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

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


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

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Twenty years ago, the conflict that divided Europe came to an end. The Berlin Wall came down.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: The communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe that had been installed and sustained by Moscow soon came down too. Change came peacefully in Prague, where the Czechs staged the Velvet Revolution.

(Soundbite of demonstrators clapping and chanting)

SIEGEL: And it came more violently in Romania. But by whatever means, the end of the old satellite regimes was followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union itself, and the Cold War was over. It was a season of unusual optimism and confidence in democracy, in capitalism and independence. But what's become of that confidence?

Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, did polling in several East European countries back in 1991. And now, he's gone back to update those surveys.

Andy, what did you find?

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Well, we found broad support for the end of communism, as we did back in 1991. In East Germany, 85 percent say the change to democracy is a good thing. In the Czech Republic, 80 percent say that the move to a free market economy from communism is a good thing.

But in many countries, we find less enthusiasm, less support. For example, in Russia, the percentage who are satisfied with a multiparty system fell from 61 to 53 percent; in Hungary, from 74 to 56 percent. We see the same thing with regard to capitalism.

And in some countries, the fall is rather substantial. In the Ukraine, only 30 percent now say that they approve of the change to democracy, and 36 percent say they approve of capitalism. And we had large majorities back in 1991, even before these people had fully seen the experience of capitalism and democracy.

SIEGEL: What really happened 20 years ago was the end of Russia's hegemony over not only the countries of the old Russian Empire, but also the nations of Eastern and Central Europe. Do people in this region in any way long for more of a relationship with Moscow?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, the Bulgarians, who haven't traditionally had a close relationship with the Russians, aren't - I don't know if they long for it, but they don't worry about it. But significant numbers of the Czechs, significant numbers of the Poles and the Hungarians say the influence of Russia is not a good thing on our country. And when you look at the Russians themselves, you see a real rise in nationalism.

The percentage of people who say it's natural for Russia to have an empire was only 37 percent in 1991. It's 47 percent now. The percentage of Russians who say it's a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists is now as high as 58 percent, despite free markets and all of that.

SIEGEL: When you look at all of the numbers that you get from the several different countries where you've polled, what do you make of the degree of support for, on the one hand, parliamentary democracy and basic, what we would think of as constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand, free market economics and capitalism? Are they equally secure? Is one substantially more popular than the other? Are they both insecure?

Mr. KOHUT: You can't pull them apart. They're highly related to one another. The people who think the economy is going well tend to support democracy. The people who don't feel 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.

Put simply: During the communist year, or just as it was ending, most people were pretty miserable about the way things were going in their lives. They are less miserable now, but there are greater cleavages in these societies than there ever was.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Andy.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut who is the president of the Pew Research Center.

(Soundbite of music)

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