Homo politicus alive and well

Published on 20 September 2010 at 13:09

Have you signed a petition, donated to a political party, or participated in a demonstration, legal or otherwise, over the last year? This question has been put regularly to a random sample of 2,000 people in 20 European countries by two Czech sociologists for the last eight years. The goal of the study is nothing less than to determine what makes us more or less politically engaged.

The comparative study demonstrates that the most politically active Europeans are the Scandinavians — Norwegians, Swedes and Finns — while the Slovaks, Poles and Hungarians are at the bottom of the list. The study has also revealed that among the citizens of the former Communist eastern-bloc countries, the Czechs are the most active politically, ahead of even the Portuguese and the Greeks.

"Homo politicus bohemicus", is how the Czech weekly Lidové noviny refers to its home-grown political activists, who have the reputation of loudly expressing their dissatisfaction while remaining generally inactive. Still, their pre-war experience of multi-party democracy, which lasted longer than in Hungary, Poland or Slovenia, allowed Czechs to maintain their "democratic and political notions" throughout the Communist years, explains one of the study's authors, Tomáš Lebeda, a sociologist at Prague's Institute of Sociology.

"Apart from participation in the democratic experience, others factors aid in measuring the political engagement of Europeans," says Lidové Noviny. Chief among them are the economic maturity of a country as measured by its GDP per inhabitant, tied to purchasing power; whether a given society is of a traditional or modern character (farming populations are more passive than those with a large internet presence, for example); and the level of education (those with more education are generally more interested in politics, more apt to take a position, and thus hope to have an influence on the politics of their country).

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"Self-identification within the political spectrum, either with the left or right" plays an equally important role, the paper notes. In western-style democracies, the rights to protest, petition and demonstrate are generally exercised by the left. In post-Communist countries, on the other hand, those on the right are more likely to take to the streets, boycott and circulate petitions. To this day, many people in the old East still have a tarnished image of the left, "contaminated by its association with non-democratic former Communist regimes", notes Lebeda.

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