This November Czechs will be marking 30 years since the Velvet Revolution ended totalitarian rule and re-established democracy. However, according to a newly published survey, attitudes towards the change in the system vary significantly among the public, with many of the lesser educated harbouring nostalgia for the old regime.
It was a time of great hope and elation, when public squares across the country filled up and slogans were chanted in unison. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 brought down four decades of one-party rule and opened up the way towards freedom, democracy and a higher quality of life. Or did it?
According to a recent countrywide survey conducted by agency NMS Market Research for the history focused non-profit Post Bellum, 38 percent of over 40 year-olds believe that their lives were actually better under communism. Among those with just a basic education or apprenticeship, the number is as high as 52 percent.
Post Bellum director Mikuláš Kroupa told Czech Radio that this does not come as a big surprise to him.
“I think it serves as a warning to us, but also shows that society underwent a catharsis since 1989 during which many of our citizens lost their faith in the promises made shortly after the revolution, claims that we will soon have the same salaries as in West Germany, or an independent judiciary and media.”
Those who look back at communism with a tear in their eye often explained their opinion by referring to things such as universal availability of employment and greater social security.
Not all the data speaks of pessimism however. For example, three out of four university graduates in the same age group say that their lives have improved since 1989.
Stanislav Radocha from NSM, the agency that carried out the survey, says that education does play a role in how the former system is viewed, in fact, more so than where one lives.
“Generally one can say that university educated parts of the population and the young have a more optimistic attitude towards the current situation. They also see the pre-1989 period, as well as the remains of it today, more negatively.”
One interesting aspect, which perhaps speaks in favour of Mr. Kroupa’s interpretation of disillusionment, is that it was precisely members of today’s more pessimistic lower educated groups of over 40 year olds, who were more likely to answer that they used to listen to broadcasters from the West such as Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.
At the same time however, the majority of respondents over 40 believe the state is better off economically than it was before 1989 and some 53 percent say that their quality of life has improved.
More than a quarter of respondents said that they plan to celebrate this year’s anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Freedom of speech and the right to travel abroad were identified as the most important benefits that it provided.