Surveying some surveys: Czechs & refugees, immigrants and Islam

Surveying some surveys: Czechs & refugees, immigrants and Islam

I’ve been spurred on by what I guess we can call some, um, “colourful” comments on Coda Story’s recent animation of my January story on Islamophobia in the Czech Republic to take a look at some recent public opinion data.

“Unsympathetic” towards Arabs

The Czech Public Opinion Research Centre (CVVM) asked a few questions in their March 2017 survey of ~1,000 Czechs about attitudes towards people from different nationalities/ethnic groups, including Arabs (who I think we can agree in most Czech minds means “Muslims”). They’re right at the bottom.


The numbers for Arabs look even worse over time….

Mean scores 1-5, where 1 is “very sympathetic” and 5 is “very unsympathetic.”

No other group has seen anything like this; as the CVVM’s summary report points out, the percentage of those saying they’re “very unsympathetic” (i.e., 5 on the 5-point scale) towards Arabs has gone up by 18 percentage points since 2014. Fortunately (?) that increase seems to have flatlined since 2016.

There’s also a few demographic differences of note in the CVVM’s summary report: 41% of those who declared a good standard of living said they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs compared to 55% who declared a poor standard of living; 36% of those with a higher level of education said they were “very unsympathetic” compared to 47% who had an apprenticeship. Still, it’s clear that a lack of sympathy towards Arabs is pretty strong among all parts of the Czech population.

Unfortunately the raw data set isn’t yet publicly available for me to screw around with so I took a look at the raw data from last year’s survey (March 2016) to see if there were any other differences of note that might (or might not) be seen in the 2017 data. There weren’t many:

  • Men had a slightly more negative score on average than women (4.26 compared to 4.15), and more likely to say they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs (49% compared to 44%)[both p< 0.1, which means it’s barely worth mentioning IMO but I’ve still done it so deal with it.]
  • Czechs aged 15-29 (41%) were less likely than those 45-59 (50%) or 60+ (50%) to say they were “very unsympathetic” towards Arabs [p< 0.05]

Fear of immigrants

CVVM also released some analysis yesterday from the March 2017 survey on attitudes towards foreigners in general – 64% of Czechs feel that newly-arrived immigrants are a problem for the Czech Republic as a whole. This figure’s shot up since last year, but had dipped from 2015 after a slow rise from 2011.

graf 2

CVVM also asked a few specific questions about the impact people think immigrants have on their country, and the results over time here have seen a drastic change. The belief that immigrants contribute to unemployment has dropped by 12% since 2016 (not that surprising in a country with low unemployment) and, as you can see below, the belief that immigrants are a threat to the Czech way of life has increased.

image (47)

A reason for those “Refugees not welcome” stickers I’ve seen

The most recent round of the Eurobarometer surveys (November 2016) asked a question of ~1,000 Czechs whether they think their country should help refugees. Czechs were the second most likely, behind Bulgaria, of any EU country to say their country shouldn’t help refugees (23% agree versus 72% disagree; EU average 66% agree versus 28% disagree).

Here, as with the CVVM surveys, there’s a few demographic breakdowns of note that I analyzed using the raw data:

  • Czechs who finished full-time education between the ages of 16 and 19 were less likely to agree the Czech Republic should help refugees (20%) compared to those who finished full-time education at 20 years old or older (31%)[p<0.01]
  • Czechs in rural areas (18%) were less likely than those in towns and suburbs (24%) and cities (28%) to agree the Czech Republic should help refugees [p<0.05]

Again, despite these differences, Czechs across all social divides tend not to think their country should help refugees…

Czech and Islam by the numbers, Parts 1 and 2

Last fall I analyzed European Social Survey (ESS) data from 2014 on Czech attitudes towards Muslims living in their country. Part 1, and Part 2.

