Tweeting politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia & Ukraine – Part 1: Presidents

Tweeting Politicians in Central and Eastern Europe - Part 1: Presidents

Since Barack Obama’s use of twitter and other social media has been cited as one of the reasons for his succesful campaign in 2008, more and more politicians (or their PR advisors) have discovered the power and advantages of delivering short, 140-character messages to their supporters. The digital revolution has also not left politicians in Central and Eastern Europe unaffected. In this two-part series of blog articles I will therefore survey whether and how politicians in CEE use twitter – and who you should follow.

Part 1 of the series deals with (how could it be any different?!) presidents’ use of twitter; part 2 (scheduled to appear next Tuesday, 27 November) will shed light at the twitter use of prime ministers. Also keep an eye on the SSEES Research blog where I will be posting a summary of my rankings and a few further thoughts in January next year. For the sake of this article I include Russia & Ukraine in the term ‘Central and Eastern Europe’.


Out of the 12 presidents of CEE EU member states, Ukraine and Russia, nine presidents have a presence on twitter (there are other accounts in the name of presidents such as @IvanGasparovic, but these are clearly not real ones). However, while some accounts are actively used by incumbents and/or presidential staff others have been discontinued or serve(d) only election purposes. Furthermore, some presidents actually tweet themselves or at least under their own name while in other (& fewer) cases presidents’ staff have sought the easier way out and established profiles for the presidential office rather than presidents themselves.

Below I present a summary for each account. To make it a bit more interesting, I have created a ranking of tweeting presidents that takes into account 1) whether it is a personal/institutional account, 2) activity/frequency of tweets, 3) ‘interestingness’ of tweets/whether it is worth following, 4) language of tweets, and 5) other interesting details (if applicable).

A ranking of tweeting presidents

[unranked] Dalia Grybauskaite (@Grybauskaite_LT), Lithuania

President Grybauskaite on twitter

Account type: personal/institutional
Account status: active
Follower: 561
Tweets to date: 1
Language: English
Worth following: Probably – we will see

Initially, President Dalia Grybauskaite was ranked 8th in my ranking of tweeting presidents. However, since a new twitter account has been officially launched today (22 November 2012) which promises to learn from the mistakes of the other two, I have decided to leave her account unranked for the moment (you can still read what I wrote about the other accounts by clicking here). According to ‘The Baltic Course‘, the account will tweet in English and provide information both on Lithuania’s EU presidency and the activities of the president.

The start of this account is quite promising as Dalia Grybauskaite has had a very popular and frequently updated Facebook page (80,975 ‘Likes’) since 2010. Furthermore, President Grybauskaite chose to follow this blog on twitter – making me the first and currently only non-government official/agency or news channel they follow.

8. Viktor Yanukovych (@Yanukovych_VF), Ukraine

Viktor Yanukovych on twitter

 Account type: institutional
Account status: inactive
Follower: 173
Tweets to date: 1,224
Language: English
Worth following: Not anymore

President Yanukovych’s twitter account was established in May 2010 (i.e. 3 months after being elected president) and from then until a sudden halt in August 2011 managed to send out 1,224 tweets which equates to 2.8 tweets/day (although there is a significant difference  between the very active first months and the last months with only  a few tweets per week). Unfortunately, all the tweets contained were links to announcements on the press section of the website of the presidential office. All tweets were in English so could it is easy to see that this account was rather to feed Western journalists than Ukrainian twitter users.

The account follows 10 other accounts, including Barack Obama and Herman van Rompuy as well as the Prime Minister of Canada and Australia. I don’t know how many followers the account had in its heyday but now there are only 173 of them left – I would not recommend joining them.

7. Danilo Türk (@DaniloTurk2012), Slovenia

Danilo Türk on twitter

Account type: electoral campaign
Account status: active
Follower: 1,431
Tweets to date: 736
Language: Slovenian
Worth following: Only until 3 December 2012

President Türk’s account is relatively new and has only been established for the current presidential race in Slovenia. Tweets are apparently managed by his campaign staff but at least they sometimes reply to tweets or address particular followers directly (something very rare among all accounts in this list). Nevertheless, as most tweets are mainly short statements or links to photo/video of campaign appearances (and tweets are entirely in Slovenian) this is probably only interesting for those who closely follow the Slovenian presidential race (in this case you should add Türk’s opponent @BorutPahor as well).

In conclusion, the account name or – more precisely – the ‘2012’-suffix suggests that we cannot expect any more tweets from this account should Türk manage to be re-elected for a second term (his opponent has chosen a better, potentially longer-lasting account name). As current opinion polls predict a victory for Pahor, you can probably stop following Türk on 3 December 2012 – one day after the second round of the presidential election.

6. Bulgarian presidency (@BgPresidency)

Bulgarian presidential office on twitterAccount type: institutional
Account status: active
Follower: 372
Tweets to date: 225
Language: Bulgarian
Worth following: Potentially, but only if you speak Bulgarian

The account of the Bulgarian presidential office is relatively new (established only in August 2012) but appears to have made a good start. Despite not having a lot of followers (only twice as much as the long-inactive account of president Yanukovych), there are usually  several tweets per day (but always with a few days without tweets) – most of them are short statements or information about the president’s daily activities but the president’s team has recently also used the twitter account to promote the new website of the presidential office (which unfortunately meant that they chose to include hardly any information on predecessors).

Even though not yet as established as other accounts in this ranking, I believe the account has potential and could in the future provide an interesting way to follow president Plevneliev’s activity – unfortunately, none of the recent tweets concerned the president’s controversial decision not to appoint constitutional judges.

