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>Czech public blame Russians and Georgians alike

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Opinion polling reveals the Czech public holds a characteristically divided / balanced set of views the Russo-Georgian war: majorities disapprove of both Georgian intervention in South Ossetia and Russia’s response, with predictable splits on left/right lines and the usual swathe of ‘don’t knows’.

>Ask a silly question….

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The Czech Republic’s Centre for Public Opinion Research issues a regular series of press releases on its findings (all in Czech), which often find their way pretty much unedited into the Czech press. Some are, however, more informative than others: recent CVVM research tells us that, shock horror, many Czechs don’t like with democracy.

Indeed, headline grabbingly 32% want (or tend to want) the abolition of political parties and the dissolution of parliament; 24% think they would be better off under an (unspecified) non-democratic regime and another 22% think authoritarianism would be allowable in certain circumstances (which we don’t know because this quanaitaive polling); 14% would like a return to Communist one party rule, with 1% more wanting a authoritaran rule who makes quick decisions. In keeping the Czech army traditionally apolitical role and lack of social prestige, however, only one percent want a military dictatorship.

At this point the traditional anguished response would be to say what shallow roots democracy has in the CR, how exaggrated its democratic tradition is etc etc… However, the polling is frankly meaningless, as no such alternative regime choices or party-less democracy is on the agenda and most respondent obviously knew it. A mere 9% thought it likely that parties and partliament would be wound up in the next five years and only 1 per cent though one-party rule or dictatsorship would return. In other words the responses are simply an expression of frustration and general pissed-off-ness pretty much common to all democracies. Predictably, it is the poor, old, less educated and Communist Party voters who are most ‘undemocratic’ in their views.

In other, slightly more meaningful polling CVVM measures Czech attitudes towards foreigners and tolerance towards minority and disadvanatged groups. Most Czechs, quite sensibly do not want to live next door to alcholics or drug users, people with a criminal record or mental illnesses. Gays are the next least favoured group of potential neighbours (29%) followed by black people (26%), although dislike of gays next door has dropped sharply from 42% in 2003. Tellingly, Roma do not seem have been mentioned in the survey, but the suspicion must be that they would the poll pretty high up the Czech list of undesirables.

Czech views on foreigners living in the CR are stable and lukewarm to hostile. Public opinion on allowing foreigners to saettle the country have softened slightly over the past five years, but are evenly divided, but – as five years – the overwhelming majority (68%) want immigrants if they come to adapt to Czech customs not ‘partly’ but ‘as much as possible’. Interestingly, a clear majority are against (49%: 37%) are against favouring EU citizens over other foreigners, although this a little more welcoming to fellow EU-ropeans than in 2003. Most – in the best West European traditions – see immigrants as a threat to local workers and what them restricted to shortage professions or barred from working in areas of high unemployment.

>Czech public opinion: more Euro-sceptic than eurosceptic?

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Czechs have a somewhat underdeserved reputation as a nation of eurosceptics, but – despite the heavy duty ‘euro-realism’ of President Klaus and other Civic Democrat luminaries over the years – the Czech public (and above all the right-wing inclined Czech public) has been solidly in favour of (if ignorant about) both EU membership and most curent (and planned) forms of EU integration (Common Security and Foreign policy, environment and – despite a short-lived downward turn – the French and Dutch referendums of 2005 the becalmed Constitutional Treaty). Legions of the Czech Republic’s better off, better educated, heavily pro-European right-wing voters have simply tended to be oblivious to their party’s rampant ‘euro-realism’ which it has, in any case, downplayed in domestic election campaigning since the departure of Klaus as party leader. The biggest blocs of eurosceptics are found among left-wing (and especially Communist) voters, who are more rural/small town, worse off, older and more concentrated in the state sector – a pattern common across CEE. There are, however, limits to the Czechs’ lukewarm embrace of the European project, which Eurobarometer and other polling has suggested can be found in any suggestion of transferring control over social and economic policies to Brussels.

It is therefore interesting to see in the latest CVVM polling report just how solidly a bloc of public opinion has hardened against adoption of the Euro, narrowing the majority in favour from 29% in 2001 to 7% today – a result many of ‘don’t knows’ becoming ‘nos’. Another interpretation is that – as with membership of the EU itself – opposition tends to harden up as change becomes a more concerete prospect. Except that Euro adoption isn’t on the cards in the CR until around 2009-10, neither is not an issue exactly grabbing the headlines. Deficits in public financing make meeting the Maastricht criteria a challenging prospect and – as a rather interesting PhD thesis I examined last year argued – the party system tends to act as a brake.

The Civic Democrats have (in theory) ideological objections to Euro and official party policy is hold a referendum on Euro adoption, although whether this would merely be over timing or an acquis-busting attempt to opt out is unclear. Contradicting this, declarations by ODS politicians seem to reckon clearly with Euro membership – Topolánek suggested last year only his party’s zeal to reform public finances would mean joining sooner than expected. However, the party’s flat tax plans – now diluted by coalition partners and likely to be largely stymied due to lack of a real parliamentary majority – would have entailed hair-raising increases in the public deficit and an unceratin bet on a spurt of rapid economic growth rapidly righting things. The opposition Social Democrats are ideologically all in favour of the Euro, but rather less in favour of the reductions in public spending required to bring it about rapidly.

