By Katarína Klingová, Dominika Hajdu.
GLOBSEC’s Centre for Democracy and Resilience, in cooperation with market research agency FOCUS, conducted an opinion poll on the preferences towards Russia or Ukraine winning the war in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The survey was conducted via in-person interviews between September 21 – September 27, 2022 on a sample of 1009 respondents in Slovakia representative of age, gender, size of settlement, region and education whom we asked: “How would you want the war in Ukraine to end?”
The poll was conducted as a follow-up to another one conducted by the Slovak Academy of Sciences in July 2022, which gained a lot of publicity and was subject to misinterpretation by some actors suggesting that majority of Slovaks wanted Russia to win the war, even if the results of the poll did not clearly show that.
47% wants Ukraine to win, only 19% prefer Russia
The results from the polling on a slightly clearer scale with 5 options show a clear inclination towards Ukrainian victory. Almost half of Slovak respondents prefer Ukraine to win the war. The option “definitely by the victory of Ukraine” was also the most preferred option from all. Only around one fifth prefers Russian side to win. These trends are reflected also by other polls in Slovakia, which have been showing that around 25-30% of Slovaks with pro-Russian attitudes and inclined to believe pro-Russian narratives after the war in Ukraine. Similar numbers were measured in the polling for GLOBSEC Trends in March 2022.
At the same time, we can see a strong degree of apathy in the society. Around a third of respondents does not care or cannot really express an opinion on the war, which is rather surprising given the scale of impact of the conflict on the country’s security and prosperity. The apathy looks strongest among younger generations. 33% of those aged 18-34 responded “I don’t care” to the question, compared to 23% of those aged 35-54 and 19% of respondents older than 55 years.
If we merge the “definitely” and “rather” options, the results are as follows:
Why are the results from the two polls so different?
The method of data collection is one of the differences between the polls. The survey conducted by the Slovak Academy of Sciences was online, which might not provide a representative sample of older generations. At the same time though, the differences between the survey conducted in September and July are not so stark. The most problematic was the interpretation of the latter one, resulting in a viral “clickbait”-y title of “majority of Slovaks” apparently wishing Russia’s victory.
A change in attitudes towards Ukraine’s favour, however, might have been also influenced by the events at the front. Whereas in the summer, the situation in Ukraine looked more promising for the Russian side, which could have caused part of the respondents to think that Ukraine no longer had a chance to win. A successful counter-offensive during September with significant territorial achievements on the Ukrainian side could have reversed these attitudes.
If given an option, most respondents prefer a deal between both parties
A considerable change in attitudes can be seen when an “by both parties making a deal” option is added to the possible responses. In such case, most respondents choose the deal. Even with the options below, however, almost three times as many respondents choose the victory of Ukraine over the victory of Russia.
Years of influence operations
Yet, the results might seem still low to some. This is due to the fact that Slovakia remains vulnerable to influence operations and pro-Russian propaganda in particular. This is reflected in long-term positive perceptions of Russia among Slovak respondents (In GLOBSEC Trends polling conducted in March 2022, still 37% of Slovak respondents considered Russia to be a strategic partner for their country), high resonance of historical narratives promoting Russia as a “liberator”, as well as high vulnerability to conspiracy theories. Slovakia has a potent and very active network of over 1800 Facebook pages/ groups and 260 websites that spread various disinformation, hoaxes and malign content. Such malign content has been systematically penetrating Slovak information space for years and has been spread by various influential actors, including the representatives of the embassy of the Russian Federation, political representatives and members of Parliament primarily from conservative and far-right groups, and lately also the Prosecutor General of the Slovak Republic.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has opened the eyes of many Slovaks, the majority (62%) of whom perceives Russia as a threat, but the impact of years of information operations and the activities of malign domestic and foreign actors continue to influence public perceptions.
In September, for example, the ambassador of the Russian Federation accused Slovakia of destroying a cemetery of soldiers fallen in the WWI and violating a treaty with Russia. This information operation aiming to distract, both Slovak and Russian audience, from newly found Izium mass graves.
While several laws and countermeasures have been adopted or are being drafted, resilience- building and cognitive security is a continuous process that takes years to achieve. The increasing vulnerability of Slovakia is its polarised society that does not trust its political representatives who often divert from the strategic communication efforts of the institutions, as well as the lack of critical thinking due to the lack of quality education, as found in the GLOBSEC Vulnerability Index. . The war in Ukraine has many battle grounds and the Slovak society is one of them. With Slovakia being united and strong in its support of Ukraine, it needs to effectively tackle information war waging its society, -driving polarisation and undermining its democratic processes.