Mixed Messages
and Signs of Hope from
Central & Eastern Europe
Countries surveyed

Bulgaria Croatia Czech Republic Hungary Poland Romania Slovakia
GLOBSEC Trends 2017

Mixed Messages
and Signs of Hope from
Central & Eastern Europe

The outcomes and findings of this report are based on
public opinion surveys carried out in the form of personal
interviews using stratified multistage random sampling
from February to April 2017 on a representative sample
of the population in seven EU and NATO member states:
Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland,
Romania, and Slovakia.

For all countries, the profiles of the respondents are
representative of the country by sex, age, education,
place of residence and size of settlement. „Do not know“
responses were not included in data visualizations.

6 Foreword

8 7 insights from 7 countries

10 No turning to the East

12 With or without the EU?
14 Security yes, facilities no

NATO allies:
16 Will CEE come to help?

20 Liberal democracy wins 7:0
22 Likes & dislikes

Fake news: 10 million people
24 under the spell

Internet & social media:
26 Blessing or menace?

28 Connecting the dots

30 Credits

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 5
Jakub Wiśniewski
Vice President of GLOBSEC
and Director of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Central and Eastern Europe This region has seen it all. Under
increasingly matters and what people communism we have suffered poverty,
think matters too. Before 1989, the deprivation, suppressive governments.
notion of Central Europe, situated This has given us bitter memories,
geographically in the center – culturally but also wisdom. We are able to see
in the West and politically in the East, the true worth of the European and
became a kind of a metaphor of Transatlantic project. People of Central
resistance against sovietization. Thus, and Eastern Europe want to be part
for intellectuals such as Milan Kundera, of the EU and NATO and there is no
Václav Havel, György Konrád, Leszek appetite for exit à la Brittanique. And
Kołakowski, the region was defined here is the second piece of good
by values rather than by geography. news: having lived through the Soviet
As Vaclav Havel indicated in the domination, citizens believe in liberal
Polish Parliament in 1990, “we have democracy.
an opportunity to transform Central
This is the main positive message of
Europe from what has been a mainly
the current edition of the GLOBSEC
historical and spiritual phenomenon
Trends. What we see is not always
into a political phenomenon. (…) We
cheerful or comforting. Some people
can offer the inspiration to consider
are confused because of disinformation
swift and daring solutions”.
or conspiracy theories. As elsewhere
Over the last two decades, Central in the world social media has
and Eastern Europe has been evolving emerged as an important means of
in the West European image: from mass communication and this poses
a terra obscura to the successful many challenges. There is a troubling
EU presidencies; from ‘catching- common perception that countries can
up’ with Europe to acting as one of happily straddle the fence between
its architects; geography no longer the East and the West without taking a
determines our destiny, is not a burden geopolitical stance.
or a curse for the region; from being
What is the lesson to be learned here
an object of history to becoming its
for politicians?
subject; we are no longer content to
simply be members of the Euro-Atlantic First, Central Europe is still a distinctive
community; we increasingly want to entity. John Donne‘s memorable phrase
shape it. People of the region are fully- – “No man is an island entire of itself“
fledged citizens of Europe. rings more true than ever.

We are in the same boat as a region – The Czech Republic wants to be in the
geopolitically, economically, militarily. slower lane of EU integration. Polish
After 1989 we have had the same people are traditionally some of the
strategic goals in our foreign policies. most pro-EU citizens. These differences
We are mindful of the lessons history can make us stronger at a European
has taught us in the 20th century: level.
as countries of the region we gain Third, people have a right to demand
independence together, we lose it leadership from politicians, and full
together only to regain it once again disclosure of what it means to be
together. Today‘s circumstances are NATO or EU member. Citizens need to
not as dramatic as in the past, but feel that their views matter and their
the lesson still holds true: we may be governments can make their voices
strong together or fade into oblivion heard at the international level. We
individually. must not be a passive and reactive
Europe aspires to be united, and we observer of the current developments.
are struggling to make this a reality. Societal trends are crucial in predicting
But, still, by virtue of its bumpy history
long-term political landscapes as
and tradition, Europe has a strong
people elect governments not the other
regional distinction that must not be
way round. The GLOBSEC Trends 2017
discounted. No-one wishes to indulge
provides a rare opportunity to look
in any kind of social engineering, in
into the minds of Central and Eastern
an effort to create an artificial “homo
Europeans, and politicians would be
Europaeus”, an ahistorical and utopian
wise to pay attention.
figure. We believe that we are stronger
because of our differences, be it
cultural, linguistic or religious. These
domains should forever remain in the
purview of the nation state.
Second, Central and Eastern Europe
is not uniform in its policies, decisions,
choices. We need to translate
differences into strengths. Times of
Soviet Union-imposed standards are
long gone. We are free to differ in our
opinions. Slovakia is in the eurozone.

