Europe of Conspiracies: “The Digital Gulag”

Do you remember how they were using the pandemic as an excuse to track us with microchips? Or the fear-mongering about people falling down in the streets once those microchips were deactivated? What about the new ATMs with vaccine QR codes? Do you remember them? That was only the beginning.

“Digital enslavement”, “digital Gulag”, “digital prison”, and “electronic leash” are just some of the dramatic epithets used to describe the onset of an Orwellian dystopia wherein Big Brother not only watches us from around every corner but also has complete access to our money and thoughts.

Why conspiracy theories never go out of style

Every conspiracy has a simple setup: the bad guys (or a group of bad guys) hatch diabolical plans against ordinary good people, but there is always an individual who can rise above to expose the conspiracy and a hero to defeat the monster. Essentially, populist discourse follows the same lines — an evil elite versus a noble populace. That’s why conspiracies are so well-loved and often used by populist parties (representing, of course, the hero’s side).

And since the traces of this storyline stretch back to mythology and fairy tales, it is irresistible. Moreover, in such a complex and confusing world, it provides the audience with a simple and understandable explanation for every problem while simultaneously relieving “ordinary people” of any real responsibility.

The other reason conspiracy theories are enduringly popular is that, unlike disinformation, conspiracies are not concerned with facts. Disinformation, whether entirely false, partially false, or manipulatively interpreted information, still has some factual basis, i.e., it can be checked against existing facts.

Conspiracy theories, however, do not operate with facts and are not interested in them — at their core is the idea that nothing is verifiable or provable, and this is precisely the evidence which serves to validate such narratives.

What they do have in common is their deliberate dissemination (of disinformation or conspiracies), which aims to sow confusion and division in society, discourage people, and undermine the legitimacy of democratically elected institutions.

The European Union is a convenient “bad guy” in all kinds of anti-globalist conspiracies, having long been the target of dissatisfaction with globalisation and its consequences for the lives of European citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic revived conspiracy theories about a global plan for population control on the part of both national governments and global elites — from Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum to the EU. Whether through restricting the right to movement, Digital Green Certificates or supposed microchipping via vaccines, it all boils down to control over humanity.

Conspiratorial thinking deliberately swaps the word “governance” with “control”.

Thus, the very idea of a democratic state is replaced — rather than a government of elected representatives, we are being controlled by puppets of the so-called global elite. This is a lens through which an array of issues can be interpreted: from domestic political debates and Russia’s war against Ukraine to the introduction of digital documents and currencies.

The new European Digital Identity Wallet has provided the perfect pretext to rehash the same narrative about attempts (by the government, Brussels or “globalists”) to impose total control over humanity.

Popular Bulgarian Facebook posts warn that e-wallets only seem to be voluntary, which is untrue.

Other posts draw a direct analogy with vaccines and the Chinese social credit system.

The claim that vaccines (or vaccination certificates) are mandatory is false. The link between digital COVID certificates, digital identification and digital currencies is nothing new — back in 2022, there was an attempt to instill in people the idea that the EU was planning to force vaccination and introduce ATMs with QR codes from which money could be withdrawn using a vaccine certificate.

As for the comparison with China, we should ask ourselves the extent to which a union of 27 sovereign democratic states could ever act as a state with a single-party communist regime. Leading up to the EU regulation’s approval, there were many discussions and concerns expressed about security risks and the potential for member states to obtain a means of surveillance and control — national governments, not “Brussels”. The digital wallet’s rollout will not be the end of this process. Since the technology will be open-source licensed, anyone can examine and test the proposed technological structure for errors or security vulnerabilities.

As is often the case when it comes to the EU, this conspiracy did not originate in Bulgaria but was “imported”.

In this instance, the primary source is a Dutch influencer with conspiratorial and far-right views who published the same video with identical commentary on X (formerly Twitter). The post has 1.2 million views on X and has been reposted 12 thousand times. It has been translated into several different languages, allowing it to grow more widespread.

She has spoken out on the same topics during the pandemic, including vaccination, and appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show while he was still a host at Fox News.

Eva Vlaardingerbroek is 27 years old. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is a Dutch political and cultural commentator and legal scholar. She obtained her master’s degree in law from Leiden University and started a PhD before realising that her true calling was not in academic work but in the “culture war.” Accordingly, she has taken it upon herself to become “a conservative voice for freedom and justice in the Western world.”

Another outspoken “imported” proponent is an Australian politician, Ralph Babet. He is the only senator from United Australia, a conservative populist and nationalist party. A video of Babet with Russian subtitles is being circulated in Bulgaria.

“What happens when the government blocks your access to money or services as punishment?” the senator rhetorically asks, emphasising digital currency as a means of control.

In fact, there is no direct connection between digital identification and digital currency. People already use digital identity verification for various services through different applications, sometimes without being fully aware of where they are sharing their data or what happens to it. The EU has decided to make this happen through a single application (e-wallet) so that each owner has full control over the data they share. At no stage will “Brussels”(i.e. the EU) have control over our identity, nor will it be able to manage, erase or control it, as conspiracy theorists have threatened.

The long arm of the Kremlin

Digital identification is one of the three pillars upon which the global government stands, along with digital currency and “actions against climate change”, or so claims an article published on the Bulgarian website Kritichno [Critical].

The article links to a website called Zero Hedge, which was initially founded as a financial blog. The site has transformed into a source and disseminator of conspiracy theories. The author of the original text is Tyler Durden. In fact, this is a pseudonym borrowed from the character played by Brad Pitt in the movie Fight Club. The text can be perceived as a manifesto, laying out a “global government” conspiracy aimed at “full control over every aspect of all people’s lives on the planet”.

