The collapse of communism has created the opportunity for democracy to spread from Prague to the Baltic and the Black seas. But the alternatives - dictatorship or totalitarian rule - are more in keeping with the traditions of Central and Eastern Europe. Will people put up with new democracies which are associated with inflation, unemployment, crime and corruption? Or will they return to some form of authoritarian regime? Half a century ago, Winston Churchill predicted that people will accept democracy with all its faults - because it is better than anything else that has ever been tried. To find out if Churchill was right, this book analyses a unique source of evidence about public opinion, the New Democracies Barometer, covering the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus and Ukraine. The authors find that there is widespread popular support for democracy compared to communism, dictatorship and military rule. People who have been denied democratic freedoms value new political rights more highly. Economic concerns are second in importance.
If democracy fails, it will be because political elites have abused their power, not because the public does not want democracy. Looking at post-communist Europe makes us think again about democracy in countries where it is taken for granted. The abrupt transition to democracy in post-communist countries is normal; gradual evolution in the Anglo-American style is the exception to the rule. Complaints in Western countries about democracy being less than ideal reflect confidence that there is no alternative. Post-communist citizens do not have this luxury: they must make the most of what they have. This important book makes an important contribution to current debates about democratization and democratic theory and to the growing literature on the social and political changes taking place in post-communist societies. It will be of particular interest to students and scholars in politics and sociology.
Richard Rose is Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, at the University of Strathclyde.
William Mishler is Professor of Political Science, at the University of Arizona.
Christian Haerpfer is Scientific Director, at the Paul Lazarsfeld Society, Vienna.