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THE PULSE OF EUROPE : Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine : Some Difficult Obstacles to Change

The Soviet Union--with its suffocating authoritarian political system, its dysfunctional command economy and its colonial control over other peoples--has disappeared. But public attitudes are calcified obstacles to change that may not be swept away so dramatically.

The Times Mirror survey found a political and social consciousness that appears woefully inadequate for the Herculean task of turning a one-party Communist state into a functioning pluralistic country with a market system.

Polling last spring found little comprehension of the basic principles of democracy and free markets among people who have lived in a hermetically sealed society for the better part of the 20th Century. And an additional telephone survey in Moscow and Leningrad (soon to revert to its former name of St. Petersburg) early this month found that the ill-fated August coup attempt had little impact on underlying views of democracy and free enterprise.

(Highlights of the telephone poll appear on Page 3 of the accompanying section.)

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If there is to be any change in the relationship between the state and its citizens, the people must think of themselves as actors rather than subjects. However, when presented a choice between characterizing their fellow citizens as individualistic or collectivist, only 10% of Russians and 12% of Ukrainians chose individualistic.

A distinct minority of Russians and Ukrainians--little more than one-third--acknowledged that success is a consequence of some people having more ability or ambition than others. A high percentage--40%--thought that personal failure is society’s fault, not the individual’s; 49% felt that most people who fail in life do so because of personal shortcomings.

The fragility of politics was demonstrated dramatically by responses to the question of whether to rely on a democratic form of government to solve the country’s problems or a leader with a strong hand. In Russia, the barest majority, 51%, chose the democratic process, with 39% choosing a strong leader. In the Ukraine, the strong leader polled 30%.

By contrast, 79% of Lithuanians--whose responses throughout the poll more resembled those of Germans or even Americans than Russians, Ukrainians or other Eastern Europeans--sided with a democratic process. (While Lithuania first declared its independence in 1990, the decree was later suspended, and it wasn’t until after the coup that the international community and the central Soviet authorities recognized its separation.)

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Perhaps the most optimistic finding was a wide generation gap. More than three-quarters of those Russians and Ukrainians under 25 approved of efforts to establish a multi-party democracy, in comparison to the one-fourth of Russians over 60.

A nation regarded by Americans as godless and militaristic is in truth far less harsh.

Nearly half of Russians said they never doubt the existence of God, and 41% of them say that God plays an important role in their lives.

Nor, apparently, are Russians enamored with the military. Two in three Russians surveyed disagreed with the statement that the best way to ensure peace is through military strength. By contrast, more than half of all Americans and Poles, and more than four in 10 Britons and French agreed.

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Many responses in the economic arena show that Russians and Ukrainians are emotionally tied to some remnants of socialism.

By huge margins (79% and 86%) Russians and Ukrainians said they would like to see state-run enterprises for heavy industry. There was 52% support for a state-controlled banking system; less than 10% supported private banking.

Farming is the only area in which there is an overwhelming majority for privatization, with 75% of Russians supporting the concept and 74% of the Ukrainians. But those in the rural areas are markedly less enthusiastic.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Russians and Ukrainians said they were willing to accept some unemployment for the sake of modernizing the economy. Not surprisingly, fewer older people would be willing to risk unemployment.

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Although it could be more a sign that they would do anything to put an end to long lines and empty shelves, one of the more encouraging signs for economic reform in the survey was that majorities in both Russia, 59%, and the Ukraine, 51%, favored letting prices increase as a way of making more products available.

However, a solid one-third, (31% in Russia and 37% in the Ukraine) thought that prices should be kept low, even if it means scarcity.

The poll underlined some of the attitudes behind Lithuania’s long struggle for independence from a Russian-dominated union with which its people have little identification. Lithuanians see themselves, their country and their future quite differently from those who live in Russia and the Ukraine.

In contrast to the 16% of Russians and 26% of Ukrainians who sometimes think of themselves as Europeans, for example, 39% of Lithuanians do. While 42% of Russians and 35% of Ukrainians surveyed last spring said they thought of their country as the Soviet Union, only 5% of Lithuanians gave the same answer.

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The Lithuanians were outpaced only by the citizens of the former German Democratic Republic in the percentage approving of the political and economic changes that had taken place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the last two years. Eighty-two percent approved of efforts to establish a free-market system.

Lithuanians admire people who get rich by working hard (96%), slightly more than the 92% of Americans who feel that way or 82% of Germans.


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