The Czech Republic ranks 10th among the 27 states of the European Union in terms of solidarity and mutual trust in society. Czechs help each other, they have someone to turn to in times of need, but they do not trust institutions.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the pandemic, and the response to last summer’s tornado in South Moravia have shown that Czechs know how to unite and help each other in time of need.
According to a survey conducted by Česká spořitelna in cooperation with the analytical portal Evropa v datech, 20 percent of the Czech population is eager to volunteer and they almost always have someone to turn to.
Although 84% of Czechs trust other people, trust in the government and institutions is generally falling. It is worth noting that with the new cabinet in power, trust in the government did increase by 17%, which put the Czech Republic in the top ten of the EU rankings.
Czechs have repeatedly proven that they can act very quickly in the event of emergencies, such as natural disasters, and provide the necessary help both at home and abroad. In short, they are used to helping. In this respect, they have surpassed not only Slovakia, but also, for example, Belgium and France.
The Scandinavian countries top the ranking, as does Luxembourg, which finds its place thanks to charity, independence of courts and press, and minimal discrimination. The Balkan Peninsula is at the end of the ranking, and the last place belongs to Greece.
Immediate or long-term aid?
On June 24, 2021, a tornado of the second strongest level on the Fujita scale struck the neighbourhoods of Břeclav and Hodonín. In a relatively small area, it caused 15 billion crowns worth of damage, about 1,200 homes were destroyed, 200 of which had to be completely demolished. Help came almost immediately. People not only started sending financial donations, but also came with their own tools to help in the rebuilding. It is clear that the last mentioned form of assistance cannot be quantified, but the financial aid to the victims was definitely considerable resulting in 1.3 billion crowns during the hurricane response.
At the same time, compared to the World Giving Index, things are not going well in the Czech Republic with financial aid: only a quarter of the population sends money to charity, and the Czech Republic is in the eighth worst place in Europe.
“However, as part of obtaining data for the World Giving Index, researchers ask about individual forms of aid given just last month. Czechs are less involved in long-term and regular support, but are among the generous donors for emergency aid in situations such as natural disasters or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The results of a Kantar survey conducted for Česká spořitelna at the end of March confirm this. Almost 6 out of 10 Czechs said they had helped refugees from Ukraine either personally (11 percent) or through non-profit organizations (46 percent). In Central Europe, we, along with Austria and Hungary, are among the countries most involved in aid,” explains Česká spořitelna economic analyst Tereza Hrtusová.
Every fifth Czech citizen does volunteering work
“In my experience, 15-20% of the Czech adult population donates blood regularly. Things are definitely changing for the better, because 20 years ago long-term donations in our country were almost non-existent. The only thing Czechs were willing to contribute more to was helping those affected by the natural disasters already mentioned,” says Šimon Panek, director of the organisation People in Need (Člověk v tísni).
Nearly one in five people in the Czech Republic is now involved in volunteering, which ranks the country 9th in Europe. More Czechs now help, donate and do charity work than five years ago.
The latest – and, so far, record-breaking – wave of aid came when Russian troops attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24. The unprecedented attack sparked a worldwide response, and the Czech Republic began helping immediately. According to the Seznam Zprávy, as of March 16th, the Czechs had collected almost 3.4 billion crowns in public funds alone, and since then the aid has increased even more.
Relatives will always help
The trust and solidarity score in the Česká spořitelna survey consists of several indicators. Czechs received the highest score on the indicator for help from a loved one in case of an emergency. According to the World Happiness Report, the Czech Republic is the European leader in this respect, meaning that Czechs almost always have someone to turn to. By comparison, Germany ranks 7th in the overall assessment of solidarity in the European Union, but in terms of help from a loved one it has fallen to 22nd place.
“Overall, we can say that the availability of services in case a person is in an emergency is very good in our country. However, the situation is different among large and smaller cities.. We can say that the situation is difficult in medical care for homeless people who are not registered anywhere and do not have health insurance,” notes Lukas Kurilo, director of Charita Česká republika.
According to Kurilo, the Czech Republic needs fundamental improvements in protection of socially undermined families and the elderly, people with chronic mental illnesses, addictions or various types of dementia.
Integration v.s. discrimination
Only 38% of Czechs perceive discrimination as a problem, and although the otherwise solidary Nordic states are at the top of the rest of the index, they are at the bottom of the table here.