In February 2022, less than 10 days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Associated Press published an article in which unnamed American intelligence agents connected Zero Hedge with the dissemination of Kremlin propaganda.

The reason for this was the site’s regular publication of content from the centre of Russian propaganda, the Strategic Culture Foundation, leading up to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Their goal was to insinuate that the USA was spreading panic over a potential attack on Ukraine and that Washington and NATO were the ones preparing for war, not Russia.

The Russian Strategic Culture Foundation regularly supplies Bulgarian media outlets with news and information.

“Global elites” and the “global government” feature prominently in the “analyses” offered by the publication, which spews out conspiracy theories on any and every topic.

Nor has the “global digital Gulag” escaped the attention of one of the site’s most prolific authors, Valentin Katasonov.

The author reflects on the “mysterious” abbreviation DPI: Digital Public Infrastructure.

On the UN Development Programme website, under whose auspices the initiative is being developed, the concept is explained as “a combination of networked open technological standards built for public interest”. It does not refer to a specific project but rather a comprehensive philosophy regarding the development of digital technologies to ensure their comprehensive accessibility and applicability.

The initiative has received full support from the G20, the group of 19 countries and 2 international organisations, including Russia.

However, Katasonov interprets everything exactly in reverse —  that the rollout of digital identification is intended not to give people access to social services, but to take away that access and to establish a “brave new world”, as in the novel by Aldous Huxley, where people are divided into castes according to social status and, perhaps, depending on human behaviour. This will be accomplished through a social ranking awarded to each individual, explains Katasonov, adding that “in this respect, the Chinese comrades have made the greatest progress”.

Katasonov emphasises that the project’s leadership comes from the highest level, comprising the UN, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. It also enjoys support from the European Union, the IMF, and the World Economic Forum.

Conspiracies about global total population control, with some of or all those players above in an active role, have gained widespread popularity throughout the pandemic. The conspiracy about the planet’s “depopulation” and theories on the “Great Reset” or “New World Order” are actively being exploited by various forces and actors — from the propaganda machinery of the Kremlin to the darkest conspiratorial corners of Q.

Conspiracy theories are an easy tool for manipulating and deceiving people because they provide simple and comprehensive explanations for complex and manifold processes and phenomena. They exploit people’s legitimate fears but use unfounded or outright fictitious arguments. When it comes to digital identification, this fear relates to external control over our lives. It is rooted in the virtual digital environment.

Simultaneously, however, millions of people voluntarily provide their data to various platforms, applications, or companies—whether to buy a product, play a game, or simply take a Facebook quiz to find out which movie star they look like. In the absence of a global conspiracy to get us, the price we pay for this pleasure is our data.

Read about conspiracy theories about digital currencies in the next analysis in the “Europe on Conspiracies” series.


Elena Furnadzhieva, “EU digital identity wallet is not an ‘electronic leash to control citizens’”, Factcheck.bghttps://factcheck.bg/en/eu-digital-identity-wallet-is-not-an-electronic-leash-to-control-citizens/

Mina Kirkova, “COVID-19 and the Conspiracy of Global Population Reduction” [in Bulgarian], Factcheck.bghttps://factcheck.bg/kovid-19-i-zagovorat-za-namalyavaneto-na-svetovnoto-naselenie/

Katerina Vassileva, “No, the EU is not preparing to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory” [in Bulgarian], Factcheck.bghttps://factcheck.bg/ne-e-vyarno-che-es-podgotvya-vavezhdane-na-zadalzhitelna-vaksinaciya-sreshtu-covid-19/4

“Hold on, let me tell you about: The ‘Great Reset’ conspiracy theory” (video) [in Bulgarian], Factcheck.bghttps://factcheck.bg/chakaj-da-ti-obyasnya-konspiraciyata-golyamoto-zanulyavane-video/

Nomaan Merchant, “US accuses financial website of spreading Russian propaganda”, Associated Presshttps://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-coronavirus-pandemic-health-moscow-media-ff4a56b7b08bcdc6adaf02313a85edd9

Seth Hettena, “Is Zero Hedge a Russian Trojan Horse?”, The New Republichttps://newrepublic.com/article/156788/zero-hedge-russian-trojan-horse

UNDP, “Digital public infrastructure (DPI)”, UNDP.orghttps://www.undp.org/digital/digital-public-infrastructure

Romina Bandura, Madeleine McLean & Sarosh Sultan, “Unpacking the Concept of Digital Public Infrastructure and Its Importance for Global Development”, CSIS.orghttps://www.csis.org/analysis/unpacking-concept-digital-public-infrastructure-and-its-importance-global-development

UNDP, “G20 Digital Ministers Recognize Digital Public Infrastructure as an Accelerator of the Global Goals”, UNDP.orghttps://www.undp.org/press-releases/g20-digital-ministers-recognize-digital-public-infrastructure-accelerator-global-goals

Everything on Factcheck.bg can be freely republished. You must cite the source and author’s name, as well as provide a link back to this publication.


This text was created within the framework of the initiative "Europe against anti-democratic propaganda" within the framework of the project "Rights and Values", financed by the European Union and the Foundation "Open Society Institute - Sofia" (OSIS). The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) or the OSIS. Neither the European Union nor the EACEA nor the OSIS can be held responsible for them.

Ralitsa Kovacheva
Ralitsa Kovacheva
Ralitsa Kovacheva is a doctor of journalism and a lecturer in international journalism at the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski ”. She has published three books and numerous scientific articles. Her research interests are in the European Union, international politics and disinformation. Ralitsa Kovacheva has many years of journalistic experience. She has worked as a journalist at BNT, FM Plus radio, published in various online media and is one of the founders of RE:TV and BiT.

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