Study: Third of Czechs say “only question of time” before conflict in region

A newly published opinion poll on Czech society’s response to Russia’s war on Ukraine suggests that support for NATO is at its highest level for almost three decades – while only 9 percent of respondents now feel there is no threat of armed conflict in this region. I discussed the study’s findings with one of its authors, Matěj Jungwirth of the STEM agency.

“What we see in the data, which was collected at the end of March and the beginning of April – more than a month into the Russian invasion of Ukraine – is unprecedented levels of support for NATO membership in Czech society.

“Some 78 percent declared support for NATO, one way or another, which was the highest support level we’ve seen since, I think, 1994.

“But even more importantly, when you look at the share of people who are certainly supporting, instead of just somewhat supporting, we see that nearly half of the Czech population, 47 percent, is certainly in support of the Czech Republic’s membership in NATO.

“So we see the fact that this unprecedented situation is really driving home the security guarantees and the perception of security that NATO membership brings to Czech society.”

Four percent of the people you polled had a strong positive view of Russia, and 6 percent believe Moscow’s version of the reasons for the conflict in Ukraine. According to your research, who are these people who believe these things?

Matěj Jungwirth | Photo: archive of Matěj Jungwirth

“It’s good that you’re keeping these two groups separate.

“The four percent is what we call the hard core pro-Russian segment of Czech society.

“The fact is that this group is really small, so it’s very difficult to describe it with sufficient sociological or statistical certainty.

“Some general trends that have to be taken with a grain of salt, and which are not all applicable, would be that we see typically people with lower education, lower income, being more supportive of the Russian narrative or interpretation of events.

“It’s also more likely that they recruit from both people above 60 years of age but also under 30 years of age.

“So that’s both the older segment that’s more traditionally associated with vulnerability to disinformation, but also younger people who are just in a way apathetic; they don’t express interest in foreign affairs, or might even not have had favourable views of Ukraine in the first place.”

When the war on Ukraine began, many people in the Czech Republic were saying they were afraid that the Russians could turn their attention eventually to this region. What did your poll discover about fear of conflict in this part of the world, in Central Europe?

“We see unprecedented levels of threat perception.

“The situation you describe at the beginning of the war – the feeling of insecurity, the feeling of old security guarantees, certainties being blown away by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – is still very palpable in Czech society.

“In fact when we asked about threat perception in the Central European region, in the Czech Republic, at the time of this latest poll, only 9 percent of Czech society expressed the belief that the situation was stable and safe, that there was no threat of conflict whatsoever.

“This is the lowest share, again, since 1994.

“On the other hand there is 34 percent, roughly one-third, of Czech society who would think that the situation is bad and it’s only a question of time before armed conflict will reach the region as well."

Two-thirds of your respondents say that taking in Ukrainian refugees has been the right thing to do. Is that good news for the Czech government? Or is two-thirds not “enough” for the government?

Mariupol,  Ukraine | Photo: Alexei Alexandrov,  ČTK/AP

“I think in general it’s good news for the Czech government, because especially when compared to the previous so-called migration crisis, in 2014–2015, this is an extremely different picture.

“There’s a really high normative agreement in Czech society that this is something that the Czech Republic should be doing and should continue to do.

“However, it should be noted that, in contradiction or juxtaposition to this normative agreement that we should be accepting refugees from Ukraine, there are very clear worries as to what this means for Czech society and the Czech Republic in the long term.

“And those worries are certainly only going to get stronger as the conflict goes on, as the refugees stay longer and longer.

“Because right now what we’re seeing, and we saw it in different polls as well, is that the majority of people think the war in Ukraine will be over in a matter of months.

“I think that is rather over optimistic and we might be seeing some change in attitudes because of that.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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