30 years on from 1989, central Europeans say democracy is again at risk

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By Alice Tidey
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the only nomination for a new chief prosecutor in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 8, 2019.
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the only nomination for a new chief prosecutor in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 8, 2019.   -  Copyright  REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Iron Curtain and subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, freedom and the rule of law are still out of reach for millions of people in central Europe, a major new survey has found.

More than 12,500 people from seven countries in Central Europe — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia — took part in the study commissioned by the Open Society Foundations.

"We see an alarming level of distrust among the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe toward government, fed by widespread insecurities regarding the condition of democratic systems, and a prevailing sense of relative deprivation since 1989," the report notes.

"It appears that some of the freedoms won in the 1989 revolutions are now under pressure," it adds.

Over half of the people surveyed in every country surveyed bar the Czech Republic affirmed that democracy is under threat with the older generation, those born before 1946, particularly pessimistic on this question.

In Bulgaria (76%), Romania (54%), and Hungary (52%), most respondents also believed that elections are not free and fair in their country while a majority of respondents in five of the countries polled reported that they feared negative consequences if they criticised the government in public with the highest percentage tallied in Hungary (66%).

Additionally, over 60% in every country surveyed think the rule of law is under threat.

An average of 63% of respondents also said they do not trust information from the governments. This is particularly pronounced in Slovakia (72%) and among under-40s while in most countries, those over 40s — who remember the fall of the Berlin Wall — are more likely to say that media coverage has got better in the last 30 years.

Civil societies, however, are seen as a major force for good by 66% of people and the youngest generation — Generation Z — particularly enthusiastic.

More than two-thirds of the population in general have reported participation in at least one form of civic activity within the last 12 months and once again, younger people, along with women were more likely to engage.

"Digital natives (Generation Z) emerge as a particularly interesting avant-garde," the report states.

"In fact, in our polls, Generation Z shows the greatest concern about the condition of their democracies, notably concerning threat to the rule of law," it adds.