A self-proclaimed Estonian Antonio Sánchez who published a false statement attributed to Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas is not the only imposter who misrepresents himself as being from a Baltic country, the characteristic that seems to be a source of inspiration for Catalan pro-independence activists.
Indeed, there is someone even quirkier and more ambitious called Daniel Estulin who misrepresents himself as a Lithuanian author. In the past, Estulin has worked for the Spanish language programme in Russian state-sponsored propaganda broadcaster RT.
He’s also known for his writings on the Bilderberg Group and New World Order conspiracies. In a public post on Twitter in 2015, Estulin announced that he’s nominated for a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Estulin has been spotted by Marcel H. Van Herpen, an expert on Russian fake news, in a book called «Putin’s Propaganda Maschine», also published in Estonian. Estulin gets mentioned in a chapter on year 2009 when the Russian state-sponsored propaganda outlet RT began its transformation from a defensive soft power vehicle to an offensive propaganda weapon. This year saw a significant increase in the number of the far-right and conspiracy theories advocates that were critizising Western democracies given a floor in different RT programmes.
«Yet another expert, Daniel Estulin, claims that the European Union is the result of a secret plot by the Bildeberg Group, and that the US has built 13 secret bases to Afghanistan in preparation for war against Russia,» writes Van Herpen.
Whereas the RT belongs to Estulin’s past, his present glory seems to stem from acting as a renowned expert in Catalonia TV3. TV3 is is the primary television channel of Catalan public broadcaster, similar to ERR in Estonia. Although TV3 has been criticized for serving as a political tool for regional pro-independence government, it’s by no means a fringe media outlet but rather a mainstream channel. Estulin appears often on different TV3 programmes and discussions as an security expert; among other things, he has presented Catalans his version of the MH17 crash in Ukraine.
Just a few of days before Sánchez published a false quote from Estonian Prime Minister Ratas, Estulis had been invited to a Catalonian TV3 to participate in discussion on region’s independence.
Spanish social media and news sites quickly picked up the statements by «pro-Catalan Lithuanian author» Estulin saying that the Andalusians are lazy and that Spain is just an extension of North Africa. «It’s the end of Spain’s existence as a country; if someone in Germany, France or Switzerland speaks of Spain, it’s in fact Catalonia that he has in mind,» Estulin said. «Spain is just North Africa. Catalonia is the only place that will be spared because the Catalans work as hard as Europeans, because they have European mindset.»
However, if you ask any Lihtuanian journalists or government officials, Estulin is never heard of. «I do not know him,» replied Nerijus Maliukevičius, a renowned Lithuanian expert on infomation warfare when asked about Estulin. After some further research, Maliukevičius got back to add: «Indeed, Estulin gets mentioned on some Lithuanian fringe websites focusing mostly on conspiracy theories. He seems to be better known in Russian language websites. I cannot confirm Eskulin’s Lihtuanian origins.»
Maliukevičius added that motives behind Eskulin’s activities can be diverse. «Money. Conspiract theories are in demand,» he said, «moreover, they are in tune with the active measures used by Kremlin.»
According to Maliukevičius, those who want to see «divide and rule» style political games played out in Spain only benefit from such statements. «This applies particularly to Putin, but also to local populist and anti-establishment movements,» he said. Curiously, one of the persons with liaisons to both who has recently become an ardent and vocal supporter of Catalan pro-independence movement is Julian Assange.
The last time when Spanish social media picked up and spread a fake news story related to the Baltic countries was in summer 2016. A made-up story about Baltic honorary consuls in Spain providing hideouts for ballot boxes of illegal independence referendum was first published on a minor Spanish news website. This information had no grounds, however, the website that published the news did not respond to Estonian Embassy’s request for clarification.
According to a diplomatic source familiar with the issue, the Catalan pro-independence movement has logical reasons for trying to emphasize the similarities between the Catalans and the Baltic peoples ambitions of sovereignty. However, even if the process of regaining independence was successful in the Baltics, the legal basis for Estonia, Latvian and Lithuanian for claiming independence was quite different from the situation in Catalonia.
According to the Catalan Regional Government website, the recent polls show 34.7% support for the independence, whereas 57.5% of Catalans prefer to continue as a part of Spain and the rest does not have a clear preference.