The speed at which pro-democracy movements have redefined the political landscape in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt is impressive. It harkens back to an equally dramatic wave of democratization that took place two decades ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet empire and its satellites. While the parallels between former Soviet bloc countries and Middle Eastern nations should not be overdrawn, the experience of Eastern Europe is a useful reminder that public enthusiasm for democracy is not guaranteed as political change extends over years and decades.
When the Times Mirror Center (the predecessor to the Pew Research Center) conducted its first "Pulse of Europe" survey in the spring of 1991, Eastern European publics were widely enthusiastic about democracy. Across the region, sizable majorities approved of the change to a multiparty system of government. Two-thirds or more in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Ukraine backed the end of one-party rule. In Poland and Russia slightly smaller majorities shared this view.
Eastern Europeans looked forward to a day when democracy would make governments more accountable to the people. As of 1991, only a third or fewer believed that most elected officials cared about the opinion of people like themselves. Confidence that voting would make a difference was also far from universal. Only in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Lithuania did majorities feel that voting gave them a say in how government ran things.
Read the full report Will Enthusiasm for Democracy Endure in Egypt and Elsewhere? on the Pew Global Attitudes Project Web site.