If you’ve been following along nothing here will surprise you. Who doesn’t want any Muslims to come live in the Czech Republic (i.e., who’s less likely to want them)? Those who:

  • Feel unsafe after dark
  • Have the least contact with different races or ethnic groups
  • Feel the government treats new immigrants better than them
  • Distrust social/political institutions
  • Feel they have less ability to influence politics and have a say

Conversely, Czechs who had friends of different races and/or ethnic groups were more likely to be supportive of Muslims coming and living in the country.

Survey of IDPs and hosting communities in Ukraine

Survey of IDPs and hosting communities in Ukraine

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology released results of a survey (pdf, English; Ukrainian here) they did in July and August with internally-displaced persons (IDPs) and hosting communities across Ukraine.

Boring method-related preamble facts:

  • Done for Internews (an international NGO – not Inter) and funded by the Government of Canada
  • Fieldwork between July 22 and August 16, 2016
  • 1,003 IDPs and 1,500 residents of host communities interviewed in person across all of Ukraine except territories not under control of the government (i.e., except Crimea and “LNR”/”DNR” )

Have a look for yourself, but for me three things stand out…

Some IDPs feel prejudice more than others

Six in ten (61%) IDPs said they never felt prejudice from local citizens because they were an IDP; one in five (20%) said they only rarely felt prejudice, while 11% experienced it “from time to time and 3% “all the time.”

Still, some IDPs experience more prejudice than others.  IDPs displaced before autumn 2014 tended to experience less prejudice (67% ‘no prejudice’) compared to those displaced before autumn 2015 (54% no) and autumn 2016 (55% no). In addition, IDPs in villages (65% ‘no prejudice’) and cities <50,000 people (75%) experience less prejudice than those in cities +50,000 people (48% ‘no prejudice’) and oblast centres (59%).

But it’s IDPs who say they feel vulnerable (“Do you feel more vulnerable because of your age, health condition, education, employment opportunities or any other conditions as compared to other IDPs?”) that tend to experience more prejudice; two-thirds (67%) of IDPs who didn’t feel vulnerable said they experienced no prejudice compared to 49% of vulnerable IDPs. These vulnerable IDPs tend to be those over 60 years of age, lack paid work, lack higher education and say they have health and/or financial problems.

One note: in the tables in the appendices to the report there is a stat that says 47% of those aged 18-29 felt vulnerable compared to 21% of 30-44s, 20% of 45-59s and 31% of 60+s. This isn’t discussed or mentioned in the text of the report so I’m wondering a) if it’s a typo or (most likely) b) the subsample’s too small to be statistically significant.

Getting to know IDPs

Looking now at the survey of local residents:

  • 83% said they know there are IDPs in their town/city
  • 45% have talked to an IDP
  • 34% have IDPs among their relatives and close friends.

These trends aren’t the same across the country – people are less familiar with IDPs in western Ukraine than in Donbas or Kyiv, which isn’t surprising given where IDPs tend to settle.


Most citizens in host communities tend to have good (43%) or neutral (44%) attitudes towards IDPs, which is consistent with findings a different survey back in June. Only 5% of people surveyed said they had negative attitudes towards IDPs.

These attitudes, however, tend to be the worst (well, really, ‘least good’) in western Ukraine, where people are the least familiar with IDPs, and best in areas like eastern Ukraine and Donbas, with one exception…


…that exception, of course, is Kyiv, where people are the most aware of IDPs in their city, the most likely to have IDPs among their relatives and/or close friends – but also have the most negative attitudes towards IDPs (14% saying they had a ‘bad’ attitude towards IDPs).


Kyiv’s the exception too when it comes to attitudes about crime.

Only one in ten (11%) residents of host communities who were of aware of IDPs in their communities (n= 1,233) said that the presence of IDPs in their community had led to a worsening of the crime rate.

But look at the regional breakdowns:

  • West: 9%
  • North: 18%
  • Centre: 7%
  • South: 5%
  • East: 11%
  • Donbas: 6%
  • Kyiv: 32%

That’s a huge difference, and it isn’t just because Kyiv’s a huge city; 19% of residents of oblast centres felt the presence of IDPs had worsened the crime rate, still far higher than those in villages and cities with both fewer and greater than 50,000 people (6%, 7% and 8%, respectively).


