Denník N

Vulnerable „Vulnerability Index“ – or What We Got Wrong with Analysis of Hungary´s Foreign and Domestic Policies

In contrast to basic assumptions behind the Vulnerability Index and the Kremlin Influence Index, one can see in both cases more self-induced vulnerability or congruence of chosen foreign policies with selected foreign actors rather than some foreign heavy propaganda/public diplomacy or misinformation and disinformation impact. This different analytical perspective is not just a minor revision of either index. Rather, it has fundamental analytical, and in effect, policy consequences. In that sense, it is also instructive for searching for the proper approach to fighting or tackling disinformation.

There is a lot of discussion about Hungary´s specific foreign policy in general, and since the Russian invasion to Ukraine in particular. The foreign policy of Hungary is closely intertwined with some domestic policies. Within this context, there was developed as an analytical tool the Vulnerability Index. The Vulnerability Index (2021) analyzed “the vulnerabilities” of selected countries towards foreign malign influence in five dimensions: public attitudes, political landscape, public administration, information landscape and civic and academic space.1 There also is the Kremlin Influence Index produced by another international team.2

On a scale of 1-100 (0 is the most resilient and 100 the most vulnerable) the Vulnerability Index revealed the vulnerabilities towards the Russia´s and Chinese´s influence in Czechia (at 29 points), Slovakia (at 32) and Hungary (at 44) (data for Poland were unavailable) in 2021.3 An earlier Vulnerability Index (2017) identified Hungary (at 57 points) as the most vulnerable country, closely followed by Slovakia (51), then followed with distance by both Czechia (38) and Poland (30).4

Similarly, based on a different methodology, the Kremlin Influence Index (2017) identified Hungary (61) (compared with Czechia – 48, Georgia – 54, and Ukraine – 49) as the most vulnerable country to the capacity of Russia to influence (initiate, change) the processes in the information space (production, exchange and consuming of information.5

In this article majory attention will be paid to the former Index, as more elaborated and continuously used.

In contrast to basic assumptions behind the Vulnerability Index and the Kremlin Influence Index, one can see in both cases more self-induced vulnerability or congruence of chosen foreign policies with selected foreign actors rather than some foreign heavy propaganda/public diplomacy or misinformation and disinformation impact. This different analytical perspective is not just a minor revision of either index. Rather, it has fundamental analytical, and in effect, policy consequences. In that sense, it is also instructive for searching for the proper approach to fighting or tackling disinformation.

There are different explanations offered for what is behind somehow distinct and somehow (within the EU) isolated Hungarian foreign policy that impacts domestic policies (and vice-versa). As mentioned, there can be seen a relatively and comparatively high congruence of Hungarian foreign policy with Russian foreign policy, further seen in its domestic instrumentalisation. The answers why is this so differ. For example William Nattrass argues that Hungary’s ‘pro-Russia’ stance is the result of historical and recent political factors, many of which have been shaped by Orbán himself.6 Others include here energy dependency and political model of Russia´s illiberal state as the reason for Orbán´s positive (or at least no so much critical) attitude towards Russia.7 Péter Krekó found four main factors here: energy ties, business deals and corrosive capital, intelligence penetration, and information influence.8 Some see this as just the distinct foreign policy path that was announced by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2012 to pursue a multivector diplomatic and economic foreign approach based mainly on the economic interests of Hungary – so-called “Eastern Opening”. Within this context, some authors rightly point to the increased vulnerability (but) as a result of chosen policies: „What the Hungarian government could really offer in return for the Chinese and Russian diplomatic support and some of these business deals favouring governmental oligarchs was increased vulnerability, starting with the Hungarian public sphere and ending with national security issues.“9 Indeed, Balázs Orbán, political director to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has written in his book that Germany, Russia, the USA and China, together with Turkey (Ottoman Empire), are (historically or currently) the most significant powers for Hungary. Moreover, among the key ideas he expressed that „states pursue their own interests“ and „the most important actors in foreign policy are states“.10 Hungary is certainly not passive actor in foreign policy making, as an investigative study documented.11

