Meet Diana Sosoaca, one of Romania’s most influential anti-vaccines and also Member of Parliament

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Diana Sosoaca, a 45-year-old lawyer, is one of Romania’s most visible and influential opponents of vaccination, or anti-vaccines. She is also a member of the Romanian parliament.

On Facebook, 24,000 posts and 18 million reactions containing the word “Sosoaca” have been registered in the past year. The name “Diana Șosoaca” appears in the title of 38 Facebook pages and groups. These numbers put Sosoaca, a member of the Senate, the upper house of the Romanian parliament, far ahead of all other Romanian politicians in terms of social media reach.

In one of his most popular Facebook videos from October 27, Sosoaca targets Romanians who have gone for the blow, intoning gravely: “You went to the vaccination centers like lambs to the slaughterhouse”.

Few countries in Europe have been hit harder by COVID-19 than Romania. The eastern European country of some 19.3 million people has recorded more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus with more than 50,700 deaths since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, according to The data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Romania has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the European Union at 27 – just ahead of neighboring Bulgaria – and one of the highest COVID-19 per capita death rates in the world.

Amid the current crisis, experts say many Romanian politicians have made matters worse. Instead of spreading responsible public health messages, much of the vaccine fear is stoked by politicians who use their desks as a platform to spread misinformation.

“We, the barred lawyers and doctors, have shown you the truth,” Sosoaca said in his October 27 Facebook video. “It’s your decision. I showed you the side effects, the world news. Now the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States] ordered that all vaccinated people who died from COVID be recorded as unvaccinated, ”said Sosoaca, who often makes flamboyant and unfounded claims in the Senate against COVID precautions and restrictions imposed by authorities.

In less than 24 hours, the video went viral, racking up some 46,000 shares and clicked by nearly a million people.

Diana Sosoaca is also known for her flamboyant stunts in public.

In a previous video uploaded to Facebook on July 29, Sosoaca claimed, without any evidence, that the number of Romanians vaccinated should be falsified to “look good” in the eyes of the European Union. “If there is no democracy in the EU, we have nothing to gain in the EU,” she said in the video.

“A true believer”

Like other Eastern European countries that were in Moscow’s orbit during the Cold War, Romania suffers from strong hostility to vaccination. The EU states with the lowest vaccination rates are all part of the former Eastern Communist bloc, including Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Sosoaca does not limit its anti-vaccine activities to social media, but also takes its message to the streets. She often appears in hospitals or vaccination centers, where she engages in heated debates with medical staff and others, all captured on video and streamed live on Facebook.

In early September, Sosoaca and a group of followers traveled to Iasi, a city in northeastern Romania, to block vehicles bringing about ten people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The senator was cited by the police for disturbing public order. Sosoaca said she responded to a “call from the villagers” to stop the vaccination caravan.

“Perhaps among the few who really believe in the issue of anti-vaccination is Sosoaca,” said Ciprian Cucu, an academic specializing in disinformation, in comments at the Romanian service of RFE / RL. “I don’t know if Sosoaca has always been so committed, but somehow she has become. She sees plots everywhere, takes all the rumors and spreads them.”

Sosoaca’s anti-vaccination message is amplified by others on social media, particularly by Luis Lazarus, one of his strongest supporters and a popular anti-vaccine himself who is no stranger to passing the word on Facebook.

On July 21, Lazarus and Sosoaca teamed up on the Lazarus Facebook show to fuel unfounded rumors that a 21-year-old man died in Romania six days after being vaccinated against the coronavirus. This show got around 1 million views and was shared 17,800 times.

Millions of spectators

Sosoaca may be the most visible politician spreading COVID-19 disinformation in Romania, but she is certainly not the only one.

George “Gigi” Becali, a former member of the Romanian parliament, but perhaps best known as the owner of FCSB, a football team with its own controversial history linked to Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest, is also at the anti-vanguard. vax.

Although he has no accounts directly linked to him, Becali’s comments on COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions have spread like wildfire on Facebook. “Why should I get the vaccine? I have never been vaccinated in my life … Even though I am getting treatment for [COVID-19], why should I get vaccinated? To effect a genetic change or what? “Becali said in a Facebook post, repeating an unsubstantiated anti-vaxxer claim that coronavirus vaccines will alter people’s genetic makeup.

Gigi Becali (file photo)

Gigi Becali (file photo)

The clip is taken from an interview given by Becali on Romanian television on January 24, less than a month after the country launched its national vaccination campaign. The Facebook post with the interview segment racked up nearly 2 million views, a number much higher than the original broadcast on the Antena 3 TV news channel or on its website. The clip was then shared widely by many other influential Facebook accounts.

Another Romanian politician who has preached the alleged evils of coronavirus vaccinations and restrictions is Cristian Terhes, a politician currently in the European Parliament for the center-right Christian Democratic National Peasant Party. He has more than 85,000 subscribers on his Facebook page.

“Let us continue the fight for freedom together. Who gave the right to certain public officials, provisionally elected to a public office, to expose you to risks by imposing the vaccine? Such a decision must be taken by everyone with free and informed consent! What are you thinking? ”Terhes wrote on September 30 in an article seen by nearly 300,000 people and republished 27,000 times.

The previous week, Terhes had used a speech in the European Parliament to spread misinformation that coronavirus vaccines are not safe, a performance seen by 670,000 viewers on Facebook.

The messages and speeches imploring Romanians not to get vaccinated come at a very critical time for the country. Almost a third of all COVID-19-related deaths in Romania have been recorded in recent weeks, Reuters reported, as the number of daily infections is at record highs and intensive care units are full.

“There is a very large part of Romanian society which is not necessarily anti-vaccine, but which is skeptical, which is not convinced by the images of the intensive care units or the words of the experts, considering that everything this is a big lie or exaggerated hysteria, ”said sociologist and disinformation expert Nicolae Tibrigan.

The politician Terhes told the Romanian service of RFE / RL that he was not peddling disinformation but information. “If these disinformation experts deny the existence of this evidence, namely that vaccines have side effects or that the authorities force people to be vaccinated, then they are the ones who are misinformed,” he said. declared.

Written and reported by Oana Despa from the Romanian service of RFE / RL and Tony Wesolowsky in Prague


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