In point form because it’s getting late here.

  • The most vulnerable IDPs are the ones who tend to experience the most prejudice
  • Similarly to what I argued for a similar survey done back in June, there looks to be bit of familiarity not exactly breeding contempt going on here – attitudes tend to be more positive in regions where people have more contact with IDPs, except Kyiv
  • Blaming IDPs for crime (not that anyone tried doing that) might not get you very far. A subset of the population would probably buy into that sort of thing, particularly in larger cities and the capital, but the findings from this survey suggest – thankfully – that jumping up to play the blame-refugees-for-crime game might not be all that fruitful for Ukraine’s populists.




Czech Republic, Muslims and the left, Part 1 ½

Czech Republic, Muslims and the left, Part 1 ½

This is partly a sequel and a reboot of my previous post where I trudged through European Social Survey data on left/right splits on Czech attitudes towards Muslims and, like Sarah Conner in the first and best Terminator, generally looked confused as I tried to figure out what exactly the hell was going on.

To recap: less than half (44%) of Czechs surveyed in the 2014 ESS said they thought Muslims should be allowed to come and live in the Czech Republic (30% “a few”; 13% “some”; 2% many). Big differences by age and left/right self-identification. Confused me. Has caused me to spend more time this week with SPSS than I wanted.

Who’s left, who’s right?

Here’s the left-right scale from the ESS:

2016-09-19-19-41-40I’ve divided the scale up into five categories for this analysis:

  • Far left: 00 and 01
  • Left: 02, 03 and 04
  • Centre: 05
  • Right: 06, 07, 08
  • Far right: 09 and 10

There’s a pretty obvious pattern by age when it comes to left-right self-identification in the Czech Republic, with older respondents more likely to place themselves on the left – a pattern I wouldn’t be surprised to see in other former Eastern Bloc countries.


These numbers are worth keeping in mind when you’re looking at the graphs below, since some of the groupings here (e.g., self-identified far right 65+ Czechs) are clearly just a handful of people.

The left, the right and everything in between

Remember, less than half (44%) of Czechs surveyed in the 2014 ESS said they thought Muslims should be allowed to come and live in the Czech Republic.

Take a look at the graph below, because I make a lot of graphs. These are the numbers that threw me for a loop when I first saw them – people who identify as far left are the least supportive of Muslims coming to the Czech Republic? And the right and far-right are most supportive? Well, survey says.


Numbers don’t lie

…but they don’t always tell the whole story.

Remember from the table above that older Czechs are more likely to self-identify as far left/left. This also shows up when you look at the average age of each point on the left-right scale.


But is it about being on the left or being older? To me, it does look like it’s at least partly about age. Older Czechs, without looking at left/right self-identification at all, are less likely to be supportive of Muslims coming to their country than younger respondents.


But if it was all about age I’d expect to see a few different numbers and trends than I’m seeing here. The overall level of support is pretty similar among 15-19s, 20-24, 25-29s, 30-34s, and 40-44s (I don’t know and can’t explain what is going on with the 35-39s there). If this was all about young people being more socially liberal than their parents, etc., I wouldn’t expect figures for Czechs under twenty to be the same as Czechs as old as Jaromir Jagr.  Coupled with the fact that fewer than one in five Czechs from 15 to 19 placed themselves anywhere on the left of the scale, it makes me think there’s more going on here than some kind of cohort effect.

As evidence of this, here’s my final, behemoth graph.

While some of the sample sizes are a bit small, I think it’s clear from this that people who’ve placed themselves on the far left are less likely to be supportive of Muslims coming to live in their country, while the opposite is the case for people who’ve placed themselves on the far right. There’s even some difference between the closer-to-the-middle left and right for most age groups.

Yes, the numbers are small. Open it in a new window.

I welcome any comments, questions or other interpretations of this data, though comments on the quality of my graph-making will be haughtily rebuffed.

Conclusions, questions, caveats an’ a’ that

My takeaway? Anyone worried about the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Czech Republic better look at more than just the usual suspects on the far right.

Yes, some of the numbers I’ve spat out here are about age/cohort effects like we see in other western countries, including my own, but this to me it looks to be more about being on the left/right than anything else. With Czech legislative elections coming within the next year and presidential elections in 2018, it’d be good to know a wee bit more about what exactly the deal is here.

But is this just a Czech thing? Is it related to current social democrat and anti-Muslim firebrand Miloš Zeman being in charge? Would we see this sort of thing if we looked at data from other central European and/or post-communist countries? Would we even see it if we looked at the Czech Republic with 2016 data? Would we see the same thing with different questions about Muslims, refugees, etc.? Could this be used as a wedge issue across ideological lines in a future Czechxit referendum? And so on.

The caveats from my last piece apply here – fieldwork from Nov 2014 to Feb 2015, other variables I haven’t even mentioned (like region), the fact I’m not Czech enough to immediately make sense of all this, a few small sample sizes, etc.

Czech Republic, Muslims and…the left?

Czech Republic, Muslims and…the left?

Earlier this month the European Values Think-Tank in Prague (or Think-tank Evropské hodnoty for the more Slavistically-oriented among you) released findings from a survey on the impact of Russian disinformation operations in the Czech Republic. It’s a worth a read, as is their paper on how and why Russia’s taken such an interest in influencing Czech affairs and why us non-Czechs should actually care.

But what grabbed my attention was a survey question on perceived threats to the Czech Republic (page 8 for anyone following along at home):

Which threats are currently the most serious for our country? List three threats at most, please.

The top three most commonly-mentioned threats?

  1. Refugees: 50%
  2. Terrorism, attacks, assassinations: 42%
  3. Islamic fundamentalism: 21%

Keep in mind the Czech Republic is a country that might have as many as 3,500 Muslims out of a population of more than 10 million (i.e., 0.03% of the population) where a grand total of 134 Syrians applied for asylum last year, according to the UNHCR. It’s a country where you’re more likely to see some dumbass fake ISIS attack/“protest” from a gaggle of far-right clowns than, say, an actual Muslim.

Czeching the data (yes, a “Czech” pun)

To try and understand more about what Czechs think of Muslims, I looked at data from the 2014 version of the European Social Survey, where they asked more than 2,100 Czechs:

please tell me to what extent you think the Czech Republic should allow Muslims from other countries to come and live in the Czech Republic? 

  • Allow many to come and live here
  • Allow some
  • Allow a few
  • Allow none

More than half – 56% – said that no Muslims should be allowed to come and live in the Czech Republic. Less than a third (30%) said “a few” Muslims should be allowed, 13% said “some” and 2% said “many,” for a total of 44%.

  • Allow many to come and live here: 2%
  • Allow some: 13%
  • Allow a few: 30%
  • Allow none: 56%

This isn’t surprising, especially given the data from the European Values Think-Tank and what we already know about Czech politics and President Miloš Zeman’s not-exactly-subtle hostility to Islam and refugees.

Left foot forward?

But Czechs on the left seem to be the least willing to welcome Muslims.

Czechs who told ESS interviewers they voted for the Communists (KSČM) in the last election were more likely than voters of all other parties – 64% versus 52% – to say that no Muslims should be allowed to live in the Czech Republic.

Looking at the parties individually, only supporters of Tomio Okamura’s Front National-linked far right movement were more likely (71%) to say this. Even supporters of the governing centre-left social democrats (ČSSD) were more likely (59%) than members of other centrist/right-wing parties to say that no Muslims should be allowed to live in the Czech Republic.

The ESS also asks people to rank themselves on an 11-point left-right scale (below), which is where things get even more interesting.


The mean left-right score for those wanting to allow “many,” “some” or “a few” Muslims (5.43) is higher – meaning further to the right – than those who don’t think any Muslims should be allowed in (4.73).

This still boggled my mind so I broke the left-right scale up into a few different permutations to see if this relationship held up:

  • 3 categories
    • Break the left 4 into a ‘left’ category, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre’ and the final four as a ‘right’ category.
      • Left: 63% allow no Muslims
      • Centre: 61%
      • Right: 46%
  • 5 categories
    • Break the left 2 into a ‘far left’ category, the next three as ‘left’, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre,’ the next three as ‘right’ and the final two as a ‘far right’ category.
      • Far left: 77% allow no Muslims
      • Left: 59%
      • Centre: 61%
      • Right: 48%
      • Far right 41%
  • 5 categories, a bit different
    • Break the left one into a ‘far left’ category, the next four as ‘left’, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre,’ the next four as ‘right’ and the final one as a ‘far right’ category. I wanted to try this to isolate that far left/right to each endpoint of the scale.
      • Far left: 81% allow no Muslims
      • Left: 60%
      • Centre: 61%
      • Right: 47%
      • Far right 42%

This totally blows my mind – it looks like the more one identifies to the left, the more likely they are to not support Muslims being allowed to come and live in the Czech Republic.

What’s my age again?

I’ve lost my mind in enough SPSS data tables to know that when a totally counterintuitive finding like this pops up there’s often something else that actually explains it.

Is it age? It could be, given that there’s also a clear relationship between age and (lack of) support for allowing Muslims to come and live in the Czech Republic (case in point: many/some/few Muslims? Mean age 43.1 years. No Muslims? Mean age 46.3 years).

I thought this might be the case, especially when I realized that KSČM supporters tended to be much older than supporters of other parties (a mean age of 60.8 years compared to 47.8 years for all other parties combined). This relationship also holds true for the left-right scale – the average age of those identifying on the left was higher than those identifying themselves on the right:

  • 3 categories
    • Break the left 4 into a ‘left’ category, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre’ and the final four as a ‘right’ category.
      • Left: mean age 52.2 years
      • Centre: 44 years
      • Right: 41 years
  • 5 categories
    • Break the left 2 into a ‘far left’ category, the next three as ‘left’, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre,’ the next three as ‘right’ and the final two as a ‘far right’ category.
      • Far left: mean age 54 years
      • Left: 51.7 years
      • Centre: 44 years
      • Right: 41.6 years
      • Far right 38.4 years
  • 5 categories, a bit different
    • Break the left one into a ‘far left’ category, the next four as ‘left’, the middle as its own mushy ‘centre,’ the next four as ‘right’ and the final one as a ‘far right’ category. I wanted to try this to isolate that far left/right to each endpoint of the scale.
      • Far left: mean age 56.1 years
      • Left: 51.6 years
      • Centre: 44 years
      • Right: 41.1 years
      • Far right 39.7 years

So which is it?

I ran a quick logistic regression analysis to see whether age or placement on the left-right scale was a more accurate predictor of one’s support for allowing “many,” “some” or “a few” Muslims into the Czech Republic.

In short, I found that the placement on the left-right scale (that is, identifying more to the right) was a slightly stronger predictor of supporting allowing Muslims into the Czech Republic than age (that is, being younger).

In other words, it’s more about being on the left than being old.


  • I ran this over a few hours in a basement in a pair of ill-fitting sweatpants, so do hold it up to that standard.
  • This data is from fieldwork done between November 2014 and February 2015 – before the refugee crisis really turned sour.
  • There are many, many other variables I need to look at before drawing some sort of iron-clad conclusion on this. Some I’ve looked at but not ranted on about here (e.g., gender, region, socio-economic status, etc.).
  • I’m no expert on Czech politics, history, society and/or political culture, which is why I’ve really drawn no conclusion here other than “shit, this is interesting!”
  • If you’ve read this far, ask me about your prize.

