The World Values Survey *, launched in 1981 over the course of years, has become a powerful progress assessment tool for each participating country, as well as a useful geopolitical planning tool. For Ukraine, this large-scale project has never been as relevant as it is today, demonstrating both Ukraine’s willingness to share European values and a significant gap on the path to European integration. It not only allows you to monitor the progress of Ukrainian society in key issues of the value orientations, as well as to compare them with the EU and Eastern Partnership countries, but it can also potentially change the directions taken by the Ukrainian government in different areas of implementation legislation and demonstrate to foreign partners the objective status of the works.
If to compare …
With mostly consoling results showing some progress within the country (such as the number of Ukrainians who consider themselves happy is 78% in 2020, up from 68% in 2011, as well as those who think they are healthy – 45% this year, compared to 37% in 2011, etc.), on the scale with EU countries these rates are still at the bottom.
In general, even among the EU countries, there is a significant difference considering the key research issues, in particular, the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland) traditionally differ due to the social policy developed, especially in the question of the absolute intolerance of violence, acceptance of differences, high trust in state institutions and economic security.
Comparing Ukraine with other countries, it appears that geopolitical and historical factors are playing the game: it remains the closest to the group of Orthodox European countries, such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. Aside from faith and geographic location, countries share paternalistic sentiments, financial insecurity and a lower than average level of tolerance towards different social groups.
It is worth noting that the expected similarity in results between Ukraine and Russia has not been detected during the current wave of research. In terms of values step by step, Ukraine (and Belarus) are advancing on the cultural map of the world towards secular values. Which means a slow but confident movement towards the kind of European society in which secular values prevail.
The growing share of those who are proud of their citizenship (82.2% in 2020, only 67% in 2011, which is still quite low on the EU scale) for postcolonial countries (which is Ukraine) may indicate a strengthening of statehood and solidarity, especially during the war. This is also confirmed by the fact that the share of citizens willing to defend their country has gone from 40% to 56.9%.
(Table 1. Reluctance to live close to different social groups)
Tolerance: one step forward, two steps back
The question of tolerance often polarizes the population more, as there is no socially acceptable answer that would prevail and it would be the same for the whole country, and at the same time the share of those who are undecided is very small, so people have a position clear about some practices. Some results of the study justify Ukraine: in the last two decades, the share of Ukrainians who are not ready to accept people who use drugs, alcohol, homosexuals and HIV patients as neighbors (although according to research most Ukrainians still do not support practices such as homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, etc.) Researchers admit the factor of generational change, as well as the influence of advocacy and education campaigns .
However, under the influence of socio-economic processes in Ukraine, there is a marked regression in the tolerance of people of other nationalities: the reluctance to have immigrants, foreign workers, people who speak another language, people of another religion as neighbors has greatly increased.
Considering this attitude towards migrants, 41% of respondents believe that it is necessary to strictly limit the number of foreigners who come. It is important to note that the largest share of such responses was recorded in 2020. More than half of Ukrainians agree that immigration increases unemployment, leading to social conflicts.
(Table 2. Percentage of those who think immigrants have a positive impact)
Economy: positive approach or true change?
Traditionally, there is a visible difference between Ukraine and most EU countries in terms of economic benefits. The results confirm the high level of paternalistic attitudes, which is decreasing very slowly: 47.6% of Ukrainians share the opinion that the state should be more responsible in ensuring that all citizens are assisted. Instead, 21.6% support the idea that people themselves should be more responsible for providing for themselves.
In general, some positive changes (at least in terms of attitude) can be noted in the area of the economic situation and financial well-being. One of the brightest examples is the obvious reduction in the share of dissatisfied with the financial situation from 48% (2011) to 38.9% (2020). The share of those who think they have a low income has also decreased (from 55% to 45.1%) and the share of those who estimate their income as an average has increased (from 33% to 37%). The share of those who have never experienced a lack of food in recent years has increased from 52% to 71.7%.
