Vilnius ‘NAFO summit’ draws criticism from Navalny’s associates and Russia’s Foreign Ministry
On July 8 and 9, ahead of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, another event took place: the NAFO (North Atlantic Fellas Organization) “summit.” According to NAFO’s founders, the organization was created to counter Russian propaganda and to troll Russian diplomats and propagandists.
At the opening of the event, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis made a speech, saying that “NAFO is about laughing, but you’re not just a joke.” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas also addressed NAFO in a video clip: “NAFO is a living example of how humor, intellect, and enthusiasm can disarm Russian disinformation. Behind each fella stands a real person who believes in Ukraine’s victory. Thank you for your service.”
As part of the event, the participants discussed the features of Russian propaganda and raised funds to support the Ukrainian military. An image of a Shiba Inu dog was displayed onstage at the event — a meme that has become the unofficial symbol of NAFO.
An inflatable shark was also featured onstage, referencing a shark attack that killed a Russian citizen at an Egyptian beach in June. NAFO created several memes about the incident, and called the shark “the employee of the month.” This prompted accusations that the organization had shifted away from its intended purpose of countering Russian propaganda and had taken to dehumanizing Russians on the internet.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized Kaja Kallas’s address to NAFO, accusing Western countries of hypocrisy. Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “NAFO personifies exactly what the European Union has seemed to be fighting until recently: hate speech, intolerance, trolling, spam, bullying, and all possible forms of xenophobia. Now the Estonian prime minister is openly showering this internet scum with gratitude, although it seems that until recently the ‘advanced’ Western democracies were hysterical over mythical ‘pro-Kremlin trolls.’”
Anti-Corruption Foundation chairwoman Maria Pevchikh also responded to the shark meme: “Is the ’NAFO summit’ in Vilnius actually celebrating on stage the death of a tourist eaten by a shark? ‘Fighting Moscow with humor?’ Am I the only [one] missing what’s funny about a guy being eaten alive?”
NAFO’s activities attracted the criticism of another one of Alexey Navalny’s associates, Leonid Volkov, who accused the organization of “helping Putin.” Volkov wrote on Twitter, “Putin’s important propaganda line ‘The West supports Ukraine because they just want to kill all the Russians’ would have faded away… were it not for the constant help of NAFO.”
On July 10, after the event, NAFO tweeted: “What these Russian politicians don’t understand is that every second they spend arguing with dogs online or worrying about their ‘online harassment’ with shark memes is seconds taken away from their focus on Ukraine. This is what we want. Continue to mald.”