Intergroup processes in function of Eurovilifying and Eurofundamentalist discourses
Grouping behaviour represents a basic human tendency, while groups are bases for shaping social identities. A social group is that which distinguishes us from the others, that upon which we draw lines of comparison or distinction and build mutual bridges or boundaries (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). It can exist in all sizes and can be defined by a multitude of factors. Sometimes, groups are defined by a nation or a religion, a country or even a region. Such is the case with the group of WB countries in their relation to the EU. In our analyses of Eurovilifying and Eurofundamentalist discourses in Croatia and North Macedonia, we described how the positioning of the EU as either a threatening outgroup, or as a powerful ally to the WB and projected ingroup, has shaped public opinion in the region. We argue that both discourses are potent instigators of conspiratorial narratives, and we discuss them from the perspective of WB citizens (rather than political elites).
The Eurovilifying discourses (i.e., perceiving the EU as a threatening outgroup) can be partially explained by concepts from the Integroup Threat Theory (Stephan, Ybarra & Morrison, 2009), Stereotype Content Model (Fiske et al., 2002) and Image Theory in the context of international relations (Hermann,2003). For instance, according to the Stereotype Content Model, perceptions of others (be they individuals or groups that assume the role of collective agents) are formed by combining the attributes of warmth and competence, along with their high or low intensities. Groups that are viewed as high-competent and agentic (e.g., high-status groups) yet low-warmth and distant (e.g., outgroups), are subject to envy and can be perceived as exploitative or manipulative. Eurovilifying discourses among WB citizens could instigate envious feelings towards the EU, bolstered by a perception of the EU as having misaligned interests and incompatible goals with WB countries. These negative perceptions enable endorsement of negative beliefs and attitudes (Swami, Barron, Weis & Furnham,2018). Consequently, they may lead to Eurovilifying conspiracy theories, aiming to decrease the legitimacy of the EU in the region and emphasising the ‘threats’ to integration, with little to no discussion of the details regarding the underlying integration process. Soon after, the competent yet cold and unfriendly EU, becomes an outgroup that is plotting against the WB group (Biddlestone et al., 2020). This reasoning can be backed with additional findings, which support the claim that less powerful groups exhibit a higher tendency for conspiracy theories (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999; Goertzel 1994; Imhoff & Bruder, 2014). More importantly, citizens/parties who appear to be on the losing side of political processes seem to be more likely to endorse conspiracy theories (Uscinski & Parent, 2014). Hence, it seems plausible to expect such tendencies among WB citizens, who are ‘stuck’ in the waiting room of the EU for years or even decades. They may perceive themselves as political ‘losers’ for perpetually ‘failing’ to complete the EU integration process without obvious success. Indeed, this was already demonstrated for the supporters of the losing parties or politicians, in both the Croatian and the recent Macedonian context. Namely both Tudman and Gruevski (in the case of Croatia and North Macedonia respectively), used the anti-EU rhetoric and conspiratorial narratives as a way to reaffirm and solidify, or restore and reclaim, the leadership in the country.
The Eurofundamentalist discourses among WB citizens, on the other hand, might be associated with a need for collective recognition, hence the blind insistence on integration with the Union. They stem from the desire of WB citizens to be validated and perceived as an integral part of the ‘big and powerful’ EU, so they are often manifested as anticipatory socialisation practices where WB citizens readily display pro-European values and standards (Merton, 1966). The literature shows that an inflated sense of ingroup greatness and collective narcissism can also be dangerous, since these can be associated with an increased perception of threat from other groups and result in increased conspiratorial tendencies (Cichocka et al., 2016). However, certain consideration should be given to collective narcissism as a basis for Eurovilifying tendencies as well, especially when those strong desires for recognition remain non-reciprocated (Blanusa & Hristov, 2020) due to the protracted EU accession processes.
In addition, recent evidence suggests that groups with extremist tendencies are prone to conspiracy theories, regardless of their underlying ideology. The conspiracy theories function as ‘radicalising multiplier’ within extremist groups, ‘pointing to forces beyond our control, articulating an enemy to hate, sharply dividing the group from the non-group and, sometimes, legitimising violence’ (Bartlett & Miller, 2010: 4). Both Eurovilification and Eurofundamentalism can be regarded as more extreme outcomes of the Eurosceptic and Europhilic attitudes, so the findings on extremist groups could be taken as cautionary tales.
In the earlier sections of our chapter, we provided ample examples of conspiracy theories directed against EU or the others (e.g., ethnic groups and minorities), stemming from Eurovilifying and Eurofundamentalist discourses respectively. For future studies, it may be worthwhile to expand on the present scientific exploration with investigations on the possible links between Eurofundamentalism and conspiracy theories against powerful Eastern countries (like Russia, Turkey or China).