Perception of Democracy among Eastern Partnership Countries: Did the Wrong Countries Sign the EU Association Agreement?

The FINANCIAL -- We all know that the term democracy originated in ancient Greece. It is older than Christianity yet less than half of the world’s nations can be said to enjoy its benefits. Democracy is still the “best” or the “most preferred” option for the majority of populations in countries where opinion polls can be successfully conducted. However, when it comes to satisfaction with democracy, figures are diverse.

In this column, I focus on perception of democracy among the Eastern Partnership countries based on the nationwide ENPI Barometer surveys. Data is based on the EU Neighbourhood Barometer, conducted on behalf of the European Commission’s Development and Cooperation Office, Europe Aid (Unit F4). As part of a larger consortium, GORBI led the data collection in all countries except Russia.

It is worth noting here that among the countries included in the survey, large segments of the population do not share Western values and lifestyles, at least in the traditional sense (and these are positively correlated towards the actual state of democracy in a given country).

Over the past few years, Georgia has been exposed to a steady onslaught of propaganda depicting Western values as degraded or rotten. This was accelerated after Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, signed the EU Association Agreement in July, something Russia was against. While such a historic foreign policy step deserves its share of public discussion, including criticism where questions or doubts emerge, there is more that meets the eye. Ironically, much of the hype surrounding the assumed threat of Western values is coming from those who have one thing in common with the West: valid/expired travel visas. Actually, there is more. Many of these openly Western sceptics also have kids studying in Western universities, have invested stolen money in Western property and drive expensive Western-made cars.

The public is deluded by regime propaganda in some if not most of the Eastern Partnership countries and this likely will not change in the short term. The last 20 odd years have shown that democratic practices and concepts in EU member countries in Eastern and Central Europe have changed drastically, and those countries which shared the same communist past with us now enjoy true or “close to true” democracy.

Perception of Democracy

Democracy is an important topic among Eastern Partnership countries as most are still trying to find a balance in their political systems after the Soviet era. Thus it is not surprising that a considerable majority of citizens (64%) living in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood region continue to say they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country. Levels of satisfaction have remained unchanged through the four waves of the survey, suggesting that there has been little improvement in the state of democracy in the Eastern Partnership countries in recent years. A similar pattern of opinion is observed in the Russian Federation, although Russian respondents express higher levels of satisfaction with democracy than their counterparts in other Eastern Partnership countries.

As in the three previous waves, in all Eastern Partnership countries except Azerbaijan, a substantial majority continues to express dissatisfaction with the state of democracy in their respective countries.

Table 1. On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in your country?

 

Total Satisfied

Difference

Aut. 2012 – Sp. Win. 2013-2014

Total not satisfied

Difference

Aut. 2012 – Sp. Win. 2013-2014

Don’t know

Difference

Aut. 2012 – Sp. Win. 2013-2014

ENPI East

29

+2

64

=

8

-1

Azerbaijan

65

+18

35

-6

0

-11

Georgia

34

+2

63

+1

3

-2

Ukraine

22

+1

69

+1

10

-1

Armenia

28

-3

72

+4

1

=

Belarus

37

-4

54

+4

10

=

Moldova

11

-6

85

+6

4

=

Russia

35

-3

53

=

12

+2

 

Source: ENPI barometer nationwide surveys. Note: numbers are given in percentages.


The highest levels of dissatisfaction are recorded in Moldova (85%), Armenia (72%) and Ukraine (69%). The latest elections in these three countries have seen fierce campaigning which occasionally led to violence, the suspicion of rigged elections and generally prolonged political turmoil, all of which are certainly reflected in people’s perceptions of democracy.

Azerbaijan continues to be the only country where a majority of respondents say they are satisfied with the way their democracy works (65%).
A strong positive change is observed in Azerbaijan where considerably more respondents assess the state of democracy in their country as good (+18 percentage points).

The following groups of respondents continue to be the most dissatisfied with the state of democracy across all surveys countries:

Highly educated people;
Managers and unemployed respondents;
Those who position themselves low in the social staircase.

Interestingly though, satisfaction with democracy is higher in those countries that are not considered as democracies by most if not all international think tanks. Comparatively, satisfaction is lower in those countries that have recently signed the EU Association Agreement (Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine).

The fieldwork for the last wave was conducted in January 2014 and since then dramatic changes have been occurring in these countries which could have significant impacts on public perception of democracy. Let’s look at each country in particular: In Russia, Mr. Putin’s electoral ratings are stressing the limits of the metric system; theoretically, when the next data becomes available, we may see average Russian citizens even happier with their country’s “managed democracy.” Military escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan has cooled but only after the two countries’ presidents met face to face on Russian soil. Moldova is having parliamentary elections on November 30 and a political battle between EU supporters and their opponents is looming large. Ukraine is facing a whole host of problems, and the mysterious Russian “humanitarian” convoy is seriously adding to the mix of uncertainly and unease. Ukraine is also preparing for parliamentary elections in the autumn but in the meantime it must focus on staving off provoking a Russian invasion. In Belarus, public sentiment towards democracy is high but this could be affected by its close ties with a sanctioned Russian economy. Local elections are over in Georgia, and as I predicted beforehand on TV, the ruling party has won enough seats to control all key decisions in every city, a major advantage but also a huge responsibility for a single party. 

On a more positive note, (not advisable, but if we can forget for a second about our relationship with Russia) soon some Western politicians will accept the fact that ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili deserves the same judicial treatment as any other Georgian citizen. This is in spite of all the positive things he did during his presidency and personal friendships he made abroad. After all, simply doing one’s job should not give a president free reign to do whatever he wants without having to face the music. 

I clearly remember the early 2000s when attitudes towards the West and in particular the United States were starting to slip. This was due to the fact that the young Georgian politicians who were oriented towards the US were failing to deliver basic services and freedoms to the Georgian people.  However, once they ousted their chief, president Shevardnadze, they conveniently shifted all the state’s ills on him. The success of Georgia’s judiciary to treat all citizens equally will undoubtedly have a significant impact on Georgian’s assessment of existing democracy. And I am talking about true feelings and an objective assessment of the situation on the ground, which is most essential. If one only needs to be happy with high supportive figures of democracy – please, replace the three countries that recently signed the EU Association Agreement with those three that are not even talking about it but have democratically satisfied populations (Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia). 

GORBI is a regional hub for partner organizations and international clients. Since 2003, GORBI remains an exclusive member of Gallup International research network for its two decades of experience in survey research in post-Soviet Union countries, as well as Mongolia and Iraq. All 6 surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. This data was provided exclusively to the Financial. Please do not visit our site ( www.gorbi.com ); it is under construction.

 

Author: Merab Pachulia, GORBI


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