At the same time, Ukrainians show a low score compared to EU countries in the level of satisfaction with their life – 43.6% compared to 85.7% in the Netherlands, 84.7% in Finland, 83.5 % in Denmark, 80.8% in Germany. Even those countries that traditionally show similar indicators to Ukraine have higher results: Bulgaria (48.2%) and Greece (50.9%).
Democracy as a dominant value
Although Ukrainians give the most positive estimates to the democratic political system as the best way to govern Ukraine, all EU countries included in the comparison have higher values of this indicator. If in Ukraine the value of being governed by democracy is 66.9%, 80.2% think so in Slovakia, 81.4% in Lithuania, the number in other countries is even higher.
Ukrainians especially emphasize the following essential characteristics of democracy: women have the same rights as men (84% consider it one of the foundations of democracy), they are followed by free elections (81.6%) and civil rights protect people from state oppression (80.5%), state aid to the unemployed (79.1%), governments tax the rich and subsidize the poor (68.8%).
And again – it is important to see the complete picture: in Ukraine, such “social characteristics” of democracy as equal rights for women and men, civil rights, free elections are somewhat underestimated compared to the EU, and on the contrary – the value of financial guarantees is more “on time” for Ukraine than for other EU countries.
It is important to live in a country governed democratically by 79.2% of Ukrainians, which is more than in 2011 (74.1%) overall. However, Ukraine’s score is lower than that of most of the EU countries included in the comparison and is closest to the bottom of the table.
At the same time, only 29.2% of respondents in Ukraine believe that the country is now democratically governed. However, in 2011 an even smaller share of Ukrainians (21.9%) thought so. However, Ukraine is also near the bottom of the list among EU countries, and is closest to Slovenia, while the highest scores are in Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany.
Surprisingly little interest in politics
Results from this year’s World Values Survey (coupled with a record turnout in this year’s local elections) showed an unexpectedly low level of interest in politics in Ukraine, compared to previous years and other European countries .
Just over a third (34.6%) of Ukrainians said they were interested in politics. Although the survey was conducted during the local electoral campaign (25 October 2020), the level of interest in politics corresponds to the level of 2011, when no elections were held. At the same time, a third of Ukrainians surveyed in 2020 never discuss political issues when meeting with friends, and only 7.8% said they do so often. Although the findings may surprise, the study authors note that involvement in politics is not really a matter of values, but rather an element of necessity.
At the same time, in most European countries the level of interest in politics is much higher with Germany (78.5%), Austria (62.8%) and Sweden (59.8%) at the top of the list.
Such low interest shown by Ukrainians to participate in elections may be a direct consequence of their disbelief in their choice and the importance of individual influence. To bring the country to a higher level of development, these categories must at least become a value for the Ukrainian government and adjust the directions of its work.
(Table 3: Interest in politics)
To sum up
Ukraine has clearly declared a European development path, but according to the empirical data of 2020 compared to the results of most EU countries, the value regulation system is one of the obstacles in this direction. However, there are far more positive changes than negative ones, and changing the cultural background and replacing paternalistic discourse with democratic values undoubtedly takes more time than signing documents and formally assigning a country to one or another political bloc.
European values are, in fact, humanistic ideals that have not yet been fully realized by any of the EU countries. The results of this year’s global values survey show both positive changes and areas where Ukraine has room for personal improvement. The increase of tolerance for various forms of social behavior and the advancement of personal responsibility above the paternalistic attitude are vectors that Ukrainian society must adhere to not only to become a desirable partner for the European community, but above all to be a comfortable country to live in.
The European choice is primarily an acceptance of diversity. This is demonstrated by the very concept of the EU: the unification of countries with different cultural and social backgrounds. The polarity of opinions is in favor of the state because it means that the opportunity to express oneself is a value itself, and the coexistence of radically different opinions is decisive proof of Ukraine’s belonging to the European community.
* The World Values Survey is the largest transnational comparative study in the world in which Ukraine has participated since 1996. The study is based on a survey of respondents on involvement in macroeconomic, social and political processes, on the level of tolerance , support for values and behavioral models.
The article is based on the 2020 World Values Survey.
Author: Kateryna Potapenko, NGO “Ukrainian Center for European Politics” (Kiev, Ukraine).
Author: Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels