All institutions come under skepticism EUROPE AT THE CROSSROADS: THE TIMES MIRROR SURVEYBY: Peter Honey

September 16, 1991|By Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- With the wreckage of communism smoldering behind them, Eastern Europeans are becoming increasingly skeptical of their leaders, institutions and political alternatives as they face a troubled future, a Times Mirror study has found.

A growing number of Poles don't like their president, their trade unions or even their church; many Hungarians equate capitalism with democracy and think both stink; East Germans feel voiceless in the reunited Germany; Slovaks long for a return to the good old days of Soviet patronage; just about everybody is losing interest in politics.

From the top of Eastern Europe to the bottom, these mostly Slavic nations have one thing in common: They don't have much in common.

At one extreme, there are those who have what a Bulgarian sociologist called "hysterical super-expectations" that the turmoil will somehow work itself out within a few years and life will improve dramatically.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Hungarian chemistry professor who worried that "there is a real danger people will become more and more apolitical or, out of ignorance, turn to extremist groups."

"Both attitudes," the researchers wrote, "could provide fertile ground for political demagogues."

The "social contract" between the people and the Communist rulers has disintegrated, they said, and nothing has yet filled the void.

"The greatest hope for the region is the budding political pluralism, even more than efforts to create a free market," the study stated.

All Eastern European countries, except Czechoslovakia, showed a majority or near-majority that claimed to be losing interest in politics. Almost a quarter of Bulgarians and Poles, and almost a third of Czechs and Hungarians say they don't care what their politicians think.

While most Czechs, Hungarians and Bulgarians believed that voting gave them a say in their country's affairs, Poles were adamant that it did not, and Slovaks were undecided, the survey found.

Eastern European parliaments generally received poor ratings, while the courts and the armies often received "disturbingly large 'no opinion' ratings," the study noted.

Most Eastern Europeans appeared to value their police forces, however, with only the Czechs having a predominant negative view.

"I'm still afraid of the secret police; I still get an unpleasant feeling," a Prague student told the pollsters.

"Totalitarian structures have collapsed much faster than totalitarian consciousness," the study noted.

It found that Eastern Europeans are far more likely than Westerners to slap restrictions on free speech. For example, only one in three Americans or Britons thinks that fascists should be ++ denied free speech while 67 percent of Czechs and 65 percent of Russians hold that view.

Communism's attempt to expunge religion, the "opium of the people," clearly failed; the church was shown to be still a factor in all Eastern European countries.

Poland and Slovakia showed religious adherence running as high as 90 percent. But the Poles also struck a sour note: The all-powerful Roman Catholic Church could muster only 46 percent support against a 39 percent disfavor rating.

"The church teaches only backwardness and narrow thinking," a Polish student teacher told the researchers.

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