As Russia’s aggression against Ukraine wages on for a second year, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) finds itself on the right side of history but divided. Most countries remain steadfast in its support for EU and NATO membership, and recognise the inherent threats posed by autocratic regimes to the region’s security. Most CEE societies are taking cue from their political leaders that have sought to openly distance themselves from autocratic regimes and assume a more decisive and vocal role on the international scene.
At the same time, a strong buy-in to false and manipulative narratives that undermine democracy and Western unity constitutes a major obstacle to preserving progress. CEE societies are still greatly vulnerable to economic and social turmoil, a dynamic intensified over the past several years by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s aggression. While this turbulence has revealed vulnerabilities and blind spots that need addressing, it has also invited introspection towards examining the factors fostering societal resilience.
Russia’s belligerency is being fought across multiple parallel battlefields including the information space. Although political will is necessary to take effective measures and establish a commitment to resilience building, all parts of society, especially the private sector, have a role to play.
GLOBSEC Trends 2023 shines a light on the frustrations and uncertainties that lie hidden underneath the surface that be further exploited by (pro-)Kremlin and anti-Western propaganda, facilitated by populists throughout the CEE region.
The key findings include:
Russia still perceived to be a threat
Russia is considered to be the main threat facing the region, jeopardising the security, identity, and values of CEE countries. The attitudes are mirrored in the fact that the region overwhelmingly blames Russia for the war.
Security rising in importance
Recognition of the paramount role of the US as a strategic partner and a guarantor of security in the region has surged substantially since 2022, indicating that defence and security issues have regained their status as top priorities for societies.
Relying on NATO collective defence
Support for NATO membership remains undisputed across the region. This belief is also reflected in the expressed willingness of the public to step in to defend their NATO allies and neighbours if attacked.
The truth trumps lies
CEE publics are more inclined towards believing facts related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than fabrications and lies. An overwhelming majority supports Ukraine in its fight for democracy and most are also willing to lend a helping hand to refugees. A substantial segment of the population, however, displays insecurities and dichotomies in simultaneously believing true and false narratives.
Economic sanctions find support
In most countries, public attitudes indicate favourable support for sanctions against Russia and positive sentiment concerning their effectiveness. This stamp of approval comes despite continued efforts from both foreign and domestic actors to undermine the sanctions.
China still underestimated
Most CEE respondents still do not perceive China to be a security threat and are rather ignorant about its increasing influence in the region. Only a third consider China to be a threat to their national security and/or to their values.
Agreement on democracy
Support for democracy as a system of governance remains uncontested throughout the region. But anxieties, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s aggression, and domestic political battles, are contributing to low levels of trust in public institutions. At the same time, while support for human rights as a general concept is resolute, majority backing for LGBTI+ rights specifically is lacking in 4 of 8 countries.
Media trust matters
The media play an important role in building societal resilience and strengthening democracies. People who trust the mainstream media are substantially more likely to blame Russia for the war in Ukraine than their peers who distrust these outlets. Trust in the media, investigative journalism and factual information are, to this end, key determinants to winning the continuous battle over narratives, including but not limited to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Read more in the report below.