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 7
7 insights from
7 countries

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia
favour a neutral position between West and
East despite being members of both the EU
and NATO.

People vs. politicians: in contrast to the
Eurosceptic political rhetoric coming from
some parts of the Central and Eastern
Europe, public support for the EU remains
very high across the region.

NATO membership is valued as a security
guarantee in the region, but support for
hosting NATO facilities is lukewarm in 4 out
of 7 countries.

Bedrock liberal democracy: in 6 out of
7 countries the majority prefers liberal
democracy over a strong autocratic leader.

What are media hiding from Poles and
Croats? Two thirds of Poles and Croats do
not believe media provide a true picture of

10 million people in CEE trust fake news
and disinformation websites.

Young people are much more prone to trust fake
news than any other age group.

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 9
to the
Neither with the East, The grey zone are economically motivated. Higher
standard of living, social security
nor with the West — as vulnerability and economic growth generally
”the in-betweeners” dominate the values and identity-based
This ambivalence could be a arguments and further indicate the
In all 7 Central and East European (CEE) vulnerability as external actors try to region’s vulnerability. The potential
countries surveyed (Bulgaria, Croatia, undermine the current pro-Western weakening of the “West” as guarantor
the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, geopolitical orientation of this region. of economic stability in the future
Romania, Slovakia), more people To do so, these actors try to sway might strongly undermine the region’s
support a pro-Western geopolitical the grey middle under the pretext of inclination and desire to be part of the
orientation than pro-Eastern, with limiting “unhealthy” dependence on bloc.
the open support of the latter being the West (EU, NATO). Such attempts
marginal. However, in the Czech are often wrapped in rhetoric calling
Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, for more independence and neutrality,
most people choose not to side with which is only a cover for increasing the
either the West or East, preferring an pro-Eastern geopolitical orientation. It is 21%
“in between” position. This is, to a clear that open calls for closer affiliation
large extent, due to the geographical to the East will not be very effective
position of the three between East since the great majority of people in Lowest support to the
all CEE countries rejects the open
and West and the desire to control West in Slovakia
their own country’s fate and direction. pro-Eastern geopolitical orientation of
The 20th century developments in this their countries; however, they support a
region also contributed to a general middle position.
scepticism and lower trust in either
the “East” or the “West” and was
transformed into a desire to be neutral
Economic benefits as
and independent. The historical context the main pro-Western
also has shaped the attitudes of pull factor
many into more calculative behaviour,
inclining to “play on both fronts” to stay The most common arguments
on the safe side and get “the best of behind choosing the West as the
both worlds”. most desired geopolitical orientation

Part of the Somewhere Part of the
West in between East

Hungary 39% 53% 5%

Slovakia 21% 42% 9%

Czech Republic 33% 41% 5%

Poland 45% 35% 3%

Bulgaria 42% 27% 12%

Croatia 56% 26% 4%

Romania 50% 15% 14%

Why Why in Why
West? between? East?

