2024 marks the biggest electoral year yet for Romania, with European, local, parliamentary and presidential polls scheduled to take place on the background of significant domestic and global challenges, with the potential to further destabilise and polarise society. The rise of far-right and right-wing populists, correlated with a surge of disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war, has reached an otherwise politically overlooked segment of the population – young people. Feeling unrepresented and severed from the political discourse, Romanian youth is at significant risk of radicalisation, being particularly vulnerable to extremist voices that aim to capitalise on their frustrations and disengagement, while leveraging their preferred channels of information and communication with increasing efficiency. Social media and youth susceptibility to online echo chambers and influencers provide pathway for manipulation by malicious actors whose political agenda aligns – more often than not – with the Kremlin’s (anti-EU, anti-NATO, anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia).
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has opened a new front for disinformation and propaganda, to which Romania, both an EU and NATO member, has not been immune. The spread of anti-EU and anti-West narratives, typically in line with the Kremlin’s agenda, or even openly pro-Kremlin, has been a part of the Romanian public discourse and media landscape for years.