Within this contex, it may be true that the most disinformation during the elections campaign before 2019 European Parliament elections among EU member states was disseminated in Hungary.12 This trend seemed to continue in Hungary, where news spread by Russian media were often picked up without any kind of criticism by the media in Hungary.13 It also should be explained that the Russian media did not play a significant role in any dissemination of Russia´s preferred narratives among foreign audiences. Rather, they served a source of narratives for the local pro-Russian media, in particular fringe (so called “alternative”) media.14 It is useful to cite an expert opinion that, although not focused specifically on Hungarian situation, it is quite helpful here:

„The media, described as a tool of „Russian propaganda“, do not offer much more as an alternative than support for some of the Kremlin’s power moves abroad, for example in Syria or Ukraine. They do not present the existing model of political and socio-economic organization in the Russian Federation as a positive alternative. On the other hand, they concentrate various frustrations of a large part of the public, either from socio-economic development or from the wars led by the US and other Western states in various parts of the world, the legitimacy of which is at least questionable.“15

The argument here is that Hungarian authorities tolerate(d) „alternative“ fringe news outlets, including those produced by foreign actors (e.g. Russia), precisely for identified reasons. This is simply due to the fact that the Hungarian authorities, and Hungarian pro-governmental media, instrumentalise occasionally these sources, and, moreover, themselves are involved in the production of misinformation and disinformation (e.g. misleadingly presented 2022 „national consultation“ on EU sanctions against Russia). Indeed, there are many studies, some already cited that point at misinformation and disinformation produced by authorities and pro-governmental outlets in Hungary (and Poland) in general.16 Perhaps most importantly, the Hungarian government enforces foreign affairs policies and communications that are more in line with (or that are less critical to) policies of certain foreign actors than in the other three V4 countries (or the EU as such).

Therefore, one can assume that Hungary is not that much suspectible to foreign malign influence. Rather, we can assume that foreign policy issues may be most often and/or most successfully internally instrumentalised in Hungary for misinformation and disinformation purposes (aiming primarily at internal audiences) by local actors.

In short, there is analytical confusion or unacknowledged merger between “vulnerability” and “congruence” among analysts. Congruence suggests a more active approach and in effect, a policy choice. It also suggests the limited impact of propaganda (or fake news and disinformation). In contrast, vulnerability paints rather passive actors, possibly the huge impact on propaganda and limited foreign policy choices.

Be that as it may, rather questionable variables for various indices appear to be used. Moreover, many of these variables expect in-depth knowledge in many different areas, which is unrealistic. Sometimes contradictory, or at least little consistent results from public opinion surveys do not contribute to analytical clarity either. This all leads to rather controversial analytical conclusions as well as, possibly, it does not promote the best follow-up foreign policy options for those actors who follow the original interpretation of this index. In contrast, alternative and correct terminology (and change in analytical perspective) allows us to frame and explain divergent Hungarian findings in a proper analytical and comparative context. In that sense, this Index could be perhaps better called the „Congruence Index“. This important difference in the terminological specification (in contrast to the original authors perception) reflects indicators used (as cited above, with the important impact of the political landscape and public administration) as well as reflects in general rather sceptical long-term research results on the possible direct impact of propaganda of any type.

Related, there is a missing important variable in this index – general quality and quantity of foreign news as perceived by experts or public, or, ideally, as presented in qualitative and qualitative studies.

On the other hand, there are some indicators whose analytical usefulness may be seen as questionable – e.g. cyber security capacity.17 There are other indicators that would benefit from revisions, too. For example. within the cummulative indicator „Perception of Russia“ there are sub-indicators: „Russian military is better“, „Russia provokes conflicts“, „Russia is aggressive“, „Russia is a threat“. First, it is strange that for China there is only one sub-indicator – „China is a threat“. Second, on what bases can an average analyst or non-expert assess Russia´s military abilities/qualities? Related, what is the difference between the last three sub-indicators (provokes conflicts, aggressive, and a threat)? Be that as it may, how can one correctly assess whether Russia is aggressive when there are indeed occasional misperceptions of some key recent relevant and related historical events (e.g. 2008 Georgia-Russian War)? Third, it would be interesting to have included a sub-indicator such as „Russia is a political model to follow“ – that would be possibly a better indicator of how vulnerable are countries to Russia´s (or China´s) influence. There are many other variables and indices that would deserve critical discussion and revisions. Following this very brief criticism with a few suggested modifications, „the Vulnerability Index“ can be seen at best as representing „self-induced“ vulnerability. Perhaps, there is a time to scrap this imprecise index and design a new one.