Higher standard of living and Preserve neutrality and sovereignty Historical and cultural links
Have the “best of both worlds” Identity and Slavic heritage
Economic growth
Geographical location West seen as arrogant and
European identity, sense of not treating people of CEE
belonging to the West Complicated history of the region countries as equals

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 11
With or
the EU?
Leave the EU
EU is a bad thing





In contrast to the Eurosceptic political
rhetoric coming from some parts of
the CEE region, public support for
the EU remains very high in almost
all countries. A clear majority of the
population views membership of
the EU positively and would vote to 15%
remain in the EU in a referendum.
The only exception is the Czech 10%
Republic, which turned out to be the
biggest Eurosceptic country of the
positive attitude towards the EU. It is
group in all aspects. As such, it is the
clear despite some scepticism (fuelled
only country where less than half of
also by local politicians) that people 14%
the population would vote to stay in
in the CEE value EU membership
the EU membership if there were a
and, if asked, would overwhelmingly 11%
referendum. Yet, when asked about
support their country’s membership
their perception of EU membership,
of the EU. A similar understanding
more people support it than oppose it.
applies to the negative attitudes. As
the percentage of people who think
We are staying! of the EU as neither good nor bad for
their country are relatively high (on
If a referendum on EU membership average 25%), they are distributed
had been held in spring 2017, when the among both camps of those who would
survey was conducted, all countries in vote to stay and those who would leave
the CEE region probably would have the EU. Consequently, in all countries,
remained. In all seven countries, the except Romania, the percentage of 7%
willingness to stay in the European respondents who would vote to “leave”
Union was proportionally higher than exceed the percentage of those 7%
the percentage expressing a genuinely dissatisfied with EU membership.

Biggest Eurosceptics
in the CEE still live
in the Czech Republic

Stay in the EU
EU is a good thing

35% Republic







GLOBSEC Trends 2017 13
Security yes,
facilities no

CEE people cherish understand and value the security NATO, the issue of new NATO facilities
guaranteev provided by NATO. As is contentious. In the Czech Republic
NATO security such, NATO membership is perceived and Slovakia, the majority would reject
guarantee to be important for security and safety it while in Bulgaria and Hungary (which
by more than half of the population in already hosts a NATO airbase), the
The perception of NATO in the 7 CEE all the surveyed countries. camp of supporters of installations has
countries varies considerably and a very small lead over the opponents.
also reflects the broader geopolitical The reasons for such antipathy are
affiliation of the population in the
No NATO boots
different in each country. In some,
surveyed countries. Some results on the ground the negative perception stems from
correspond to the views of the the heritage of Soviet occupation
population of the given country towards However, when it comes to the NATO and thus the presence of any foreign
the US (anti-Americanism) while presence and installations in a given troops is seen negatively. In others, it
others reflect 20th century history or country, only a majority in Poland, is the outcome of concerted efforts by
their economic, cultural and religious Romania and Croatia would support domestic and external actors to use
proximity to Russia. Regardless of their hosting such NATO installations NATO facilities to campaign against
perspective on other aspects of NATO on their soil. Even in countries that NATO as such.
membership, people in the region otherwise have strong support for

On average 76.7% of people in
CEE consider NATO important for
their safety

81% 81%




Rather or
agree that the
Czech Republic

membership in
NATO is important

for their safety


Rather or
disagree that
country should
have for more
NATO infrastructure 20% 20%
on its soil, such
as command and
training facilities, 29%
logistical centres etc.

41% 42%

54% 54%

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 15
NATO allies:
Will CEE come
to help?

Central Europeans as other research carried out on the Slovakia and Bulgaria are, by a great
same subject by the Pew Research margin, the two weakest links in
would honour their Center shows1, such a high level of the NATO chain in the region. Both
Article 5 obligations support could decrease significantly if countries have a similar low level
a theoretical question is replaced with of support for NATO membership
One element CEE countries have a realistic one. In case Russia attacked and almost the same share of their
in common is solidarity with their a neighbouring NATO ally, the average population (1 in 5) that would vote to
NATO allies. Despite all the regional level of support for military action to leave NATO in a referendum. Despite
differences, the people of the CEE defend the ally was only 48%. this, the camp of NATO supporters is
would help their NATO allies in case of still twice as big (54% in BG, 43% in SK).
an attack. With the notable exception of More people see NATO membership
Bulgaria, in all the other countries more positively, although there are huge
than 50% would honour their country’s regional differences; in some countries, 1
2015 Pew Research Center, June 2015, “NATO Publics
blame Russia for Ukrainian Crisis, but Reluctant to
pledge and defend a fellow NATO ally the ratio of NATO supporters to Provide Military Aid,
if attacked. More concretely, 9 in 10 opponents is 2:1 (SK), in others it is 20:1 fact-tank/2016/07/06/support-for-nato-is-widespread-
Poles, 8 in 10 Romanians and Croats, 7 (PL). More people in all countries would
in 10 Czechs and Hungarians, as well as vote to remain in NATO than to leave in
5 in 10 Slovaks and Bulgarians would a referendum, although great regional
defend their NATO allies. However, differences are present as well.

