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06 inclusive communications strategy


Greenpeace Magyarország




01 05 06

Innovation Category


Inclusive communications and social listening in divided contexts.


International civil society organisations (CSOs) can creatively reach new domestic audiences with positive messages about the value they deliver for them and society, even in a deeply divided context.

main features of the populist context

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been described as “creat[ing] the template for the populism sweeping western democracies”, and the evolution of his rhetoric over time has been extensively analysed. According to the Global Populism Database’s comparative study of speeches given by global leaders, Orbán, although not considered populist during his first term through to 2002, since later returning to the country’s premiership in 2010, has become “one of Europe’s most populist prime ministers”. The two core elements of populism are present in the case of Hungary:

anti-elitism: Orbán has moved anti-immigration and anti-Muslim cultural populism from the margins to the mainstream, pitting the Christian Hungarian majority (“the people”) against accused immigrant invaders (the “other”) who are supposedly supported by “the elite” — human rights organisations and liberals — and pose a threat to Hungary’s traditional, Christian fabric.

anti-pluralism: Erroneously equating migrants with terrorists has won Orbán votes. Now, he has presented himself as the defender of Hungary (and Europe) against Muslim migrants. “We will never allow Hungary to become a target country for immigrants”, he has claimed. “We do not want to see significantly sized minorities with different cultural characteristics and backgrounds among us. We want to keep Hungary as Hungary”.

Additional features of populism are also present:

anti-debate: The constraints placed on opposing voices have actively discouraged and limited public criticism of the government and other politically sensitive topics. Elections have been routinely held in Hungary but are regularly influenced to ensure the victory of the ruling Fidesz party.

resistant to countervailing facts: Corruption by the Fidesz party and close associates is frequently reported. However, this has failed to bring his administration down; to the contrary, corruption is often justified as an unofficial policy for Hungarian interests. Prominent Orbán supporter Andras Lanczi has claimed that “[w]hat some call corruption is essentially the main policy of Fidesz …the government has set goals like forming a layer of domestic businessmen, building pillars of a strong Hungary in rural areas or in industry”. In fact, even Orbán has claimed that his revolt against international capital and liberal values has sought to build “Hungarian national capital” by empowering a class of Hungarian entrepreneurs.

rejects intermediaries: Orbán has waged a war against all institutions and sectors in Hungary that he deems illegitimate representatives of the “popular will”. Since 2010, Fidesz has pushed through constitutional and legislative changes that have enabled it to monopolise control of the country’s independent institutions. It has also enacted policies to constrain the operations of opposition groups, media, academia, religious groups, and civil society organisations (CSOs). The country’s status has declined from “free” to “partly free” in the Freedom in the World 2019 index, and has become classed as obstructed civic space in the CIVICUS Monitor. The Fidesz government has pressured CSOs with heavy new compliance, registration and reporting burdens aimed at sidelining dissenting voices and organisations, such as the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Central European University, and other CSOs and media outlets. Guarantees of freedom of expression, protected in the constitution, have been undermined by complex media legislation and politicised regulation enacted by Fidesz. It is estimated that 90% of all media in Hungary is now directly or indirectly controlled by the party or government loyalists.

use of crisis, breakdown or threat: Orbán has always used the supposed threat of an immigrant “takeover”, underwritten by George Soros, the person he has tagged as the Hungarian people’s nemesis and connected actors, including CSOs supported through his philanthropy. This so-called “crisis” has been used to justify illiberal policies and the repression of dissent.

The attacks on traditional media and civic space in Hungary makes it challenging for CSOs to communicate with the public to champion societal change. In this context, it is critical for them to appear as objective, non-partisan entities and to publicly and judiciously criticise government actions in a way that highlights issues of key importance when it most matters to the organisation’s cause and values.

Role of Technology

Social media, especially Facebook, has helped fill a communications gap for dissenting or independent voices and organisations, and citizens who wish to access alternative information.

Main Features of the Innovation

Greenpeace Hungary’s new communications strategy is founded on:

(i) balanced and non-partisan campaigning in traditional and social media

(ii) engaging with all segments of the public and explicitly tailoring its messaging to ensure that Greenpeace’s work feels relevant and valuable to diverse domestic audiences.

The main features of the innovation include:

Whilst always maintaining its core environmental framing and identity, Greenpeace Hungary balances diverse topics, issues and campaigns. Some resonate with all members of the public and highlight environmental protection and health issues, while others may be more critical of the government (e.g. the proposed construction of a new nuclear power plant with Russian support). This allows some of Greenpeace’s broader messages to be picked up by the pro-government media, ensuring that the organisation is not seen as overtly partisan or anti-government. It also broadens the potential public audience and consensus for both Greenpeace’s work and environmental issues more broadly.

Greenpeace has developed and used its own media channels to communicate about the government’s environmentally destructive pet projects. It also reaches out to the few traditional media outlets which are still independent. When Greenpeace does criticise government positions, it grounds its reporting in strong factual evidence of environmental impact in order to reduce risks of being discredited as a partisan organisation.

