Poll reveals majority of Eastern Europeans ‘fearful for democracy’
Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, today’s Eastern Europeans are fearful for the future of democracy, skeptical of government and the main political parties, and distrustful of the media, according to a new survey.
But despite what the report’s authors call “alarming levels” of distrust in democratic systems and the media, many also believe they can influence politics and improve society, with younger people — especially women — engaging in civic activity and optimistic about achieving positive change, the Guardian reported.
According to the YouGov poll of 12,500 people in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, published by George Soros’s Open Societies Foundations, majorities between 51 percent and 61 percent in six countries — including Germany — feel democracy is under threat.
Three-quarters of those polled in Bulgaria, over half in Hungary and Romania, a third in Poland and a fifth of Germans also thought their country’s elections were neither free nor fair, while across all seven countries surveyed, less than a quarter of respondents over 40 thought the world was safer than in 1989.
Confidence in the reliability of information provided by both the mainstream media and governments was low, with clear majorities in almost all countries saying they did not trust mainstream media to report the news fairly or honestly, or governments to release accurate and unbiased information.
Majorities in almost all countries felt free speech, the rule of law and the right to protest were under attack. Most Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Slovakians and Poles believed they would suffer consequences personally for criticizing their government, and over 60 percent in every country said justice was under threat.
Large numbers of people — majorities in Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and big minorities in Slovakia, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic — also believed it had now become difficult for people to live the life they wanted to, regardless of their background, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
However, alongside this “profound crisis of confidence, with the liberal values that effectively vanquished Communism under threat from rising populism and distrust of major institutions growing”, the report’s authors found a persistent “robust spirit of dissent and readiness to challenge those in power.”
“Our results demonstrate that where the establishment has failed citizens, civil society is perceived as a trustworthy counterpart,” the authors said, pointing to recent mass anticorruption protests in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania, huge demonstrations in Poland against the ultraconservative government of the Law and Justice (PiS) Party, and the ruling, illiberal Fidesz Party’s unexpected loss of Budapest Council in local elections last month.
Despite an onslaught by authoritarian governments in several East European countries on civil society groups, including the Open Society Foundations, majorities in all seven approved the right of public organizations such as charities and universities to criticize the authorities. Only 17 percent of respondents across all seven countries opposed the work of NGOs.
The survey found widespread civic engagement, particularly among people aged 18 to 22 (commonly referred to as Generation Z), and 23 to 37 (Millennials), as well as optimism about their ability to change things for the better, the report’s authors said.
Generation Z was “a very special avant-garde,” they wrote.
“They have come of age in a post-recession era, and exhibit a remarkable capacity to mobilize effectively and navigate the information landscape. They are confident, feel they can influence change on a large scale, and exhibit a broad embrace of social justice.”
Young women, in particular, were “a driver of positive change,” markedly more tolerant, compassionate, open to diversity and optimistic about achieving progress than young men.
Similarly, significantly higher proportions of young women than young men thought refugees and immigrants should be given greater protection.
Generation Z women were also significantly more likely than their male counterparts to say they had more opportunities than people in 1990, that there were more openings in politics for people like them than there were 30 years ago, and that they had the capacity to influence change on a large scale.
In all of the countries surveyed, respondents said they wanted to see more work done by governments to support women, young people, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those on low incomes.