Article 5 in practice: Would you
help to defend your NATO allies
in case of an attack?

We should not help to defend allies We should help to defend allies

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 17
supporters and
the weak links
Looking at the CEE Lukewarm supporters Strong NATO supporters
region in terms (Bulgaria, Slovakia) (Romania, Poland)
of NATO support
from a broader Understand the security provided Overwhelming support in all areas:
perspective, these by NATO but reject facilities, strong membership, referendum, solidarity,
countries could be support for the leave camp in case of installations
divided into three

Bulgaria Slovakia Romania

Those who see their
membership in NATO positively.

Those who would vote to stay in
NATO in a referendum. 38%
46% 47%
54% 54%
Those who would help to defend
their NATO allies.

Supporters with some reservations
(Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary)

Support for membership, weak support or
rejection of facilities

Poland Czech Republic Croatia Hungary

53% 53% 53% 53%

70% 68%
80% 79%

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 19
wins 7:0
In all 7 countries more people have Democracy losing its is marginal—only 5 %. Taking into
trust in democracy and prefer it over consideration that every third Bulgarian
a strong authoritarian leader. In the
appeal in Bulgaria believes disinformation and conspiracy
Visegrad countries alone, over two- theories and 70% of Bulgarians find
thirds of respondents support liberal The choice between liberal democracy Russian President Vladimir Putin
democracy. This positive finding and authoritarian leadership is not as likeable, this is quite an alarming
shows that citizens want to actively clear only in Bulgaria. More than 21% finding for an EU and NATO member
participate in democratic processes of respondents in Bulgaria were country.
and decision-making in their countries. unable to decide what political system
However, more than 30% of people they would prefer for their country.
support a strong authoritarian leader Moreover, the difference between
in Bulgaria, Croatia and the Czech those who prefer a liberal democratic
Republic. system to an authoritarian regime

Which political system would be best for your country?
Bulgaria stands
Autocracy (larger order, strong leader) Liberal democracy from the crowd

42% Bulgaria

56% Croatia

60% Romania

61% Czech Republic

65% Poland

71% Hungary

66% Slovakia

Should important matters be
decided by elected MPs or
citizens directly?
Members of Parliament Citizens in referendums

Czech Republic







37% 37%




60% want more powers
On average, 60% of the adult population in the 7 CEE countries would prefer to make decisions
concerning their country by referendum and direct voting. It seems that large groups of the population
in every country believe citizens to be more competent and/or entitled to steer the course of their
country directly rather than hand over this power to elected representatives.

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 21
Likes & dislikes
V4 Prime Ministers The Czech Republic is the only
In the Visegrad countries, the popular country where Prime Ministers Viktor
Orbán, Róbert Fico and the President
The Czechs seem
support for Prime Ministers in their own
countries is below 50%: of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman to like strong
were perceived as likeable by a political leaders
majority of respondents. While half of
Czechs perceive Viktor Orbán to be
sympathetic, almost twice as many
45 % Czechs as Slovaks (62%) perceive
of Hungarians like Viktor Orbán
Róbert Fico positively.

42 %
of Poles like Beata Szydło

42 %
of Czechs like Bohuslav Sobotka

33 %
of Slovaks like Robert Fico

V4 and the rest
Visegrad countries show lower sympathy to their Prime Ministers. 65%

42% 42%

Slovakia Czech Republic Poland Hungary Romania Bulgaria Croatia
Robert Fico Bohuslav Sobotka Beata Szydło Viktor Orbán Sorin Grindeanu Ognian Gerdjikov Andrej Plenković

