"Return to Europe - 20 years after" - building democracy has been a success, say Czechs, Poles and Slovaks while Hungarians consider it as a failure

Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Faculty Tower
Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - 12:00am
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - 12:00am

CPS hosted a media briefing on the preliminary results of the 'Return to Europe' research initiative. 

Full press release in English (Download)
Full press release in Hungarian (Download)

Of the four Visegrád countries, only in Hungary does a majority oppose supporting democracy-building abroad

The opinions of citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland diverge in their assessment of the changes that have taken place since 1989, according to a new survey in the four Visegrád countries conducted by the Center for Policy Studies at Central European University and the Prague-based PASOS (Policy Association for an Open Society), a network of 40 independent think-tanks in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. While three in five Poles, Slovaks and Czechs regard the establishment of lasting democracy as a success, two in three Hungarians think the opposite - that it has been a failure.

Moreover, two out of three Hungarians - in contrast to citizens of the other three Visegrád countries - take the view that there are more disadvantages to life today then there were under the dictatorial regime before 1989. In contrast, seven out of ten Czechs, six out of ten Poles, and 53 per cent of Slovaks think that there are more advantages of life under democratic rule in 2009.

The survey shows that a majority of citizens of Poland (62 per cent) and the Czech Republic (54 per cent) hold the view that the democratisation process has been driven by domestic forces rather than by external support. This view is not shared in Slovakia and Hungary, however. In Slovakia, respondents assessed external support and domestic forces as equally important, while in Hungary a majority considered external support to have been more decisive.

Public opinion in the Visegrád countries also differs on assessing the change in the political and economic system since 1989. While in the Czech Republic and Poland a majority of people think that fundamental economic and political changes were necessary, this view is shared by less than half of respondents in Slovakia and Hungary.

According to Ágnes Bátory, Research Fellow at the Center for Policy Studies at Central European University, "the results from Hungary reflect a deep sense of disillusionment that is characteristic of part of the population, especially the elderly and those living in the countryside who were particularly strongly hit by the relative loss or weakening of a state-sponsored social safety net in the wake of the democratic transition. However, a significant proportion of respondents may well have projected their negative evaluation of the current political and economic situation on to their notions of democracy as such."

The study was the first such poll of public attitudes on the theme of the Visegrád countries themselves being involved in supporting democracy around the world. While the majority of Czechs, Poles and Slovaks think that their governments should support democracy-building in other countries, a majority of Hungarians take the opposite view. The Hungarians’ attitude towards promoting democracy abroad may be determined by their current negative assessment of the democratic transition that in their view has been to a great extent influenced by external actors. The survey results and the accompanying focus groups conducted with young people in October 2009 show that there is confusion in Hungary about the notion of democracy, which may be attributed to complex political and economic phenomena that evoked mistrust in the democratic system as a whole.