POLL: 20 Years After Wall's Fall, End of Communism Cheered - But With Reservations

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Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of the publics of former Iron Curtain countries look back approvingly at the collapse of communism. Both east and west Germans express positive opinions about reunification. But the enthusiasm about these changes has waned.

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project surveyed nearly 15,000 people in the U.S. and 13 European nations: Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, and Ukraine. Key findings:

There is broad support for the collapse of communism in former Iron Curtain countries – but it is somewhat diminished from 1991.

§ Support for a multiparty system is down in six of nine former Eastern bloc nations polled; support for market economy has slipped in eight of nine.

§ Germans - both east and west - overwhelmingly approve of the reunification.

§ 63% of east Germans say they are better off as a result of reunification.

§ But now, as then, many in former East Germany believe they were overwhelmed by West Germany, that unification happened too quickly, and that the east still lags the west.

Life satisfaction has improved substantially since 1991 among all former communist publics polled.

§ Younger, better educated and urban people register the greatest gains in life satisfaction.

§ Generation gaps in well-being now exist that were not apparent in 1991. In Poland, for example, half (50%) of those younger than 30 rate their lives highly, compared with just 29% of those 65 and older.

Despite greater satisfaction with life, large numbers in many countries say that most people are now worse off economically than under communism.

§ Business and political leaders are seen as benefiting much more than ordinary citizens. Among Slovaks, for example, 97% say that politicians have benefited a great deal or a fair amount from the transition from communism, compared with just 21% who say so about ordinary people.

§ Younger, better educated and urban people, whose lives have improved, offer the greatest support for the transition to democracy and capitalism.

It is a rocky transition to democratic principles in many former communist countries, particularly in Russia.

§ The Poles, the Czechs, Slovaks and those in the former East Germany offer the broadest endorsement of democracy.

§ Russians express the least enthusiasm for democratic values. On a range of democratic principles tested, from a fair judiciary to honest elections, the median figure of Russians saying the principle is “very important” is just 39%.

A resurgence of nationalism is evident in Russia – and its neighbors worry about Russian influence.

§ A majority (58%) of Russians say “it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists.” Nearly half say “it is natural for Russia to have an empire.”

Racial and ethnic hostilities persist in the former East bloc countries, but in some cases at lower levels than in 1991.

Attitudes toward the European Union are generally positive, but there is evidence of disgruntlement in the wake of the recent economic crisis.

NATO draws favorable reviews in the 12 member nations surveyed. But majorities in both Ukraine and Russia express unfavorable opinions.

This report is for immediate release. We are hosting a discussion about these findings today at 2:30 pm in Washington, DC with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Representative Vin Weber. For event details, contact: mrohal@pewresearch.org.

View the executive summary at http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=267 and a PDF of the report at http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/267.pdf.

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