Angela Merkel perceived more Central Europeans do not have much
negatively than Vladimir Putin sympathies for Donald Trump
In 4 out of the 7 countries, the majority of respondents did The new president of the United States does not receive a
not like Angela Merkel. In the Czech Republic, Hungary, lot of sympathy in the CEE. The majority of people in all the
Slovakia and Bulgaria, Angela Merkel was even perceived analysed countries do not like Donald Trump, with Slovakia,
more negatively than Vladimir Putin. Croatia and the Czech Republic leading the group. In fact,
every seventh Slovak and Croat has negative views of Donald

Sympathies of respondents
towards foreign leaders

Donald Angela Vladimir
Trump Merkel Putin

40% 79% 70%
Romania Croatia Bulgaria

37% 67% 47%
Bulgaria Romania Romania

36% 59% 46%
Czech Rupublic Poland Croatia

35% Poland 39% Bulgaria 44% Hungary
29% Hungary 38% Hungary 41% Slovakia
21% Slovakia 21% Czech Republic 32% Czech Republic
20% Croatia 19% Slovakia 10% Poland

Photo credits: GLOBSEC Trends 2017 23
Fake news:
10 million
people under
the spell

distrust of media
Belief that reality is usually
different than what media try
to tell us is held by:

68% of Poles
63% of Croats
57% of Romanians

Almost 10% of people in the CEE trust and provided by mainstream media. are several Czech organisations
online disinformation outlets as relevant Slovakia, at 53%, had the highest trust actively debunking false information.
sources of information on world affairs. in information provided by mainstream
In Romania, 30% of respondents media of all the analysed countries. Bulgaria has the highest percentage
considered disinformation websites to of undecided people. Over 20% of
be a relevant source of information. In the Czech Republic, most respondents do not know whether they
respondents do not believe that are objectively informed by media on
Only in Hungary and Slovakia did mainstream media provide an accurate world affairs or whether certain issues
the majority of people believe that picture of world affairs. This is an are hidden from ordinary people.
all necessary information is available interesting finding considering there

Media: distrust
& disinformation
Respondents consider online Respondents who do not believe
disinformation websites as relevant the mainstream media
source of information







9% 9%


Bulgaria Slovakia Hungary Czech Republic Romania Croatia Poland

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 25
Internet &
social media:
or menace?
High internet Internet driving erosion has fallen. However, active use of the
internet is not reflected in increased
penetration in CEE of trust? trust in the society. Quite the contrary,
trust in institutions, governments,
In all 7 countries, internet penetration is Alarming is the result of a comparison
media, NGOs and businesses has fallen
above 50% and ranges from 88% in the of respondents who actively search
across the world despite the increased
Czech Republic to 58% in Romania.2 In for information on political events and
number of active users of the internet.
5 out of the 7 countries, the majority of those who do not believe mainstream
respondents use the internet on a daily media. While in the Czech Republic,
or almost daily basis. The exceptions Hungary and Bulgaria the numbers are
are Bulgaria, with 49%, and Romania, almost similar, in Slovakia only 28% of Huge differences in the CEE
with 42%, of respondents who use the respondents search for information
on the youth and politics:
internet daily, but these countries also on political events online, but 40% of
90% of Poles search online
have the lowest internet penetration Slovaks do not believe media provide
among the analysed countries.3 a true picture of reality. The outlier is for information on politics
Poland, where 75% of respondents vs only 23% of Czechs.
In only 3 out of the 7 countries did a actively use the internet to search for
majority of respondents declare they information on political events and
actively search for information about 68% do not trust media. Furthermore,
political events online. Furthermore, having access to the internet and
of these, in 5 out of the 7 countries, using it daily does not necessarily
the majority get their information on increase the public’s level of trust as
domestic and foreign affairs from their such. This conclusion is confirmed by
favourite websites. Interestingly, in other research on the subject, such as
Bulgaria and Romania, the majority the Edelman Trust Barometer4 , which
of people use social media to stay indicates that trust in online sources
informed about world affairs. has risen while for traditional media, it

Internet Live Stats, “Internet Users by Country in 2016.” More information available at:

Eurostat, “Internet access and use statistics—households and individuals.” More information available at: http://

