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Does the communist legacy still explain the lack of political participation in Eastern Europe?

Michael Smith
Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Michael Smith
Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Open Panel

Abstract

Based on arguments rooted in the civic culture literature, one of the long-standing beliefs about post-communist politics is that citizens in those countries exhibit relatively low levels of political participation and social trust due to the specific effects of communist rule, such as the way in which communist regimes more or less forced their citizens to ''participate'' in various parades, elections, and official events. Two decades after the collapse of communism, has the effect of this legacy weakened? To answer that question, this paper compares the determinants of political participation, from voting and signing petitions to boycotting, across 47 European states (24 of which are post-communist) on the basis of the 4th Round of the European Values Study conducted in 2008. Using logistic regression and hieratchical linear models, the paper investigates the degree to which socio-economic features of the respondent (particularly class an education), as well as the level of economic development at the national level (GDP per capita on a PPP basis), actually explain the perceived differences in the degree of political participation between Western and Eastern European countries. Interaction effects between individual-level and a post-communist dummy variable are used to directly compare the statistical significance of the difference in coefficients between post-communist and Western countries. I believe that the results of the analysis can shed new understanding on both the communist legacy and the conditions in which trends in political participation can change.