Survey: Bulgarians are the Biggest Fans of Putin and Orban in the EU

Politics | June 4, 2023, Sunday // 10:44|  views

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One year after the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine, almost a third (32%) of Bulgarians have a positive attitude towards Vladimir Putin. Almost twice as many (60%) are those with a negative opinion of him, according to a sociological survey among 8 Eastern European countries, published a few days ago by the Slovak research institute GLOBSEC (in Bulgaria it was conducted by "Alfa Research").

In the company of the citizens of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia, the Bulgarians demonstrate the greatest sympathy for Putin. In Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has spoken out in support of Moscow, struck new gas deals with Russia and repeatedly blocked EU sanctions, a fifth (21%) of the population likes Putin and 71% have a negative view of him.

The authors of the annual report on trends in Eastern Europe quoted Rumena Filipova of the Institute for Global Analysis as saying:

"Regardless of the Kremlin's war in Ukraine, Putin enjoys high approval ratings in Bulgaria compared to other European countries. This is partly due to the dominance of Russian propaganda in Bulgaria, reinforcing pro-Russian sentiment and preventing an objective public debate on the issue. As a result, Bulgarians remain divided in their opinion on the conflict and even on the question of who is responsible for starting the war."

Only in Bulgaria and Slovakia, less than half of the respondents blame Russia. In Hungary, those condemning Moscow for the aggression increased in a year to 54% (those blaming the West are 19%). 44% of Bulgarians believe that Russia is to blame for the war in Ukraine (down from 50% in 2022) 32% are convinced that the West is to blame for provoking Russia (another 15% believe that Ukraine is to blame for oppressing its Russian-speaking citizens).

In seven of the eight countries (excluding Slovakia), the majority do not consider the US a security threat. But the massive information campaign against the key ally and guarantor of the region is achieving results in some parts of society.

If before the war (in 2021) in Bulgaria 16% considered America a security threat, in 2022 this share doubled to 33% and remained at this level in March of this year. In less than two years (from 2021 to the beginning of 2023), the group of Bulgarians defining the USA as a strategic partner has decreased from 27% to 20%.

The survey also shows that Bulgarians have the lowest confidence in the defensive role of NATO - only 53% believe that membership in the alliance deters hostile countries from attacking Bulgaria. Slovakia is similarly hesitant, but in all others, confidence that they are protected is in the 73-79 percent range.

Bulgarians do not trust their own army to protect them either. Last year, that confidence fell below 50% and has not recovered in 2023. The main reason is Russian aggression, which has caused many to wonder about the state of national defense. But for Bulgaria and Slovakia there is something else: "massive and systematic mistrust of both national and international institutions".

Bulgarians like Xi Jinping, but they don't know much about him

In none of the countries covered by the research do they love Chinese leader Xi Jinping as much as in Bulgaria.

Over a third (36%) have a positive attitude towards him, and 25% have a negative attitude towards him. In all others, those who disapprove of China's president outnumber those who approve of him. In Lithuania, which has clashed with Beijing over the opening of a Taiwan representative office, 62% disapprove of Xi Jinping and only 2% have a positive view of him

The general trend in the area is a decrease in the lack of information about the Chinese leader from an average of 49% to 30% in parallel with an increase in negative attitudes towards him from 32% to 50%.

"Since 2021, Xi Jinping has been significantly more recognized throughout the region, but this has only led to an increase in negative perceptions of the Chinese president. This may be caused by unofficially shifting Beijing's policy on Ukraine more towards the position of Moscow", comment the authors of the report. They note the relatively high popularity of Xi Jinping in Bulgaria, but also add:

40% of Bulgarians still do not know who Xi Jinping is or cannot express an opinion about him.

They like democracy, but not so much liberal democracy

On average, four-fifths of respondents in the eight countries covered by the survey rate democracy as a "good system" of government. In Bulgaria, those who support it are 74%, but when they are asked if the same applies to "liberal democracy", this share drops sharply to 50%.

In both cases, these are neither the strongest nor the weakest support for democracy in the survey.

The authors comment that the results are a signal that "the rise of some leaders with authoritarian tendencies does not necessarily mean that citizens desire an alternative system of government." (in Hungary, for example, despite the increasingly poor evaluations of the regime of Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party, 82% approve of democracy, and 61% - its liberal version.) "This can rather be seen as a form of protest against certain governments and/or their policies, or lack thereof, among certain segments of the population."

This does not negate the fact that after a decade of systematic denigration of "liberalism" and human rights activists by malevolent external and national players in politics and society as atypical of the respective country and imported for foreign interests, the expression "liberal democracy" evokes negative emotions in some countries, the authors specify. Such are Bulgaria, Latvia and Slovakia.

In order to achieve the most spontaneous response possible, the interviewers used a series of 9 randomly ordered statements, in which the two questions about attitudes towards "democracy" and "liberal democracy" were inserted. In the Czech Republic, Poland or Romania, people do not have such a big problem with liberal democracy.

The Bulgarians are bigger Orbanists than the Hungarians

The sympathies of many Bulgarians towards autocrats and "illiberal leaders" can also be seen in the attitude towards Viktor Orban. His approval rating is the highest among the eight countries surveyed, and together with Slovakia's result, both countries like the Hungarian leader more than Hungarians themselves.

In reality, this "icon" of illiberalism is not particularly popular in Central and Eastern Europe - an average of 31% have a positive attitude towards him, and where they like him, there are distinctly pro-Russian views.

The report also notes that approval for Orban is higher in countries with low trust in their own government. In Bulgaria in March this year, only 27% of respondents gave a positive assessment of the government, in Slovakia - 18%.

In Hungary, Orban's cabinet is approved by 39%, a sharp drop from 55% in April 2022, when parliamentary elections were won after months of generous state financial transfers and social aid commitments. In no small measure because of these government policies, Hungary ended 2022 with the highest annual inflation (25%) in the EU against 10.4% for the 27 countries of the union and the next in the Czech Republic with 16.8%. Food and soft drinks officially rose in price by almost 48%, energy - by nearly 56%.

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Tags: Bulgarians, Putin, Orban, Xi Jinping


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