2017 Edelman Trust Barometer,


but mistrustful



49% Republic



People who actively
search for information on
political events

People who do not believe
in information provided by 40%

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 27
the dots

Brussels” and the future of the EU veiled attempt to veer their audiences
coming from Central and Eastern away from support for the trans-Atlantic
Europe, the overall message is positive. security architecture. Interestingly, such
People of this region overwhelmingly attempts mostly target the weakest
want to remain in the EU and a great links in the NATO chain in the region,
We are all majority would vote to remain if a confirming a coordinated and well-
in the same boat referendum on the EU were to be organised operation.
held. There are certain elements of
The main conclusion of the analysis
EU policies and decision-making

of the trends and attitudes of people
processes which draw a lot of criticism,
in the CEE region is that despite their
but most people realise there is no
diversity and differences, the great
realistic alternative to EU membership.
majority of people in this region
The challenge is to predict how much
share the same priorities as their EU
counterparts and NATO allies. They
the current mood would change Liberal democracy still
regard both institutional frameworks
after 2020, when most of the EU has its appeal
funds driving public investment and
to be anchors in a stormy sea of There is not much appetite for
development projects dry up.
uncertainty. strongmen or authoritarian rule in the
CEE, yet people in most countries

02 04
feel they are not represented by their
parliamentarians and desire more
direct decision-making over the course
of their countries. On one hand, it is
a positive signal that people want to
History, culture and NATO security shape their future directly and take
economy shape CEE guarantee more responsibility, but on the other hand, it
geopolitical preferences important than ever is a sign of growing unease with
the political establishment. Such
Because of Russia’s direct involvement
popular sentiments are already
The historical experience of the 20th in Donbas and the raging civil war in
channelled into support for autocratic
century and turbulent relationship Syria, along with ongoing situation with
or un-democratic political parties, using
of the CEE countries with the Great ISIS, the security situation in the CEE
this desire and promising “referendum
Powers explain why many people region has changed dramatically. In
democracy” with all its dangers and
in the region prefer not to side, at such circumstances, the importance
least consciously, with the West but of NATO as a security guarantee and
prefer a middle geopolitical position. safety has increased and people of the
The consequences of 50 years of
communism and military and economic
region clearly realise this.
alliance with the Soviet Union continue
to shape people’s attitudes even
after almost 30 years since the fall 05 Erosion of trust affects
of the Iron Curtain. However, when us too
asked specifically, Central and East
Europeans understand the importance External and internal The global trend of erosion of trust
and benefits of EU and NATO, at least forces pushing some in institutions, government, media,
for now. countries out of NATO NGOs and businesses is taking its toll
in this region as well. People do not
At the same time, some CEE countries believe media, but in search of the

03 have become battlefields in the
information war and are targeted
“truth behind the curtain”, many end
up in a web of conspiracy and well-
by hybrid warfare. External forces, organised disinformation campaigns.
in cooperation with a network of High internet penetration is not helping
Overwhelming popular domestic actors, try to undermine the situation either, since little effort is
support for the EU support for EU and NATO membership made in the region to increase barriers
in various countries using slogans of to manipulation by investing in media
Despite all the noise and political “independence” and “make peace not literacy or critical thinking—crucial skills
rhetoric about the “dictate from war” or “Slavic brotherhood” in a thinly in the 21st century.

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 29
Daniel Milo, Senior Research Fellow, GLOBSEC Policy Institute
Katarína Klingová, Research Fellow, GLOBSEC Policy Institute
Dominika Hajdu, Project Coordinator, GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Opinion polls conducted by:
ESTAT Ltd. in Bulgaria
Ipsos d.o.o. in Croatia
STEM, z.ú. - Ústav empirických výzkumů in the Czech Republic
TNS Hoffmann in Hungary
Kantar TNS S.A. in Poland
IPSOS S.R.L. in Romania
FOCUS, s r.o. in Slovakia

Creative concept & design:

This publication and research was supported by the National
Endowment for Democracy. © GLOBSEC Policy Institute 2017

The GLOBSEC Policy Institute and the National Endowment
for Democracy assume no responsibility for facts or opinions
expressed in this publication or their subsequent use. Sole
responsibility lies with the authors of this publication.

GLOBSEC Trends 2017 © GLOBSEC Policy Institute 2017