The question, however, is what assessment methodology was used. Eurobarometer respondents answered the question, “How widespread do you think discrimination on the basis of nationality is in your country?” Residents of individual countries simply shared their assessment, so the results may be somewhat skewed.
However, the Migrant Accessibility Indicator is an item in which the compilers of the Migrant Integration Policy Index relied on reliable data about the actual environment and policies in place in individual EU countries. The results of this metric reflect human rights, employment opportunities, integration of immigrants into society, etc. In this category, the Czech Republic was in the first half of the ranking list. In this regard, it is very interesting to look at Sweden and Finland, which are ranked first and second for integration, and are ranked 20th and 24th for discrimination. It has been suggested that the state’s greater openness may have led to ethnic intolerance among its citizens.
“Czechs in general, on a basic level, are a ‘medium-tolerant’ nation. But because we have little experience with foreigners of a different culture, religion or skin color, we are afraid of their arrival and integration,” explains STEM Institute analyst Nikola Hořejš.
“This became evident during the 2015 migration crisis, when public opinion in the Czech Republic was often dominated by panic about Islam. It was above all a fear of the new and foreign. We also have not settled our relationship with the Roma. Most perceive coexistence with them as problematic, and more than a third do not want them around. This is even more critical of Muslims. On the other hand, as an atheist nation, we are tolerant of various esoteric teachings, Eastern religions and Christian denominations. And also to homosexuals,” he adds.
84% of Czechs trust their neighbours. Slovakia and Slovenia achieved the same result, sharing 12th place in the ranking. The worst performers in the EU in this regard were Greeks, who trusted their neighbours only 66.4 percent of the time.
Prime Minister Fiala sparks hope
The Czech Republic is characterised by low trust in government.
“To avoid data distortion depending on the ruling party, we calculated this figure as an average over the past 10 years based on the regular European Eurobarometer public opinion survey,” explained Lukas Kropik of the Česká spořitelna.
The Czech Republic ranks 21st in the European comparison, with less than 26 % of the Czech population trusting the government as a whole. The Czechs reached the lowest values (13%) in the poll in 2012 and 2013 during the rule of Petr Necas. The Czechs recorded the second lowest result at the beginning of Andrej Babiš’s first government in 2017.
With the arrival of the current government, the situation has improved considerably. Between the summer of 2021 and the winter of 2022, the results jumped 17 percent, and 45 percent of the Czech population now trusts the Fiala government, the highest in 10 years.
“Although Czechs generally have little faith in institutions, the army is highly trusted. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, it is trusted by 86 percent of the population, the third highest among EU countries. Trust in the army has been high in the Czech Republic for a long time. Society perceives it very positively in situations such as natural disasters or assistance during a coronavirus pandemic,” adds Česká Spořitelna analyst Tereza Hrtusová.
Media crisis is not only in the Czech Republic
Corruption plays a major role in confidence building. According to respondents, the situation with corruption is worse than in the Czech Republic only in eight EU countries. In Denmark or Finland, corruption is almost not a problem, but in Eastern Europe (especially in Hungary or Bulgaria), people are worried. The situation with freedom of the press and courts in the Czech Republic is not much better. In a rating by Reporters Without Borders, the Czech media got 23.4 “penalty points” out of 100, making the Czech Republic 19th in the EU. Only 51 percent of Czechs consider the courts independent, ranking the Czechs 16th in this regard.
“In addition to the general reasons that the Czech Republic shares with the rest of Western civilization, such as the crisis of traditional media, new media consumer habits or declining trust in journalists, there are also specific reasons,” explains Petr Orszag, head of the Department of Media, Communication Studies and Journalism at Palacky University in Olomouc.
“In the last decade, it is mainly the oligarchization of Czech private media, that is, the purchase of media by local billionaires not primarily for business, but as a ‘strategic investment’ that expands their ability to influence public opinion.”
Similarly, Petr Lejer, director of Transparency International’s Czech branch, also mentions the influence through public media: “I see a problem in the attempts of some politicians to hinder the independence of public media, as well as in the ownership structure of major private media outlets. A large part of them are either owned by certain powerful groups and used to promote economic and political interests, or their ownership is not transparent, so we do not know who is behind them and what other interests they have.”