>Czech Republic: polls show Greens are new kingmakers

>Current CVVM polling shows the Civic Democrats still riding very high in the polls (projected 37% in an election excluding non-voters – down from projected 41% in November). The Social Democrats have slumped to a projected 24-25% as the Communists seem to have eaten in to their support. The Christian Democrats had a brief bounce in November going up to projected 11% reflecting the popularity of their new leader before he was hit by accusations of accepting a half million crown bribe when mayor of the small town of Vsetín (return of a loan he says – odd they delivered it in cash in a brown envelope, however), but are now down to their more typical 8 per cent. The real party to watch, however, are the eco-liberal Greens on a projected 11%. The numbers suggests that – if they can stay united – they are the new pivotal party in Czech politics. Indeed, on some calculations of likely seats on current polling they could (just) form a two party majority with the Civic Democrats, depriving the Christian Democrats (in office in the Czech Republic with various partners from 1990-2, 1992-8 and 2002- date – that is twelve of the past sixteen years (since the fall of communism (75% of the time). The next most successful Czech party, the Social Democrats, have clocked up a only eight years in office (1998-2006 – 50% of the period) and the Civic Democrats were in government for a mere five (1992-7, 31%). If the current government serves a full term until 2010 that would rise to 43% (9 years out of 21).

>CEE public opinion: trust me, I’m a … Polish policeman?

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To judge by its website (not updated for three years) the Central European Opinion Research Group made up of leading polling agencies in CEE is dead in the water. However, the regular bulletins of the Czech CVVM pollster (in Czech) suggest that CERGE is actually still alive, if not kicking. Comparative data in a recent CVVM press release show some interesting variations in public trust in institutions across the four Visegrad states

It is perhaps unsurprisingly that Courts are strongly trusted in Hungary and but have low trust in Slovakia – Hungary’s courts had a greater degree of independence under later communism, while Slovakia’s were weak, I suspect, under great political pressure under Mečiarism. However, the newly elected left-wing Slovak populist government enjoys is the highest in any of the four states – as the Czech government had not won a vote of confidence in December it was not included (although, as expected, it has just squeaked through thanks to tacit support from two deputies who have quit the opposition Social Democrats). No surprise that the Catholic Church is trusted in Poland and not really trusted by the more liberal, secular Czechs. Local authorities enjoy quite good rating across the whole of the V4.

The police enjoy surprisingly high rates of trust in Poland and Hungary and much less in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – something that fits in with Anna Gryzmala Busse’s ideas about the greater politicization of the state in the latter two (although she doesn’t include police reform in her survey of state reforms). Polish President Kaczynski is less trusted than this counterparts in the rest of the V4, probably because he is seen as partisan and a divisve but a large section of Polish voters. Clearly Václav Klaus, who despite his other failings, has managed the trick could clearly teach him a thing or two. Political parties are, predictably the least trusted institutions surveyed, although they are strikingly distrusted in Poland and the Czech Republic and distrusted by ‘only’ ¾ of respondents in Slovakia and Hungary. This is a little difficult to make sense of as Hungary and the CR have fairly stable party systems and Slovakia and Poland very fluid and unstable ones. I guess one would need to check long term trends to see if recent Czech and Polish political shenanigans have impacted on public opinion, but a quick think through recent events in Hungary and Slovakia does suggest that these countries politician really come up smelling of roses. Overall only Hungary, top politicians and parties excepted, seems to score well in terms of institutional trust across the board, although I guess I should tot up the figures.

>Czech attitudes on ‘family values’

>As a quick read through public opinion data reported bythe Czech Sociological Institute shows the attitudes of Czechs on social issues make up a fascinating patchwork. The picture is more complicated than the conventional stereotype of a liberal nation marred only by ingrained intolerance towards the Roma minority. Despite polarisation on the issue and fall in support since 2003, a large majority of Czechs are in favour of registered partnership for same-sex couples with alarge minority (42%) even supporting gay marriage, making them the most liberal nation on such issues in the Visegrad group. Surprisingly, the Poles are the next most liberal, with the Hungarians and Slovaks most conservative, probably reflecting a mixture of Catholic piety and the higher profile of conservative-nationalist parties on the right, although as the polls suggest there is a liberal Poland kicking against Catholic values. Probably, as in Ireland during 1970s and 80s, they will gradually be kicked into touch, Czechs show similarly liberal attitudes on abortion (a large majority are pro-choice) and the right of single women to fertility treatment – Christians (and on the whole this means Catholics) making up a large part of the more conservative minority view in both cases.

On drugs, however, the majority is less permissive favouring criminal prosecution for those using marijuana or growing it for personal consumption and attitudes to immigration and the position of migrants (small in number by WE standards, but growing – largely from Slovakia Ukraine and the FSU). In 2005 64% opposing a liberal migration policy and 69% agreeing that the Czech Republic does not need migrants. 59% thought that migrants should adapt to Czech customs as much as possible and 35% that they should partly do so. Only 4% thought migrants should live according to their own customs. During my own time in the CR, despite learning the language, trying to remember to say good morning to every person I passed on the landing of my block of flats and getting into the habit of taking my shoes off when I came home, I think failed by the standards of the majority ……

CVVM (2002). ‘Problematika drog očima věřejnosti‘, 17 April, online at http://www.soc.cas.cz/ (accessed 15 April 2006).
CVVM (2003). ‘Jak jsme tolerantní’ Press release no. ov40602, 24 March
CVVM (2004). ‘Sňatek – podminka pro umělé oplodnění?’, Press release no. ov40602, 2 June.
CVVM (2005a). ‘Názory na přistěhovalectví‘, Press release no. ov50321, 21 March.
CVVM (2005b).’ Názory věřejnosti na interupce a uzákonění registrovaného partnerství‘ Press release no ov50429
CVVM (2005c). ‘Češi jsou vůči sňatkům a registrovanému partnerství homosexuálů vstřicnější než Poláci, Mad´aři a Slováci‘, Press release no. ov51128, 24 November