Poll: Majority of Bulgarians believe democracy, free speech under threat

Fifty-six per cent of Bulgarians believe that democracy is under threat while 67 per cent see freedom of speech as under siege, according to a new report published on November 4 by the Open Society Foundations.

The report, States of Change: Attitudes in Central and Eastern Europe 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which draws on YouGov polling in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, has been published to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the 1989 revolutions.

In six of the seven polled countries – Slovakia (61 per cent), Hungary (58 per cent), Romania (58 per cent), Bulgaria (56 per cent), Germany (52 per cent), Poland (51 per cent) – a majority of respondents believe democracy is under threat.

A large proportion also think elections are not free and fair in their country – though the proportion varies widely. Three quarters of respondents in Bulgaria, (76 per cent), over half of those polled in Hungary (52 per cent) and Romania (54 per cent), a third in Poland (34 per cent) and a fifth of Germans feel elections are not free or fair in their country.

Large numbers of respondents, and particularly those of the Berlin Wall generation, have a dark outlook on the world today – with fewer than one in four respondents, aged over 40, saying they think it is a safer place than 30 years ago.

A majority of citizens in every country apart from Germany – where the figure is almost half – distrust the media in their country to report news in a fair and honest way. However, older people (those over 40) who remember the fall of the Berlin wall are generally more likely to say that media coverage has got better in the last 30 years. A plurality of those polled in Hungary and Poland think it is likely the media in their country will no longer be able to criticise the government in 10 years’ time.

Majorities in every country polled, including Germany where 51 per cent are sceptical, believe the news they receive from government is distorted and lacks factual accuracy. The highest level of scepticism, across the age ranges polled, is among the under-40s. However, distrust of the information supplied by the mainstream media outweighs that of the government in many countries.

In six of the seven polled countries, the majority view is that freedom of speech is under siege – with 67 per cent of Bulgarians, 58 per cent of Slovakians, 57 per cent of Poles, 56 per cent of Hungarians and 51 per cent of Romanians holding this view.

Majorities in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Poland believe they would suffer negative consequences in their lives if they criticised their country’s government – with the greatest concern among young people.

More than 60 per cent in every country polled think the rule of law is under threat in their country, and large proportions of respondents in Romania (50 per cent), Bulgaria (47 per cent) and Poland (48 per cent) and Hungary (44 per cent) think that the freedom to protest is under threat.

Despite a collapse of trust in mainstream political parties, and the media, large numbers of respondents are using civil society tools. The most popular means of engagement, across the polled countries, is “signing a petition” – an action undertaken by more than a third of respondents, and particular strength among Millennials (36 per cent). “Donating to charity” and “sharing an article or information about something in the news” are also heavily cited means of participation across the seven polled countries.

In no country is there a majority of people who say the market economy has been good for them, and there is huge ambivalence with between a third and half of respondents expressing a neutral opinion. There is a strong sense that the personal benefits yielded from the market economy are not as great as those captured by the country as a whole.

Respondents in the Czech Republic and Poland are the most positive, with more than half seeing the free market economic model as beneficial to the development of their country. Support is also strong among younger generations, across the polled countries.

Bulgarians, Slovakians, and Romanians are most sceptical, with far more people thinking it has been bad for their country.

Majorities in Bulgaria (73 per cent), Romania (62 per cent) and Hungary (53 per cent), and significant minorities in Slovakia (48 per cent), Poland (40 per cent), Germany (32 per cent) and the Czech Republic (30 per cent) believe it is difficult for people to live the life they want to, regardless of background, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Emigration is a huge concern. In every country polled, apart from Germany, around half or more of the public are worried about people leaving the country, with particular concern in Romania (67 per cent) and Bulgaria (65 per cent) and Hungary (62 per cent).

YouGov’s polling, of circa 12 500 citizens in Central and Eastern Europe, was undertaken in August and September 2019. Together with Open Society Foundations, they also ran face-to-face focus groups in all seven countries.

(Photo, of the centre of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia: Wengen, via goodfreephotos.com)



The Sofia Globe staff

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