Conspiracy ideas in Slovakia: state of affairs, shifts and contexts

As in each country, which is passing in its development through the major social changes, in Slovakia quite favorable environment exists for spreading various conspiracy ideas. Not all of them have a form of well-elaborated “theories” by which certain political forces interpret the surrounding reality and mobilize their supporters. Many remain just popular “people’s” stereotypes, passing from generation to generation. However, they have their social relevance, since they affect political and value preferences of their holders.

Historic, socio-political and cognitive sources of conspiracy theories

Conspiracy ideas represent examples of inadequate assessment of reality, which reflects the lack of knowledge about history, economy and politics, they are based on national and social phobias, psychology of the closed tribal community and inability to cope with difficult life situations, especially those caused by changes in society. Though conspiracy theories often react to the real, existent problems, their false interpretative schemes diverted society from their viable solutions. However, it is fully in line with the main intentions of authors and disseminators of conspiracy ideas, whose primary purpose is not to solve the problems, but to capitalize politically and socially their consequences.

Generally, the conspiracy theories as political tool are used mostly by populist, radical-nationalist, racist and extremist forces. In Slovakia, the sources of persisting conspiracy ideas in country’s public and political discourse include:

  1. Social consequences of radical reforms implemented after the fall of Communist regime at the end of 80s.
  2. Nationalist stereotypes inherited from the past that are still rooted in the minds of large parts of the population.
  3. Strong etatist, paternalist, authoritarian and egalitarian elements represented in the value orientations of the population.
  4. Complicated relations with neighboring countries and nations that lead to the feeling of national deprivation.
  5. Problems caused by lack of transparency in governance, by corruption and clientelism in the period of democratic development.

Nationalist context

No doubts, it should be viewed positively that political holders of explicit messages about mysterious, hidden, alien forces that secretly rule the world and which deliberately harm the country do not receive such support of Slovakia’s population which would enable them to participate in the government. Radical nationalist and extremist forces, using in their mobilization strategies the conspiracy theories about Jews, Freemasons and Western plutocracy, remain on the margin of political scene, they are still isolated. Their electoral results, although slightly increased, do not give them much hope – at least so far – to transform themselves into relevant political force. Spectacular actions of extremists, often accompanied by violence or by threat of using violence, encounter strong resistance from state authorities (especially police), NGOs and active citizens. Their notoriously known speeches about Freemason–Zionist conspiracies, Jewish enemies of Slovakia and the US– Israeli alliance seeking to conquer the whole world, includingEurope, are seen as an exotic political folklore that has potential to reach only the least educated and the most ignorant part of society. More dangerous is today the racist anti-Roma (anti-Gypsy) rhetoric manifested by radical nationalists and extremists. This rhetoric, however, lacks the explicit conspiratorial dimension. Extremists rather use the widespread “people’s” stereotypes about Roma as un-adjustable and lazy people, incapable to work or to study, directing their hands to the state with the purpose to abuse the welfare system at the expense of non-Roma (“white”) population.

The better chances to address population in Slovakia can be attributed to the combination of conspiracy theories and games by ethnic card in the case of so-called “Hungarian threat”.  The overall number of Hungarian minority, strong position of its political representation, capable to articulate in plausible manner demands in the area of minority rights both domestically and internationally, traditional use of ethnic cards as a tool of political and electoral mobilization by some Slovak parties (in particular nationalists) as well as activities of Hungary’s government in favor of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, create favorable environment for potential disseminators of conspiracy myth about “Hungarian threat”. Although now in decline, this myth remains the latent factor of domestic politics which can be activated in the moment when its holders will find out that it can bring them additional political gains.

Crisis and non-transparent governance influence content of conspiracy stereotypes 

Public opinion polls, conducted recently in Slovakia, showed relatively high degree of presence of conspiracy ideas in minds of people. It can be concluded on the base of the polls (although indirectly) that when it comes to the existent conspiratorial visions of the world, there has been some weakening of the ethno-national, racial and confessional components of the said visions and strengthening of their socio-political components. Paradoxically, one of the reasons of such peculiar phenomenon could be the greater Slovakia’s openness to the outer world, country’s more active participation in international affairs, joining the EU, NATO and OECD. All this has created a state of closer interdependence between Slovakia and the outer world. Problems of the outer world (as crisis of global and European economy after 2008), which require careful analysis and precise explanation, are often interpreted in simplified manner, for example as a result of decisions of small, closed group of people belonging to banks and international financial institutions in order to obtain concrete benefits for themselves at the expense of all others. Consequently, such interpretation leads to the conclusion that the real sources of wealth and influence in the world are neither particular states nor policies of legitimate political representations, nor nations that have achieved significant accomplishments through the implementation of challenging economic reforms, but small group of actors, able to assert their interests even through provoking the major problems for the whole world and for peoples of individual countries.

Another – internal – reason of the recent modifications of existing conspiracy ideas in Slovakia is non-transparent way governance, closeness of current political elite as well as certain shifts that took place in the context of promotion of economic and other corporate interests at political level, changes in links  between political actors, aspiring to gain  democratic legitimacy for their position in power system, and various organized groups (industrial, financial) that want to influence policy-making-process. The course and circumstances of numerous corruption and clientelist scandals that took place in Slovakia in the last decade, might develop at many people the feeling of their helplessness and insignificance, believe about inefficiency and uselessness of democratic institutions, the persuasion that all important decisions affecting life of the country’s population, are made behind the closed doors by small group of people (politicians and businessmen). This perception suggests that links between politicians and businessmen represent much stronger factor than just formal positions (for example, posts in the government), laws or government programs.

