Peter Georgiev is a freelance journalist covering sports and technology. He has an MA in Data Journalism from the US, where he worked for the investigative team of NBC News. Prior to that he worked for the primetime news of the Bulgarian National Television, as well as as a host of #Evropa, it’s weekly program about Bulgaria’s EU presidency in 2018. He is the host and producer of the documentary podcast Victoria.
In the height of summer 2020, as the world was struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and the raging healthcare crisis, the British royal family published an address by Prince Charles on its YouTube channel. Against the backdrop of magnificent oceans, forests and glaciers, and set to equally imposing music, the then-heir to the British throne called upon us to make nature “the true engine of our economy”.
The video was produced in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF) – an organization which had, up to that point, been known mostly for organizing annual meetups of influential politicians, business leaders and scientists at the Swiss resort of Davos. The future British king’s address was part of a wide-ranging WEF campaign dedicated to recovery and the rethinking of social structures post-COVID. The campaign’s name was “The Great Reset”; its goal – to prevent crises such as COVID-19 from happening in the future through a package of highly ambitious and not very realistic reforms.
Through these otherwise good intentions, however, many saw an evil plot to subject the world’s population to an Orwellian dystopia. The internet showed no mercy. Instead of attracting attention to the fight against climate change, WEF’s vision of the future propelled an all-encompassing conspiracy theory reaching even the darkest corners of digital space. Its main protagonists were global leaders, billionaires, religious figures and secret societies. The conspiracy did not fail to reach Bulgaria, where the rumors of the so-called “reset” (translated in Bulgarian as “zeroing”, as reset could also mean “to zero the counter”) left their mark on the vaccination campaign, the chaotic political dialogue and the campaign for the parliamentary elections in early October.
A hotch-potch of myth and legend
The conspiracy fuelled by the WEF branding campaign is too multifaceted to be described in a single sentence. It is rooted in the idea that a secret global elite has artificially created the pandemic in order to enforce restrictions and lockdowns, run the economy to the ground and enslave mankind through vaccines. From the ashes of the previous world order, it plans to erect a totalitarian technocratic regime.
In that regime the extremely rich will be infinitely powerful, while ordinary people will have their private property taken away. The mastermind behind this operation commonly identified by conspiracy theorists is Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF. Schwab is the co-author of a book called The Great Reset which also came out in 2020. While its goal was to describe WEF’s vision for the Reset, it was poorly received: an avalanche of negative reviews and comments painted Schwab as the engineer of a dystopian future. Another figure commonly mentioned alongside him is Bill Gates, Schwab’s supposed partner in the project to control billions of people.
The fear of totalitarian rule is not new by any means. “The Great Reset” is simply its latest manifestation. A conspiracy by that name gained traction in the end of 2020, when the newly elected US president Joe Biden, the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and later – the prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, were all “identified” as part of the cabalists.
Trudeau responded by saying that in hard times “a lot of people fall prey to disinformation”. The fact checking website Snopes explained that there was no secret government plan to vaccinate Canadians and expropriate their possessions. The BBC also investigated the claims in their rubric Reality Check, noting there was no evidence that politicians had invented the coronavirus, nor that they were using it to destroy capitalism.
Despite the efforts of journalists, two years later the conspiracy is still going strong. In fact, “The Great Reset” has grown to be a universal explanation for anything and everything that causes discontent – take the questionable idea to create an European football Superleague, which has nothing to do with the World Economic Forum.
Writing for The Intercept, the Canadian journalist Naomi Klein describes “The Great Reset” as a “conspirative smoothie” blending all kinds of theories. All of them come down to depriving people of their civil liberties, but their methods vary. Some believe people will be subjugated through green policies and modern socialism; others are afraid of pharmaceuticals, biometric implants, robot dogs and 5G. As Klein notes, everyone can invent their own version of the conspiracy based on their political views and national context. No wonder “The Great Reset” has also taken root in Bulgaria.
Towards zero critical thinking
In Bulgaria, the conspiracy fuelled by the ideas of Klaus Schwab and WEF attracted public attention after the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated. On the Bulgarian internet, the conspiracy came to be known as “the great/big zeroing”, and that translation of “reset” also allowed it to be mistakenly associated with the Bulgarian demographic crisis. That feeds the fears that the pandemic was artificially created to shrink the population, and that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases and infertility. It has been a year and a half, but the healthcare authorities have yet to convince the public that immunization is safe. While nearly 38 000 people lost their lives to the virus, our country has the most ineffective vaccination campaign in the EU.
