WASHINGTON — Twenty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a sharp generational schism has formed in how people in Europe’s former communist countries view the shift to democracy and capitalism, a survey has found.
People who were born shortly before or after the Berlin Wall disappeared were markedly more approving of the move to a multiparty political system and a market economy than older generations.
The survey conducted by The Pew Global Attitudes Project mirrored one carried out in 1991.
The new poll revealed an overall slip in approval of democracy and capitalism among most countries surveyed, with some countries like Bulgaria and Ukraine dropping sharply.
Despite the slip in approval, many more people surveyed in the latest poll expressed satisfaction with their lives than those asked in 1991.
In Poland, for instance, 44 percent said they were satisfied this year, compared with 12 percent in 1991. In other countries the change was less marked. In Bulgaria and Hungary, just 15 percent of people polled this year said they were satisfied, compared with 4 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in 1991.
Paradoxically, a majority of respondents in many countries that reflected this boost in satisfaction also said that people were worse off than under communism. In Ukraine 62 percent of those polled judged their people worse off. In Russia, 45 percent said people were worse off versus 33 percent who said they were better.
Only in the Czech Republic and Poland did a majority of respondents say the people were better off since the transition from communism.
Most of the countries polled revealed small differences in 1991 between generations in respondents’ satisfaction with life. For instance, 13 percent of Poles aged 18 to 29 in 1991 said they were satisfied with life versus 15 percent of those over 65.
By 2009, polls of most countries showed a split between the generations. Half of young Poles in the new survey said they were satisfied, versus only 29 percent of those over 65.
A similar generational gap was reflected in attitudes toward the shift from communism to capitalism and democracy. For instance, more than 60 percent of Russians aged 18 to 29 said they approved of the change to a multiparty system and to a market economy, while only 27 percent of those older than 60 approved of the shifts. A generational gap was reflected in all eight other countries polled.
The survey found a divergence among countries in how respondents view democratic principles. For instance, nearly two-thirds of Hungarians said freedom of speech was very important versus 37 percent of Russians. More than 60 percent of Bulgarians said honest elections were important, but only 39 percent of Lithuanians did.
The polls appear to illustrate a rise in nationalism in Russia. While only 26 percent of respondents in 1991 said Russia should be for Russians, 54 percent said the same in the recent poll. The two polls also saw a 10 percentage point rise to 47 percent of respondents who said it is natural for Russia to have an empire. Fifty-eight percent of Russians in the new poll agreed that it is a great misfortune that the Soviet Union no longer exists.
In other former communist countries, views on Russia’s current influence varied. Forty-six percent of Ukrainians and 45 percent of Bulgarians viewed Russian influence as good, compared with 18 percent in Poland and 15 percent in Hungary.
The latest survey was conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 24 among 14,760 respondents in 14 countries, including Germany and 8 ex-communist countries in Europe.
The margin of error in the polls conducted in local languages varied between plus or minus 3.5 and 5 percentage points.