Greenpeace has effectively worked strategically with other CSOs on some broader topics where Greenpeace brings a strong environmental perspective. A coalition of human rights and environmental organisations has been formed which communicates in one united voice to both the media and public through its Facebook page, open letters, press releases and manifestos. Having one voice helps strengthen the value of solidarity and underlines why CSOs serve Hungarians’ interest through their work, rather than only serving foreign interests as government propaganda would have it.

Greenpeace works in a transparent way and communicates to all segments of the population about the national and international benefits of its work. It has been critical for Greenpeace Hungary’s domestic audience to understand that it is an extremely transparent and credible organisation, funded only by individuals and foundations established by individuals, that delivers value and highly relevant results.

Greenpeace addresses relevant issues in everyday language, moving away from the highly technical language of climate policy. It works hard to frame environmental issues within universal values relevant to people’s lives, often engaging references to both liberal values (solidarity, pluralism of views and of society, global identity) and conservative ones (patriotism, Christian values, importance of family and children). Greenpeace also links environmental issues to broader health concerns, using inclusive and non-aggressive language to touch on universal values such as the defence and respect for life of all forms. (NB. This has also been important to Greenpeace more broadly in response to the growing student-led climate change movements that have captured the public’s imagination and garnered widespread international support).

Let’s protect our public parks for our children. This was part of a green city campaign with the goal of mobilising people to protect green areas in Budapest. While the campaign aimed to evoke the love of trees and highlight their importance in humans’ well-being, it also addressed pro-government voters by mentioning children and using the Hungarian national flag.

Do you also want clean air in Budapest? This was part of Greenpeace’s clean air campaign in Budapest. The picture displays the Chain Bridge, an iconic national historic monument widely seen as an inclusive symbol of progressivism and patriotism. Showing this bridge in both smog and clean air sends a strong subliminal message. Greenpeace’s communications stress the importance of communities and the value of courage. The organisation is encouraging people in Hungary to press for change on local problems relevant to them. Greenpeace uses empowering language, such as the phrases “We Can” and “Do it, Others Can’t”. It has also created free online DIY guidelines for the public (“How to defend trees”, “How to do campaigning”), makes sure that positive examples are distributed, encourages actions and facilitates collaboration among change-makers.

Vote. Bees can’t. Vote for clean air. Both were used as part of an online mobilisation campaign that aimed to encourage people to vote at the European Parliamentary elections. Instead of any partisan messages, the language and visuals were framed around universal environmental benefits, such as bees and clean air. They also encouraged non-partisan actions, such as demanding an environmental programme from all candidates.

Our natural treasures are in danger. Sign the petition. This encourages people to sign the petition calling for the restoration of an independent Environmental Ministry that was closed in 2016. The petition was launched in response to massive government layoffs of environmental protection employees. By depicting animals that are native to Hungary and loved by Hungarians, the campaign argued that environmental protection is in the interest of everyone, and that the expertise of experienced staff is necessary at the institutional level for effective environmental work. As a result of its communications strategy, there has been substantial growth in Greenpeace Hungary’s reach since 2016: More than 200% growth in both the total number of Facebook page likes (to more than 150,000 in 2018, from around 70,000 in 2016) and the active email list size (to around 110,000 in 2018, from just over 50,000 in 2016). More than 850% growth in users signing at least one petition (to more than 170,000 in 2018, from just over 20,000 in 2016). By the end of 2019, Greenpeace Hungary had more Facebook likes than the Hungarian government!

Key Takeaways

  1. Even in a deeply divided context, you can achieve substantial growth in engaging new audiences if you connect with them in the right way. Instead of using alienating policy and technical speak, Greenpeace has stressed the importance of communities and values that resonate with and positively motivate different segments of society. In this way, it has raised awareness of both local and global issues, and has empowered the public to appreciate the relevance and agency of both its own — and Greenpeace’s — actions.

  2. In order to convey an organisation’s value to the entire population, it is essential to spend time identifying the most accessible language for the public. It is also important to focus on compelling (but not controversial) issues, to engage with positive emotions and values, and to tell relatable success stories about the difference the organisation makes in citizens’ lives. This resonates strongly with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union’s (HCLU’s) efforts to present alternative narratives for human rights and respond to the shrinking civil society space in Hungary. Its “HCLU is needed” (Kell a TASZ) social media campaign avoided reactive, defensive communication responses to politicians and pro-government media, in favour of embracing a proactive space to “start telling our own story about who we are, what we believe in, and who we are fighting for”.

  3. CSOs must take every step to appear clearly non-partisan and fully transparent about who funds them, who and what they work for and the results they are delivering. This is especially crucial in contexts where the sources of funding of an organisation are being used to delegitimise it.

Innovation Categorisation

We have categorised this as an established adjacent innovation. It demonstrates incremental development of the organisation’s public engagement and communications tools and tactics to reach significant numbers of new (domestic) audiences in support of its work.

Innovating Organisation

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation which uses peaceful, creative action to expose global environmental problems, confront the systems that threaten our environment and develop solutions for a green and peaceful future. It works through 27 independent national/regional organisations that work directly with communities on the frontlines as they protect the environments they call home. Since 2002, Greenpeace Magyarország/Hungary has become one of the best-known environmental organisations in the country due to its high-profile campaigns and strong media presence.

Innovation Report     2019