At this past weekend’s Cambridge conference, a team led by Bill Miller of Glasgow University unveiled the results of surveys conducted between 1993 and 1996 into political values in Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The results undermine the conventional view that attitudes to freedom, democracy, and the role of the state differ sharply between East and West and between Eastern Europe and Russia. The interviews involved a total of 7,350 people. Questions were designed to measure the extent of people’s attachment to "socialist" values (such as the importance of equality and of state responsibility for social welfare); to liberal values (understood in the European sense of individual freedom of information, speech, and assembly); and to democratic values (citizens’ rights to a say in how they are governed). The researchers found large majorities in both the former Soviet Union (FSU) and East-Central Europe (ECE) in favor of socialist values but also of liberal values and democratic values.
Differences between FSU and ECE respondents were small. The FSU respondents differed substantially from ECE only in being more favorably disposed toward state control of industry and less favorably disposed towards parties and multiparty elections, but similarities predominated.
The team explored some other possible dividing lines: between traditionally Catholic and traditionally Christian Orthodox regions (dividing western from eastern Ukraine, for example), and between Russia east and west of the Urals. In general, they found no marked differences.
Particularly striking were the team’s comparisons between the FSU, ECE and Great Britain. The results showed a rather higher degree of trust among ordinary people in Britain than in either FSU or ECE, where levels of interpersonal trust were similar to one another. When it came to ordinary people’s trust in politicians, however, this was similarly low in Britain, Ukraine, and Russia and substantially higher (though still below 50 percent) in ECE. At the same time, belief in the desirability of strong government was markedly greater in Ukraine and Russia than in either Britain or ECE.
The team concluded that some of the most worrying developments of post-communist politics, such as corruption within government or the destruction of the Russian and Chechen parliaments by the Yeltsin leadership, cannot be explained away by popular attitudes in these countries. Miller concluded: "Political values provide no excuse for especially illiberal or undemocratic behavior by FSU/ECE governments, no excuse for them to be judged by special standards. Quite the opposite. The people are not the problem." The peoples of Russia and Ukraine appear, in other words, not to have the governments they deserve.
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