Europe’s eastern sphere of influence is a collection of five countries that once were firmly integrated in Russia’s orbit (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Launched shortly after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Eastern Partnership aims to expedite these countries’ integration into the European Union and thus away from Russia. Despite concerted efforts however, culturally these borderland states feel stronger towards Russia than European culture, according to data collected in the EU-sponsored ENPI Barometer survey in late 2014. This is significant because while immediate economic and political trends play such a leading role in defining east and west orientations, cultural considerations prove more enduring. And thus in this column, I focus on perceptions and behaviour related to culture in these pivotal nations.
Perception and meaning of Culture
Respondents across the ENPI countries were asked what comes to mind when thinking about culture and the survey revealed that culture in these countries is most frequently defined in terms of traditions, education and arts.
In the Eastern Partnership countries ‘culture’ is very much associated with traditions, languages, customs and social or cultural communities (43%), education and family (43%) and arts (40%). Notions of life style and manners (29%) are also tied up with the idea of culture to some extent.
When country results are examined in detail a wide range of divergence from the overall pattern can be observed:
• The highest proportion of respondents in Moldova (55%) and Ukraine (47%) mention traditions, languages, customs and social or cultural communities.
• The largest segment in Georgia (51%) and Azerbaijan (48%) cite education and family.
• Finally, arts are mentioned by 57% in the Russian Federation, 51% in Armenia and 49% in Belarus.
Table 1. Q. Please tell me what comes to mind when you think about the word “culture“.
There are no distinct differences between the socio-demographic categories of respondents. It can be noted that respondents with a high level of education tend to cite each notion more frequently than their less educated counterparts which suggests that educated respondents come up with multiple definitions for the word ‘culture’.
Contribution of cultural activities to society
Respondents were also asked to evaluate to what extent culture contributes to societal development, e.g. by developing understanding and tolerance, affecting economic development and improving social well-being.
Culture is seen to contribute greatly to societal development.
A great majority of respondents in the Eastern partnership countries agrees with the three statements on the influence of culture on societal development. 79% agree that culture plays an important role in developing greater understanding and tolerance in the world, 74% think that cultural activities contribute to social well-being and 70% agree that cultural activities contribute to the national economic development.
There is a great consensus of opinion on the high impact of culture across the Eastern partnership countries:
• In every country a great majority agrees with all three statements.
• The highest proportion of respondents in all countries agree that culture plays an important role in developing greater understanding and tolerance in the world. The highest figure is recorded in the Russian Federation (89%), followed by Georgia
(85%) and Ukraine (82%).
• The impact of cultural activities on social well-being receives the highest proportion
of mentions also in the Russian Federation (85%) while the impact on economic development is most likely to be cited in Georgia (83%).
Table 2: Q. Please tell me whether you totally agree, tend to agree, tend to disagree or totally disagree with the following statements. Answer: Total “Agree”
No distinct socio-demographic patterns can be observed. However, it can be noted that those respondents who are satisfied with the way democracy works in their country are more likely than the average respondent to agree with each statement: culture plays an important role in developing greater understanding and tolerance in the world (83%), cultural activities contribute to social well-being (81%) and cultural activities contribute to the national economic development (80%).
The project was funded by the European Commission’s Development and Cooperation Office, EuropeAid. All 6 surveys were conducted on a national representative sample of 1,000 respondents; data retains a 3% margin of error, with confidence at 95%. GORBI is the exclusive member of Gallup International research network and has over two decades of experience conducting polls in the region.