Poll: 20 Years After Communism, E. Europe Moves On

Hundreds of Berliners gather by the Brandenburg Gate to watch the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. i

A new poll finds that 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is broad support for democracy and free markets in Eastern Europe, but also a rise in Russian nationalism. Jockel Finck/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jockel Finck/AP
Hundreds of Berliners gather by the Brandenburg Gate to watch the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

A new poll finds that 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is broad support for democracy and free markets in Eastern Europe, but also a rise in Russian nationalism.

Jockel Finck/AP

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europeans are firmly committed to democracy and free markets, but with more reservations than in the past, according to a new poll.

"Put simply: During the communist era, or just as it was ending, most people were pretty miserable about the way things were going in their lives," Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, which conducted the poll, tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "They are less miserable now, but there are greater cleavages in these societies than there ever was."

In nine Eastern European countries, the poll found broad support for the end of communism. Large majorities — 80 percent or more — in the former East Germany and the Czech Republic backed democracy and the free market.

In many countries, however, there was less enthusiasm.

In Russia, the percentage of people satisfied with a multiparty system was 53 percent. In Hungary, it was 56 percent. In Ukraine, only 30 percent said they approve of the change to democracy; 36 percent in Ukraine said they approved of capitalism.

"We had large majorities back in 1991, even before these people had fully seen the experience of capitalism and democracy," Kohut says.

Pew, then known as the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, conducted a similar poll in 1991, when communism had ended.

Kohut says one of the findings of the poll released Monday was that many former Soviet satellite states — such as Poland and the Czech Republic — were glad to see an end to Russia's influence on their countries. In Russia, however, there was a dramatic increase in nationalism. In 1991, 37 percent of Russians said it was natural for Russia to have an empire; now, the figure is 47 percent. Meanwhile, 58 percent of Russians say it is unfortunate that the Soviet Union no longer exists.

Kohut says the numbers overall show there is a strong correlation between support for parliamentary democracy and capitalism.

"The people who think the economy is going well tend to support democracy," he says. "The people who don't tend to think the economy is going well are much less supportive.

"And what we do find in these societies that we did not find two decades ago are huge gaps in the way people make their evaluations in every one of these countries, with the young being more satisfied and the old being less satisfied," Kohut says.

The new survey was conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 24 among 14,760 respondents in 14 countries. The margin of error varied between plus or minus 3.5 and 5 percentage points.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.