Scroll Top

Navalny’s death was ordered “from above”; nearly two-thirds of the Czech population are convinced


Foto: Алексей Навальный Youtube channel

The news of the death of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was noted in mid-February 2024 by 86% of respondents to the twelfth wave of the representative longitudinal CEDMO Trends panel survey. The vast majority of the Czech population perceives his death as evidence of the autocracy of the current regime in Russia. 74% of respondents agreed with the statement that Alexei Navalny’s life story shows that Russia has never abandoned its totalitarian practices of imprisoning and liquidating political opponents. Almost two-thirds (65%) also agreed with the statement that Navalny’s death was ordered from above and represents a retaliatory step for long-standing criticism of the political representation in Russia led by President Vladimir Putin.

In the current CEDMO Trends survey’s sub-wave Alexei Navalny’s death was the subject of a special set of questions. These questions are regularly devoted to current social events. The basis of the survey, however, contains an unchanging set of questions, on the basis of which it is possible to track trends in the population’s behaviour in the consumption of various types of media content, with a focus on misinformation and disinformation. In the data from the current twelfth wave, there was a significant increase in misinformation directed against Ukraine or the West compared to previous periods — despite the fact that anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian narratives have long led in the ranking of misinformation recorded by respondents.

“If we wanted to imagine someone who is rather skeptical of Western narratives about the fate of Alexei Navalny, we would portray him as an older man who considers himself conservative. He is likely to vote for the SPD or the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the 2021 parliamentary elections and for Andrej Babiš in the 2023 presidential elections,” comments Lukáš Kutil, a data analyst at the CEDMO hub, commenting on the survey’s findings, and continues: “Their answers seem to reflect a lower media literacy and a related weaker trust in the media, which paradoxically leads to answers denying lived experience of the totalitarian regime. As a second example, which appeared more frequently in the responses, we can imagine a person who, while disagreeing with the claim that the Western media distorted the image of Navalny, does not believe that the death of the Russian oppositionist could ultimately weaken Vladimir Putin’s position. We would portray him as a younger, liberal voter who uses the internet on a daily basis, who favoured one of the government coalitions in the parliamentary elections and President Petr Pavel in the presidential election. If we take a closer look at the younger generation, we again encounter something surprising; although they do not believe in the weakening of Putin’s influence, they do not reject in principle the possibility of Russia’s political transformation into a democratic establishment. The high trust in the Western media, which is also a sufficient image for them, is combined with an optimism that may be based on the absence of personal experience with a totalitarian regime.”

In mid-March, the pan-European network EDMO, of which CEDMO is a part, published an analysis in which fact-checkers from twelve organisations in various European countries looked into the disinformation spread to damage the public image of the wife of the deceased opposition leader – Yulia Navalny. The discrediting campaign was unleashed after Yulia Navalny posted a video on 19 February in which she pledged to continue her late husband’s political work for a ‘free Russia’ and called on Russians to stand up for her.

False news about Yulia Navalny was already circulating through European countries via pro-Kremlin communication channels before Navalny’s death. After her announcement of her aspirations to a leadership role in the Russian opposition, the intensity of the dissemination of false content about her intensified. Fact-checkers of the EDMO network have noted reports in the public space portraying Yulia Navalny as an immoral woman and an opportunist. She has been depicted in several photographs flirting with various men. The caption of one of them, in which she was depicted with Yevgeny Chichvarkin (a Russian billionaire and Putin opponent), for example, commented on the moment captured as “a grieving widow of Navalny in the company of a new companion”. However, this was not an actual photograph from 2024, but a snapshot from 2021. Its original caption read: “With the first lady of the beautiful Russia of the future, Julia Navalny. Free Navalny!” This fake news was picked up in six European countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Lithuania and Poland). A similar image that circulated in the public domain in these countries, and made its way to the Czech Republic and Italy, also involved Chichvarkin. He was allegedly hugged by Yulia Navalna in the picture. However, this was a photomontage; in the original version of the picture, the man hugging Navalny was her husband Alexei.

The false story of the American psychologist Paul Ekman, who claimed that the fresh widow’s reaction to the news of Navalny’s death was an expression of happiness, rather than grief, because she had finally become the focus of the world’s attention, also sought to undermine the image of a potential leader of the anti-Putin opposition.

Other content, widespread in the EU and picked up in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, France, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Finland and Italy, goes even further in denigrating Julia Navalny. In an audio recording, Alexei Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalny, accuses her of being responsible for her son’s death. According to the audio recording, it was Yulia who forced Alexei to return to Russia, when he himself was unable to assess the situation after coming out of the artificially induced coma into which doctors had put him due to his poor health as a result of previous poisoning. The record also includes accusations of Yulia having contact with other men, as well as forcing her husband Alexei to transfer his bank accounts to her. However, the audio with Ludmila Navalny’s voice was fake (created by artificial intelligence). The voice of Navalny’s mother was cloned using a video from 22 February, when Lyudmila confronted the Russian authorities via a video posted on social media, claiming that they were blackmailing her into having her son buried secretly.

“If we want to draw any lessons from the event of Alexey Navalny’s death as it appeared in the media, it could be this: the information and disinformation media space is oversaturated. If we add to this the personal factors that come into play in forming opinion, we may well come to rather paradoxical conclusions ourselves. Let’s give others the opportunity to do the same. Especially when it comes to real complex situations, such as a story about the death of a person we have never seen, communicated to a war-torn social space through international media that simply cannot be cleansed of their geopolitical affiliation,” concludes Lukáš Kutil, reflecting on the findings of the latest wave of the CEDMO Trends survey.

In the Czech Republic, during the same period, February 2024, a number of deepfake videos were also circulating on social media. Among them, for example, a deepfake video with actor Ondřej Vetchý appeared. According to the CEDMO Trends survey, less than a fifth of the population (18%) had seen it. The level of trustworthiness of this video was also measured among respondents. However, almost no one believed it; approximately half of the respondents (46%) described the video as definitely untrue, only a tenth considered it at least partially true and another 17% were unsure of the video’s authenticity. Although the phenomenon of “deepfake” videos is largely unknown to the Czech population, Czech men and women do not trust specific artificially generated videos very much. This is confirmed by the results of the previous wave of CEDMO trends as well as the current one.

CEDMO Trends CR is a unique longitudinal panel research conducted over a period of thirty months. It offers exceptional insight into the evolution of the population’s behaviour in the consumption of different types of media content, focusing on particular types of information disorders such as misinformation and disinformation. These not only undermine public trust in the institutions necessary for the functioning of a pluralistic democracy, but can also amplify individual infodemias. CEDMO is conducting the survey on a representative sample of more than 3 000 respondents over 16 years of age.

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.