Results of public opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) in July 2013 in the framework of joint research project with Political Capital Institute (Budapest), have shown that 63% of respondents agreed with the statement “Actually, it is not the government that runs the country: we don’t know who pulls the strings” (20% of them agreed strongly and another 43% tended to agree), while 25% of respondents disagreed (either strongly or tended to) and 12% didn’t know or gave no response. The largest segment of respondents in the mentioned survey – 56% – thought that Slovakia is controlled by “international financial groups” that “pull the strings”.  Further option – “Other countries that wish to govern Slovakia” – was ranked as second with 32% of respondents. 10% of respondents answered that country is controlled by “large TV networks and newspapers”, 10% said the “secret groups such as Freemasons” pulled the strings behind the scene and 8% thought that “some religious groups” were playing this role.

The ranking of agents of power and influence, created by respondents who answered the formulated research questions, suggests that the sovereign primacy of “international financial groups” could be a reaction to the course and consequences of global and European financial crisis that hit the country’s economy and strongly influenced its internal political development (in October 2011, the center-right government led by Iveta Radičová was defeated by opposition in parliament’s vote on the ratification of EFSF and was forced to resign, that has led to early parliamentary elections in March 2012).

Corruption as breeding soil for „conspiracies“

Quite unexpected poll’s finding that majority of Slovak citizens thinks that it is not the Slovak government that runs the country, has also its internal, domestic context. The so-called Gorilla case, which became a detonator of mass protest rallies in late 2011 and caused the serious changes in voter support of individual political parties, strengthened the conviction of large portion of the population that country’s real rulers are local oligarchic entrepreneurs who corrupt politicians and use them to maximize their own profit and influence. Circumstances of Gorilla case could be interpreted by ordinary citizens in a way that many (if not all) important positions in the state administration can be sold and bought and that the real source of political weight of particular parties is the strength of their ties with sponsors and the wealth of these sponsors, but not the formal parties’ positions in parliament or in the government. Therefore, not surprisingly, after a series of political scandals that uncovered links between the government and financial groups in deciding about important socio-economic measures even in more spectacular way, 70% of  citizens think (according to opinion poll conducted by research agency Polis Slovakia in early October 2013) that financial groups affect the decision of the current government led by Robert Fico (43%  of respondents agreed strongly with such a view and 27% tended to agree), only 10% of respondents think that financial groups do not affect the current government.

How powerful are secret societies?

The persistence of ideas about hidden mechanisms of power and influence was confirmed by respondents’ answers to questions dealing with classical conspiracy stereotypes drawing the existence of secret forces that control the world. In IVO surveys conducted in July 2013 44% of respondents agreed with the statement “Secret societies threaten the stability of our society”, while 20% of respondents disagreed (the rest of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed, did not know or did not answer). 48% of respondents agreed with the statement “Most people don’t realize how much our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places”, while only 18% disagreed (the rest neither agreed nor disagreed, did not know or did not answer). 39% of respondents agreed with the statement “Powerful business groups joined their forces to destroy Slovakia’s economy, fostering the colonization of the country”, 34% of respondents held the opposite view (other respondents neither agreed nor disagreed, did not know or did not answer).

Weakening political anti-Semitism vs. “people’s” stereotypes on Jews

The special place in conspiracy schemes, spread in Slovakia, belongs to opinions about Jews. Slovakia is a country with rich experience of anti-Semitism both on the level of state policy (genocidal anti-Jewish policy of clerical-Fascist regime of the Slovak state during World War II or policy of the state anti-Semitism applied by Communist regime and camouflaged in anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli rhetoric) as well as public opinion (social distance and distrust towards Jews). Quite peculiar shifts can be observed here. On the one hand there are no relevant political forces today in Slovakia that would exploit anti-Semitism as a mobilizing tool. State policy is open and friendly to Jewish community and theSlovakRepublicbehaves on international arena rather asIsrael’s ally than its critic that differentiates Slovakia from some other EU countries. The degree of social distance towards Jews is very low: according to public opinion survey conducted by IVO and Center for Research of Social Communication of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in 2008 only 11% of respondents would not like to have Jewish family as neighbors. On the other hand, as IVO survey, conducted in July 2013 has shown, there is still relatively high share of people who agree with opinion about Jews’ excessive force and unfair intentions (as Table 1. shows).

Table 1. Anti-Semitic stereotypes: Agreement/disagreement with the statements (%)

Source: Institute for Public Affairs/Political Capital Institute, July 2013.

Although today in Slovakia anti-Semitism as a political stream is operating in absolutely marginal position, the wide-spread negative stereotypes about Jews, indicated by results of IVO survey, can be attractive bait for extremists who would try under certain circumstances to resuscitate and to reactivate political anti-Semitism in the country.

Grigorij Mesežnikov

 

Categories Analyses, News, Research, Slovakia | Tags: , , | Posted on October 21, 2013

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