5. Polish presideny (@prezydentpl)

Polish presidency on Twitter

Account type: institutional
Account status: active
Follower: 2,009
Tweets to date: 964
Language: Polish
Worth following: Yes, but only if you speak Polish

The account of the Polish presidency is already a bit longer ‘in the business’ of tweeting than its Bulgarian counterpart. Since its first tweet in August 2011, the Polish presidency has also managed to attract a larger followership (although it is still behind the 6,000 likes on its Facebook page). While the twitter page looks a bit bland, tweets are quite varied and frequently include pictures and links to the presidency’s own Youtube channel. In the past the presidents twitter team has also directly replied to a few other twitter users.

What is missing in comparison to higher-ranked Romanian president Traian Basescu is a bit of an edge with more personal (not necessarily controversial) quotes from the president or re-tweets of other people’s tweets. Unfortunately, all tweets are in Polish and the fact that the account is simply called ‘prezydentpl’ (all lower-case letters) shows a certain lack of dedication which prevents the account from entering the top four.

4. Traian Basescu (@tbasescu), Romania

Traian Basescu on twitterAccount type: personal
Account status: active
Follower: 12,438
Tweets to date: 132
Language: Romanian, English
Worth following: Yes, but only sometimes

‘Traian Basescu has been on twitter for several years already but the account is more or  less abandoned. The first tweets start in early November 2009, i.e. three weeks before the first round of what would become Basescu’s successful re-election. The fact that Basescu is still placed 4th in this ranking is that he tweets himself and (more in his early days than now) replies to other users’ tweets & questions. Furthermore, he occasionally tweets in English so that even those without knowledge of Romanian can follow. Unfortunately, Basescu’s twitter fever subsided quickly (in February 2010) and the account was only re-activated during the impeachment referendum this summer. Nevertheless, his tweets were far from being well-rounded, uncontroversial messages and sometimes even (unintentionally?) funny. For instance, on 13 July 2012 Basescu tweeted ‘The Titanic wouldn’t have sunk if I were its captain!’. In my opinion, Traian Basescu is therefore worth following on twitter – but only sometimes.

3. Latvian presidency (@Rigas_pils)

Latvian presidency on twitter

Account type: institutional
Account status: active
Follower: 9,642
Tweets to date: 599
Language: Latvian
Worth following: Yes, but only if you speak Latvian

The twitter account of the Latvian presidency is positively different from the two failed twitter accounts of ‘neighbouring’ president Dalia Grybauskaite. The account was established by president Zatlers together with his staff in July 2010 and until the end of his presidential term in July 2011, the president personally tweeted or replied to questions from other twitter users (ranging from whether he as a doctor supported home-births or whether he had a favourite movie). Unfortunately, it appears that now only presidential staff is tweeting as the new president Andris Bērziņš does not seem to have taken up his predecessor’s tradition (otherwise, the account might have made it a rank higher).

Nevertheless, the president’s staff tweet on average 5 times per week – usually statements by the presidents or pictures from various appearances. As there are hardly any re-tweets (the account only follows 4 other accounts) and the account is in Latvian only, I would only recommend following it if you speak Latvian and do not expect your tweets to the president to be answered.

2. Russian presidency/Kremlin (@KremlinRussia & @KremlinRussia_E)

Kremlin on twitterAccount type: institutional
Account status: active
Follower: 657,991 [Russian account], 70,269 [English account]
Tweets to date: 2275 [Russian account], 1,374 [English account]
Language: Russian, English (depending on account)
Worth following: Yes

The president of Russia has two accounts – one in English and one in Russian. The latter is followed by more than half a million people (which is still far from @BarackObama‘s 23 million) but still impressive. The English language account is followed by significantly less twitter users but still by more people than any other president in the region. Both accounts are fairly active but the English account only tweets about half of the Russian tweets in English. Nevertheless, the latter still tweets several times per day and always includes links to statements on the Kremlin website. There are no re-tweets or responses to twitter users but most of these are admittedly not very serious and occasionally even insulting.

Both accounts only follow a handful of people, including several government institutions as well as former president/current prime minister Dimitri Medvedev, Barack Obama and the White House and Canadian prime minister Harper. In sum, either one of the accounts in worth following to keep up with the official side of presidential politics in Russia. Furthermore, either Vladimir Putin himself or the person administering the accounts has a good sense of humor – both accounts follow Arnold Schwarzenegger.

1. Toomas Hendrik Ilves (@IlvesToomas), Estonia

Toomas Hendrik Ilves - Twitter profileAccount type: personal
Account status: active
Follower: 8,964
Tweets to date: 659
Language: Estonian, English
Worth following: Definitely!

President Ilves might not have as many followers on twitter as the Russian president, he might not be the most active tweeter, but he certainly is the only president who indisputably is responsible for all of his tweets. Since his first tweet ‘Help! I’m being followed;-)’ (11 retweets) president Ilves’ tweets have had a personal note and his twitter account is far from being just another re-tweet machine of government announcements.

At least since his emotional reaction to Paul Krugman’s blog post about Estonia’s economic situation Ilves has shown that his tweets concern issues he personally cares about. Another reason why Ilves takes the first place in this ranking is the fact that he consistently tweets bilingually in both Estonian and English, thus providing not only his citizens but also his followers all around the world with his tweets. Last but not least, just as the British ambassador to Estonia, Chris Holtby, (@HMAChrisHoltby), President Ilves follows an account called ‘Estonian Mafia’ (@estonianmafia; no tweets yet) and some might say this alone is reason enough to place him on top of this ranking of tweeting presidents.

4 thoughts on “Tweeting politicians in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia & Ukraine – Part 1: Presidents

  1. In an earlier version of this article I wrote that Danilo Türk’s account had only been established for the presidential race in Estonia. Of course, this should have read ‘Slovenia’ instead. Thanks to Anna G. from UCL SSEES for pointing it out!

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