target audience during their education under the communist regime.
Mr Vondruška concedes that his customer is the reader, not the critic. But he emphasizes that he publicly explains his disgust for the European Union, migration and Islam because of responsibility for the family and “in the spirit of love for the country.”
At the end, things may be less sinister. Perhaps, Mr Vondruška simply believes in grand historical promises. When he speaks of his life, he describes himself as an informal critic of the communist rule. However, 17 of his subordinates from the National Museum where he worked during communism as the head of the historical department reject that account. They say that on November 22nd 1989, Mr Vondruška still demanded a punishment for his colleagues who hanged a banner “National [Museum] with the nation” on the museum’s facade.
As if he had believed that the future will be darker than it turned out to be.