Skrátená slovenská verzia

Zraniteľný „index zraniteľnosti“

Andrej Školkay

Veľa sa diskutuje o špecifickej zahraničnej politike Maďarska a to najmä od ruskej invázie na Ukrajinu. Zahraničná politika Maďarska je úzko prepojená s niektorými domácimi politikami. V každom prípade je pre nás dôležitá ako členského štátu EÚ a NATO. V tejto súvislosti boli ako analytické nástroje vyvinuté Index zraniteľnosti a Index vplyvu Kremľa. Tieto indexy sa pokúšajú určiť „zraniteľnosť“ alebo mieru odolnosti vybraných krajín voči zahraničnému škodlivému ideologickému vplyvu. Vo všetkých prípadoch opakovane spomedzi okolitých krajín vychádza Maďarsko ako najmenej odolné zahraničnému ideologickému pôsobeniu. Domnievam sa, že ide o chybnú premisu, ktorá ale môže mať škodlivý vplyv na pochopenie toho, čo a prečo sa deje v Maďarsku vo vzťahu k zahraničnej politike. V skutočnosti, na rozdiel od východiskových analytických predpokladov Indexu zraniteľnosti a Indexu vplyvu Kremľa, možno v oboch nástrojoch vidieť skôr samovoľne vyvolanú zraniteľnosť alebo dokonca zhodu zvolenej zahraničnej politiky s vybranými zahraničnými aktérmi, než akýsi temný vplyv zahraničnej propagandy alebo verejnej diplomacie. Tento odlišný analytický pohľad nie je len malou revíziou oboch indexov. Má zásadné analytické a v konečnom dôsledku politické dôsledky. V tomto zmysle je to tiež poučné zistenie pre hľadanie správneho prístupu k boju s dezinformáciami.

Je známe, že maďarská zahraničná politika prekvapuje pozorovateľov. Vysvetlenia prečo je taká svojbytná, sa líšia. Niektorí tvrdia, že napríklad „proruský“ postoj Maďarska je výsledkom historických a nedávnych politických faktorov, z ktorých mnohé formoval sám Orbán. Iní uvádzajú energetickú závislosť a politický model ruského neliberálneho štátu ako príčinu Orbánovho pozitívneho (alebo aspoň nie až tak kritického) postoja k Rusku. Niektorí za tým vidia takzvané „východné otvorenie“, t.j. stratégiu zahraničnej politiky, ktorú maďarské ministerstvo zahraničných vecí oznámilo v roku 2012 s cieľom presadzovať multivektorový diplomatický a ekonomický zahraničný prístup založený najmä na ekonomických záujmoch Maďarska. V tomto kontexte niektorí autori správne poukazujú na zvýšenú zraniteľnosť, ale v dôsledku zvolenej politiky. V skratke, maďarská vláda presadzuje zahraničnú politiku a komunikáciu, ktorá je viac v súlade s politikami niektorých zahraničných aktérov (alebo menej kritická voči politikám) ako v ostatných troch krajinách V4 (alebo EÚ ako takej). Preto sa dá tvrdiť, že Maďarsko nie je až tak podozrivé z toho, že ho niekto tajne negatívne ovplyvňuje.

