Introduction

We launch a programme of research and advocacy focused on the role conspiracy theorising plays in shaping populist and radical politics.

The project will be a collaborative initiative with a range of organisations. Political Capital Institute will be managing the Eastern Dimension of the project, including work in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Other cooperating institutions include:  Zachor Foundation for Social Remembrance , The Center for Research on Prejudice, Counterpoint and the Institute for Public Affairs.

The project is supported by Open Society Foundations. Other contributors to the project include: Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research and the Visegrad Fund.

Comparative evidence-based research will help the project members to elaborate and pilot efficient advocacy, communication (awareness-raising) and education strategies against conspiracy theories. The cooperating partners in the project can perfectly combine cutting-edge, in-depth academic knowledge with a pragmatic and practical approach.

Beyond extensive and efficient dissemination of the results, the project members will share the findings with the relevant decision-makers in order to help them to elaborate efficient counter-strategies. As the growing appeal of the radical populist right parties is a huge challenge for the governments Europe-wide, political players can also be interested in cooperation to launch efficient anti-radicalisation strategies.

The 2008 global financial crisis, like the depression of the 1930s, has led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories among Europeans, as these “unorthodox” explanations on the social and political world are flourishing following unexpected, extraordinary and undesirable events. Conspiracy-based scapegoating ideologies blaming conspiring groups for the world’s ills can be extremely attractive in times when collective frustrating conditions are present Thus the crisis has given new impetus to radical forces across Europe. For example, the theory that Jews are somehow profiting from the economic crisis has gained widespread acceptance in Europe, even in countries that have negligible Jewish populations.

Populism is inherently conspiratorial in its appeal, conspiracy theories are connected to the populist imagination.  Its chosen weapons are twin: a basic anti-elitism that associates government with dissimulation through technocracy and cronyism, and exacerbating a sense of betrayal – the betrayal of ordinary folk by big business, big government and policy egg-heads. All of whom are seen to be ‘in it’ together in order to protect their own interests. The posture is one of speaking the truth (all of these movements claim to ‘speak the truths others do not dare to speak’), of breaking taboos and slaughtering each and everyone of the sacred cows of post-war liberalism: tolerance, acceptance, diversity, professional politics and policy-making and expertise, all on the grounds that these are elitist and have left ordinary citizens out in the cold.

Xenophobic populist parties and radical movements can employ conspiracy theories as the basis for the justification of discrimination, exclusion and group-based violence (verbal or behavioral) against a minority group. Indeed, often as the basic set of dispositions and opinions that catalyze mobilisation. The key is to understand the link between XPPs and conspiracy theories, and then find ways of short-circuiting them by addressing the way these theories travel.

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