Political interest – Willingness to join in political actions – Left-right placement – Post-materialism – Support for democracy
‘Oh, east is east and west is west / and never the twain shall meet’ is the famous opening of Rudyard Kipling’s Ballad of East and West. A quick look at the maps and statistics on the political situation in West and East Europe seem to underline this observation. Western democracies are much older than Eastern ones. The East is less willing to join in political actions than the West. Support for democracy is high in the West and low in the Eastern parts of Europe. In a nutshell: it seems the Iron Curtain did not disappear, the curtain is only raised a little bit.
Chart Importance democracy, Source: Atlas of European Values
When the European Value Study asks people about the statement ‘Democracy may have its problems but is better than any other form of government’, the common consent is overwhelming. More than 90 percent of the Europeans subscribe to this point of view. In general, Europe still deserves the designation ‘the cradle of democracy.’ Nevertheless, there are big differences. Support for democracy is strong in Western Europe, especially in Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Greece. Heading East, support for democracy is slowing down. In the Russian Federation and the former Soviet States of Estonia and Latvia, only one person in five thinks a democratic system is ‘very good’. Still, two out of three Russians are backing up their recently achieved democracy.
People’s distance to democracy in Eastern European countries can be explained. Firstly, some democracies in the East are, according to Western standards, very poor. In the Russian Federation freedom of press is limited, political opponents are thwarted and democratic institutions like the Russian parliament are weak. Secondly, in Eastern Europe democracy is still very young. Establishing confidence in a democratic state is a process which takes several years. Thirdly, during the communist regime, democracy represented hope. Not knowing what democracy actually can achieve, people thought a democratic society would solve their problems. They didn’t take into account a long period of transition, including fear, agitation and social unrest.
Chart Willingness to join in political actions, Source: Atlas of European Values
Chart Weaknesses of democracy, Source: Atlas of European Values