Medzi analytikmi, ktorí sa riadia týmito indexmi existuje analytický zmätok alebo nepriznaná fúzia medzi „zraniteľnosťou“ a „zhodou“ v oblasti politík. Zhoda, alebo kongruencia poukazuje na aktívnejší prístup a výber politiky. To tiež naznačuje obmedzený vplyv propagandy (alebo falošných správ a dezinformácií). Na rozdiel od toho, zraniteľnosť vykresľuje skôr pasívnych aktérov, možný obrovský vplyv propagandy a obmedzené možnosti vlastnej zahraničnej politiky. Takto chápaná zraniteľnosť je v rozpore s dlhodobými vedeckými poznatkami. To všetko vedie k pomerne kontroverzným analytickým záverom a pravdepodobne to neprináša najlepšie možnosti nadväzujúcej zahraničnej politiky pre tých aktérov, ktorí sa riadia pôvodnou interpretáciou týchto analytických nástrojov. Naproti tomu navrhovaná alternatívna a správna terminológia (a zmena analytickej perspektívy) nám umožňuje vysvetliť rozdielne maďarské postavenie v hodnotiacich rebríčkoch, ako aj súvisiace rozhodnutia v oblasti zahraničnej politiky v správnom analytickom a komparatívnom kontexte. V tomto zmysle by sa tieto indexy dali možno lepšie nazvať „Indexy kongruencie“. Preto, bez ďalších úprav, možno „Index zraniteľnosti“ považovať prinajlepšom za informáciu o možnej zraniteľnosti, ktorú si maďarskí politickí predstavitelia sami spôsobili. Možno je preto čas vyradiť tento nepresný index alebo navrhnúť nový.

POZNÁMKY: Tento príspevok bol v skrátenej verzii publikovaný v denníku Pravda –

Zaujímavé bolo, že o anglickú verziu článku nemal záujem regionálny analytický portál Visegrad Insight s ešte zaujímavejším odôvodnením, že: “the text will not work with our publishing schedule“.

Podobne, redakcia slovenského webzinu sa ani neobťažovala odpovedať na ponuku. Po viacnásobnej urgencii odpovedal s ospravedlnením len Team SFPA, ktorý ale o daný príspevok tiež neprejavil záujem.

Hlavné autorky Indexu zraniteľnosti z Globsecu boli tiež informované o pracovnej verzii analýzy, ale tiež neprejavili hlbší záujem o produktívnu diskusiu na túto tému.


2 Tamar Kintsurashvili, Dali Kurdadze, Sopho Gelava, Jakub Janda, Veronika Víchová, Győri Lóránt, Patrik Szicherle, oman Shutov, Diana Dutsyk, Kremlin Influence Index, 2017 (12 June 2017),


4Daniel Milo, Katarína Klingová, Vulnerability Index. Subversive Russian Influence in Central Europe (2017),

5 Tamar Kintsurashvili, Dali Kurdadze, Sopho Gelava, Jakub Janda, Veronika Víchová, Győri Lóránt, Patrik Szicherle, oman Shutov, Diana Dutsyk, Kremlin Influence Index, 2017 (12 June 2017),

6 William Nattrass, Hungary’s ‘pro-Russia’ stance was inevitable, Politico, (15.9.2022 ),

7Amanda Coakley,  Putin’s Trojan Horse Inside the European Union, Foreign Policy, (3.8. 2022),

8Péter Krekó, Russian influence in Hungary, ING2 Committee Hearing on Russian interference in the EU: the distinct cases of Hungary and Spain. 27 October 2022, Brussels

9 Lóránt Győri, Hungary Gives Up Its Fierce Pro-Kremlin Stance At Last, VSQUARE, (03.03.2022),

10Balázs Orbán, The Hungarian Way of Strategy, Budapest, MCC Press, 2021, 180-182

11 András Szabó and Szabolcs Panyi, Orbán a háborúban (Orbán in the War), 21 October 2022,

12Political Capital, Putyin propagandája szólt a hazai kormánymédiából az EP-kampányban, (2019, May 24),

13 Kafkadesk budapest, Meet Lakmusz, the Fact-Checking Squad Debunking Fake News In Hungary (2022, February 3),

14 Kremlin Influence Index 2017: Joint Research Report. – Kyiv, Detector Media, (2017). p.8

15 Juraj Marušiak, Nielen o ruskej propagande, Pravda (3.01.2017),

16 E.g. Patrik Szicherle and Péter Krekó, Disinformation in Hungary: From fabricated news to discriminatory legislation , (7 June 2021),


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