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Poll Finds Generational Split In View Of Postcommunist Reforms

Many people over 50 looks back at life before 1989 with nostalgia.
Many people over 50 looks back at life before 1989 with nostalgia.
By Heather Maher
(RFE/RL) --- Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people in countries that were once behind the Iron Curtain have mixed feelings about the changes democracy and capitalism have brought to their lives.

That's according to a new Global Attitudes Survey by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed people in nine Central and Eastern European countries: Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and the former East Germany.

The report compared its findings with an identical survey taken in 1991, just after the collapse of communism, and concluded that in general, a majority of people in most countries are happier now than they were 20 years ago but are less supportive of democracy and capitalism now than they were when the wall first came down.

Still, Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, says that in every country surveyed, people reported being happier with their lives now.

"Satisfaction with life in all of these places, as we measure, is better now, much better now, than it was back in 1991. In 1991 in Poland, for example, 12 percent of the Poles said that they were 'highly satisfied' with their life, as they defined what a successful life is," Kohut says.

"Today it's 44 percent. In Russia, it was 7 percent then, it's 35 percent now. In every one of these countries, the numbers go up."

By a wide margin, the study found that people under 50 are happier than the older generation about the changes the last 20 years have brought.

Kohut says younger, better educated, and city-dwellers express the most satisfaction with their lives and have made the greatest gains since 1991.

"In communist days, just about everyone did not feel very good about their lives," he says. "Today, more people feel good about their lives, but there's considerable disparity on the basis of age and other demographic characteristics."

This generational gap is widest in Bulgaria and Russia, where, for example, in the latter, less than a third (27 percent) of people over 65 approve of a multiparty political system, compared with two-thirds (65 percent) of those aged 18 to 29 who do.

The people happiest with the move to democracy are Czechs, Poles, and citizens of the former East Germany, while those who express the most dissatisfaction are Russians, Ukrainians, and Bulgarians.

Ukrainians stand out as the unhappiest with the changes democracy and capitalism have brought. In 1991, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said they welcomed democracy; now less than a third (30 percent) do. In 1991, more than half (52 percent) said they approved of the switch to capitalism; now only slightly more than a third (36 percent) do.

The numbers are similar in Russia, where barely half (53 percent) feel favorably toward democracy and only half (50 percent) like the changes capitalism has brought.

Communist Nostalgia

Also in Russia, the study found a surge in nationalist sentiment since 1991. A majority of Russians (54 percent) agree with the statement, "Russia should be for Russians," compared to a quarter (26 percent) who did in 1991.

Kohut says the study showed clear concern about this among Russia's neighbors.

"We certainly see that among the Czechs, the Hungarians, and the Slovaks, we see less of it than we might have expected among the Ukrainians, where the attitudes toward Russia are surprisingly positive," he says.

Well over half (58 percent) also said they agreed with the statement, "It is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists," and nearly half (47 percent) think "It is natural for Russia to have an empire." Only about a third (37 percent) said the same thing in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse.

By far, more Hungarians than any other nationality surveyed declared themselves to feel worse off now than under communism. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said that. Support for capitalism in Hungary has dropped from 80 percent in 1991 to 46 percent today.

Right behind Hungary is Ukraine, where 62 percent think their lives were better before 1991. In Russia, nearly half (45 percent) remember happier days 20 years ago.

The study identified a positive trend in the region -- the decline of ethnic hostilities. In several of the countries surveyed, fewer people now say they hold unfavorable views of their country's ethnic minorities than said so in 1991.

After the economy, corruption tops the list of concerns in six of the nine countries surveyed. Russians worry slightly more about illegal drugs, and also think pollution is a severe problem. Ukrainians list corruption as their biggest issue, followed by pollution and crime.

The Pew survey was taken in August and September of this year.
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by: Asehpe from: The Netherlands
November 03, 2009 15:27
The 'good old days' effect has been mentioned since Roman times -- by Seneca, I believe.

The difficulties of today being different from the difficulties of yesterday, they tend to seem more difficult. That is to be expected, and can be found everywhere (aren't older people in other countries also more likely to think of the past as better than the present?).


by: Sergey from: Chicago
November 04, 2009 13:43
The fact that so many people feel worse off after communism than under communism shows the failure of so many reformers to comprehend enormity of the transitioning task. In Russia and Ukraine, for example, after 1991 the power was grabbed by criminal clans made from the members of the Communist Party, Komsomol (Communist Youth League) and other structures who grabbed the Soviet Era property, such as Oil and Gas fields, infrastructure, etc., and used it to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of population. I believe that the average life expectancy in Russia after 1991 fell from 64 to 57 years. Many post-communists governments failed to invest in crucial social and economical infrastructure, such as healthcare, education, science, roads, bridges, power plants and so on, causing severe social and economic pain bordering on collapse in these countries.

I think 20 years since the collapse of communism in E. Europe and Russia is a good time to make an honest assessment of what happened and what went right and what went wrong. There are lots and lots of things that went wrong after the collapse of communism and it's impossible to blame everything on the difficulties of the transitional period. I think it's time for a thorough and objective non-ideological research to evaluate the choices made by various leaders of post-communist E. Europe and Russia and what was the result of their policies.

by: Yuseff Boltza from: Romania
November 04, 2009 19:12
Senility will do that to a person - what a wasted story.

by: lenin from: USA
November 05, 2009 18:39
If the thing you used as money was suddendly devalued by 90 percent and replaced with a new form of currency and this was done for your own good so you could be free, how would you feel?
Would you feel victorious? free? , hopefull? and waiting for a glorious
new future in democracy?
Gimme a break....

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