The Velvet Revolution and how the Czech public perceives it today (Sametová revoluce a jak to dnes vidí česká veřejnost)

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Ilustrace pro © František FrK KratochvílReaders of PLUS have been following a series on what foreign radios broadcasted in last weeks of the totalitarian regime and the early days of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. As the recent surveys have shown, it was the media and especially foreign radio broadcasts that had a major impact on sharing information with the Czech and Slovak population. This was confirmed by 86% of respondents in the research, which was done early in the autumn of this year by the staff from the Center for Public Opinion Research (part of the Institute of Sociology of the Cs. Academy of Sciences). Miroslav Sigl was invited to the final data presentation from the investigation of a large sample of 1046 respondents from the age of 15 and older.

Sources of information: The vast majority of the public stated that they learned about what happened during the period leading up to November 1989 and in connection with the Velvet Revolution (this name is now common even in scientific circles, literature and media) mainly from radio and television broadcasts, and from newspapers. Other sources of information were the works of art, film and literature over the past twenty years, then stories by eye-witnesses, survivors and personal experience. Respondents who were 15 to 29 years were mostly informed through schools.

Why the Velvet Revolution happened? Most citizens replied that the totalitarian communist regime before November 1989 had run out its invitation, was discredited, people had enough of the ”party and government control,“ of the communist class, not just at the tip of power, but also in regions, districts, and various institutions etc. Standardization of leadership would have had to be reformed and would have had to denounce its past and some folly (41% of respondents), a further 17% report that there was a desire for freedom and democracy, to eliminate totalitarianism, freedom, to live, do business, and travel. Another 13% thought of the “collapse of the Eastern bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union,” the Gorbachev reforms, and what was happening in neighboring countries. Only then others also included economic reasons, activities of dissent, destruction of communism in Europe and the restoration of capitalism.

Was it a revolution or reform of the communist system? 61% of respondents believed that there was an aim for a revolutionary change in the communist system, while 28% were inclined to the view that it was reformed – the rest does not know. The Velvet Revolution was, for two-thirds of respondents, a movement of the society, however, less than a third believed that it was a result of the activities of dissident groups. This is what the fans of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia believe, as well as the Social Democrats and seniors.
Clearly it was felt that the Velvet Revolution had a dominant political nature (74%), less than a one fifth (18%) believed that the objectives of this act were due to economic changes.

Was the regime “defeated” by a revolution or collapsed by itself? The major belief (53%) is that it was a real revolution, and less than two fifths of respondents thought that the communist regime collapsed itself. The Velvet Revolution was a nationwide movement, and therefore was not an exclusive matter of dissident groups. This is confirmed by answers to another question How the change of the regime was supported? By the majority of the nation – was a decisive response.

Were the post-November acts justified? The questions were mostly related to restitutions of private properties and the lustration law. Two-thirds of the Czech public considered restitutions of small family property fair, while less than a quarter thought the opposite. Also, half of the respondents believed that the lustration law was considered justified. They knew well that the so-called “lustration laws” brought about a good effect both in the international position of our country and in the situation in the state administration and of course the essence of democracy itself. With regard to their validity, 34% said that they should continue to use these laws and about the same amount of people believe that although they were necessary at the moment of its inception, they are no longer required. However, concerning the restitution of large estates, there were equal opinions about this issue. Two fifths expressed their opposition to the deregulation of prices and more than a half (54%) considered a coupon privatization as unfair. People older than 60 years old evaluate these issues more critically.

Ilustrace pro © František FrK Kratochvíl

Do people today live better lives than before 1989? The majority of Czech citizens (45%) believed that today things are better. Another third had an ambivalent attitude and the rest did not know or thought that the situation before 1989 was better (14%). Certain differences relate to people who were persecuted during the twenty years of the last century. People whose close relatives were affected by the normalization of the communist regime, were convinced that things are better today. Only the current Communist Party supporters saw the situation in the opposite view. Most of the Czech population today, however, value free access to information, the ability to travel, freedom to do business and freedom of speech, relationships to culture, living standards and personal well-being. They see problems in the social field, such as employability, a sense of social security, and the lack of security at an old age.

How do people evaluate changes in the political system in the country? It was interesting to see that even the Communists did not evaluate the previous regime equally, only 12% found the old regime as “very good.” Most critical were people of middle age, people with higher education. People under 30 years of age had inconclusive opinions. While in a similar survey in October 1999 – i.e. 10 years ago – 56% believed the system after 1989 was better, ten years later this proportion increased to 69%. That means that 85% of Czechs believe that the restoration of the communist regime is not likely going to happen; over the past decade the proportion of those who did not wish the communist regime to return were around 80%. Only 10% of respondents willingly agreed with the return of communism or did not know how to respond.

Who informed Miroslav Sigl about this data? The information was passed along by the young staff of the Institute of Sociology and the Center for Public Opinion Research, headed by Jiří Vinopal that implemented empirical investigations in further cooperation with other departments and published their data in the magazine Our Society, and from a project that was initiated to inform about the status of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in the political system after 1989. The answers were mostly given by Daniel Kunstat, Jan Cervenka, Paulina Taberyova and Michal Veselsky – mostly graduate political scientists, educated in sociology, economics, demography, the media and public policy issues. They will face many other new challenges that will be related to the monitoring of the attitudes of the Czech public.


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