Saturday, June 03, 2006

Polling the Unhappy Poles: 1980


Here’s a little gem of an opinion poll from November 1980.

It was only a few months after the Gdansk agreement signed between the communist authorities and the Solidarity trade union – the first such organization anywhere in the communist bloc.

The economy was on its knees. The commies, never too bright at the best of times, had blown all the western credits they had received in the 1970’s. The government was weak and isolated. The writing was already on the wall. Polish communism would be history in nine years time.

So what were Poles thinking at the time? Here’s a report from Time magazine, November 1980:

‘An intriguing glimpse of Polish attitudes was provided last week by the French magazine Paris Match, which published the results of an unusual public opinion poll taken inside Poland. Working with handwritten questionnaires, eight pollsters from Public S.A., a French firm, clandestinely queried a representative sample of 500 Poles.

Most of the respondents were deeply dissatisfied with the quality of their lives: 86% said their purchasing power was insufficient, and 69% found the government unresponsive. An overwhelming 90% blamed "the men in power." By contrast, 86% favored the Gdansk agreements, but 65% expected the government to "gnaw away" at the concessions it granted the unions.

Only 3% said they would vote for the Communist Party in free elections, compared with 34% for Christian Democrats, 27% for Socialists and 19% for Liberals (meaning European conservatives).

A Soviet invasion was thought "possible" by 41%, while 25% felt it was "certain." Two-thirds said they would actively resist the invaders. Asked which nation was Poland's "best friend," 34% replied "none." Next came France with 17% and the U.S. with 13%. Only 2% named the Soviet Union.’

Are Poles happier today?

21 comments:

Eugene said...

First, one must define happiness more specifically. We all have various priorities in life which form our well being. Happiness can consist of wealth, freedom, cost of living, relationships, location, etc. If your question pertains to being more well off, that would have to be broken down into the non-agricultural and agricultural sectors of Poland's population. A large percentage of Poles are still in agriculture. Poles seem to admire their freedom alot, the ability to express themselves and travel more freely, the availability of an extensive array of goods and services, and the opportunity to earn salaries more in line with their occupations. Overall, I believe most Poles are happier than they were under Communism.

sonia said...

I actually was in Poland for six months in 1980-1 and I remember the mood then. What's even more surprising (and little known) is that such sentiments were rampant not only among 'ordinary people', but among Communist Party members as well. The only difference: not 41%, but 100% of party members were convinced the Soviet Union would invade (and they weren't looking forward to it at all!). In fact, what I found in Poland was a situation where NOBODY defended the 'old order'.

As for your last question: Definitely YES, except the expectations are MUCH higher now, and 'happiness' is a relative concept. If Poles in 1980 could see Poland today, they would be ecstatic with joy (no lines to buy food, plenty of goods in stores, free travel abroad, hundreds of TV channels, no Russian movies in cinemas, cleaner toilets). But today, Poles don't compare themselves with Poles in 1980. They compare themselves with Western Europeans. And that's why they are unhappy...

beatroot said...

Eugene: I totally agree with your point about defining happiness. In fact, one of the growth areas in sociology in the last decade has been the growth of Happiness studies! And they spend most of their time trying to define what it is they are studying!

Sonll of little gems...And yeah, even the communist parties members didn't support the government then. half of them were members of Solidarity!!!

many people have more money and things now and they are more fulfilled. Whether that means tbey are happier, I don't know. The fact that there is more inequality makes lots of people more resentful.

Can you be resentful and happy at the same time?

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