Bratislava, Slovakia – Several studies have previously established quite clearly that Slovaks are the most prone to believe in conspiracy theories in Central Europe.
For instance, Slovakia is the only country where a majority of respondents (53%) believe world events are decided by secret groups seeking to establish a totalitarian world order and that Jews have too much power and control a number of the world’s governments and institutions. Nearly 40% of them believe the 9/11 terrorist attacks were carried out by the U.S. government.
Katarina Klingova from the Bratislava-based think tank Globsec dug deeper into the subject and mapped out the sociological and geographical profile of the Slovaks most prone to believe in conspiracy theories. These are the key takeaways.
The most and least conspiracy-prone regions in Slovakia
Significant differences in the level of conspiracy belief can be observed between Slovakia’s regions. The Banská Bystrica region, in the center of the country, appears as the most conspiracy-prone in Slovakia: a wide majority of residents believing that Jews secretly control many governments and institutions (64%) and that secret groups seek to establish a totalitarian world order (63%). Nearly half of respondents (45%) also think the U.S. government is responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As Katarina Klingova points out, such strong results may not be that surprising given that the region was governed by far-right leader Marian Kotleba, an outspoken enthusiast of conspiracy theories and disinformation, between 2013 and 2017.
The eastern region of Prešov is the second most conspiracy-prone, with a strong majority of respondents believing in three aforementioned conspiracy theories (respectively 58%, 63% and 52%). A majority of respondents in the northern region of Zilina also believes in the two first statements regarding secret groups and Jews; and surprisingly, the Bratislava region, which encompasses the capital city, also appears as one of the most conspiracy-prone in Slovakia.
At the opposite end of the scale, the regions of Nitra, Trenčín and Trnava stand out as the least vulnerable to conspiracy statements, according to Globsec’s findings. “Only” around one third of residents (respectively 25%, 31% and 35%) believe the U.S. government planned and conducted the attack against the World Trade Center.
A special observation should be made regarding the region of Košice, the second biggest city in Slovakia and capital of its eastern half. Although ranking among the lowest in terms of belief in conspiracy theories, residents of the Košice region report the highest rate of uncertainty about whether they should believe these statements or not (around one third of them). In other words, faithful believers in Socrates’ “I know I know nothing” philosophy.
The benefits of an education… or not
The sociological profile of the conspiracy theories believers drawn by the Globsec surveys is also highly interesting: “Slovakia is the only V4 country where it is possible to observe a direct correlation between the belief in conspiracy theories and higher education levels”, writes the author of the study.
Although Slovakia remains an exception in that regard among V4 countries, it’s worth pointing out: Slovaks with a university degree tend to agree more than those who received only a basic education to various conspiracy statements. For instance, a majority of university educated Slovaks think secret societies are attempting to establish a totalitarian world order (55%), compared to “only” 48% of Slovaks who didn’t follow higher education courses.
According to Katarina Klingova, these findings “might also be reflecting gaps in the Slovak education system”, whose numerous shortcomings have been criticized in the past by the EU, “and pointing out the lack of media literacy” in large parts of the population.
Debunking the myths about urban wisdom
Common wisdom would have many believe that people living in big cities and urban areas, often more educated and connected to a wider range of information sources, exercise a better judgment than the residents of rural areas.
While this may be true elsewhere, Slovakia once again stands out: several conspiracy theories resonate particularly well among residents of large urban areas (from 50.000 inhabitants, keeping in mind that only two cities in Slovakia have a population over 100.000), much more so than in cities and towns of less than 20.000 people (see graph below).