Meanwhile, the idea of “zeroing” was spread by newspaper articles warning of a “dictatorship by the global elite”. The Iztok-Zapad publishing house put out a translation of the German book “The Great Zeroing. The World of 2030”, where a number of different authors stoke fears of the imminent end to democracy and the creation of a “global deep state”. The geopolitical analyst Boyan Chukov wrote of Schwab’s vision in his book “The brave new world after 1984”, also published by Iztok-Zapad. Promoting it on the Bulgarian National Radio’s flagship show “12+3”, hosted by Peter Volgin, Chukov said that “our consciousness is imprisoned in a digital concentration camp”. In his opinion, the new world order of the Great Reset is not a conspiracy, but a real plan, which has been put in motion at an accelerated speed thanks to the pandemic.
Such hypotheses fit into the narratives spun by pundits on the extreme right and extreme left in the US. Their proponents, however, can be found in every Western country. It’s often hard to debunk them because they lack specific statements that can be fact-checked. While promoting an abstract conspiracy, the Great Resetters actually deflect attention from real contemporary problems like the influence of technology on the job market, the need for healthcare reforms, environmental degradation, fossil fuel dependency and system for social rating.
Instead of providing WEF with constructive criticism, The Great Reset theory lends Schwab the nonexistent powers to command the governments of separate states. Because of this misconception, yet another of the organization’s statements caused a scandal this August. In a publication about augmented reality, the WEF opined that implant technologies may replace traditional hearing and visual aids and help children learn better. The article was however misunderstood and caused panic in Romania, on account that the WEF was planning to implant chips in children to control them. An article in Bulgarian, which has been shared more than 4500 times on Facebook, describes this project (supposedly run “by the richest reptilians in Davos”) as a follow-up to the Great Reset. Of course, neither the WEF, nor any non-governmental organization has the power to adopt such policies. The conspiracy, however, is garnering more and more followers.
Reptilians, illuminati, and aspiring members of parliament
With the campaign for the Bulgarian parliamentary elections this fall, talk of secret cabals and powerful evil-doers made it into official political debates. The leader of the political party “People’s Party the Truth and Nothing but the Truth” Vladislav “Chicago” Angelov was the frontman of this conspiracy, making a number of appearances Bulgarian public radio and television. They were possible thanks to an amendment of the electoral law of May 1, 2021, which stipulates that all parties and coalitions running for Parliament should have equal media opportunities.
On national air, Angelov made good on his promise to keep the conversation of reptilians, zionists and masonic lodges going, and the Great Reset theory reached even wider audiences. There are many references to the conspiracy in the facebook group of his party, including an article from the website “The Bulgarian Times”, in which Klaus Schwab is described as “a Bond Villain”. Angelov’s campaign focused mainly on the fight against Schwab and other global leaders. Even though “The People’s Party…” got only 2522 votes in the election, Angelov demonstrated how theories such as the Great Reset can serve as a useful tool to amass followers.
The election campaign coincided with the death of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Queen Elizabeth II. A post on facebook links them, too, to the Great Reset. The Russian invasion in Ukraine also proved a rich source for the conspiratorial imagination: the website “Ot Izvora” (translated as “From the source”), which regularly spreads disinformation and uncorroborated hypotheses, published an article called “10 signs that the war in Ukraine is part of the Great Reset”. Another text on the same site also weaves the wheat shortage into the narrative – a shortage that has been artificially created by president Putin.
Thus, the Great Reset always keeps up with current events, both in Bulgaria and abroad. The conspiracy adapts to the interests, fears and goals of its countless authors. It is not underpinned by any clear propaganda narrative – neither pro-Russian nor pro-Amercian. The antagonistic tension at its heart, insofar as there is any, is the opposition between the ordinary people and the rich and powerful. This simple premise makes it quite resistant to changes in geopolitics and sudden turns of the news cycle. Whatever happens to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or any other contemporary crisis, one can always blame an anonymous global elite.