Taking issue with the OSCE SMM’s report on IDPs in Ukraine

Taking issue with the OSCE SMM’s report on IDPs in Ukraine

Last Friday the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) released a report on internal displacement in Ukraine and it seems like they want it to be read by as few people as possible.

The OSCE SMM didn’t just release this report on the last Friday in August – they buried it late in the afternoon on the last Friday in August (17.30 Ukraine time – 10.30 am Eastern in Canada/US). OK?

And looking at when the focus groups and interviews were actually done for the report, it’s not like they didn’t have time to release it when people might actually be paying attention:

“Focus group discussions and individual interviews were conducted between August and November 2015 in 19 regions across Ukraine” [emphasis mine]

Listen, I know there were a lot of focus groups and interviews – 161 groups and 39 individual interviews, to be precise, so more than 1,600 people in total. I’ve been that guy having to organize transcriptions and analysis of piles of focus group and interview findings. It takes time. But you mean to tell me it’s taken no less than nine months to do all this?

If they have, the quality of the report is pretty disappointing. This thing rambles on, with barely a signpost for the reader to know what the most important findings are. We don’t get any stand-alone block quotes from IDPs themselves to help contextualize and understand how they’re coping in new communities. We’re treated to vague discussions of IDP-community relations that could leave a reader thinking they’re far worse than they actually are. We get a conclusion (“Concluding Remarks”) that reads like it was pieced together the morning of (I know, cuz I’ve done it), a flimsy set of remarks that summarizes almost nothing of substance. If I ever handed a draft report like this to one of my old bosses I’d have had it handed back to me pretty quickly.

Read this report, then take a look at the UNHCR’s report from a few months ago about IDPs and host communities in Ukraine, and also one of the IOM’s regular reports every few months. I challenge you to reach a different conclusion than mine: that this report’s a watered-down stream of paragraphs that doesn’t really help us understand IDPs any better.

Should we be surprised? Probably not. According to one former OSCE observer:

“According to established OSCE practice, reports should not provoke major controversies. Instead, they should be politically acceptable to all member states, with the emphasis on ‘balance’ rather than ‘objectivity’. In addition to this approach, I also quickly learned that I was only one of several links in the chain of report preparation. Information provided by OSCE monitoring teams had been often already been ‘sterilized’ by the time it reached me. As a result, the reports posted on the OSCE website were often far removed from that what I personally wished to include, and what should have been included.”

I think we can add this report to that list.

Ongoing war in Ukraine turns 1.7 million people into refugees

Ongoing war in Ukraine turns 1.7 million people into refugees

(my piece last month for CBC News)

Most 16-year-olds spend their summers working behind a counter, hanging out with their friends and maybe sneaking out to a party or two. Maria Semenenko got to spend hers fleeing her hometown.

Semenenko, now 18, is from Donetsk, the still-burning hot spot of the war between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels. The conflict has claimed nearly 9,400 lives since 2014, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Despite the fact that there’s a nominal ceasefire in place, military and civilian casualties continue to mount in eastern Ukraine, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says.

International monitors such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe continue to observe one ceasefire violation after another, and continue to be denied access by Russian-backed rebels to a number of parts of the territory they control, including the border with Russia.

The war, along with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has forced more than 1.7 million people like Semenenko from their homes to other parts of Ukraine.

Many have gone to fairly close cities in the east like Kharkiv and Zaporizhia. Smaller numbers have gone to cities like Lviv in western Ukraine, more than 1,100 kilometres away, while others have gone to smaller cities and towns all over the country where they have friends and family.

But many, like Semenenko and her family, left everything behind and settled in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital and largest city of almost three million.

It wasn’t easy at first.

“I like singing,” she says at Kyiv’s World Refugee Day celebration on June 20. She used to sing and play a bit of guitar with her friends back home in Donetsk.

“But when I got to Kyiv, I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I didn’t know a lot of people here.”

But last winter Semenenko found out about a talent show an NGO was putting on for young internally displaced persons (IDPs) like her. She applied, auditioned and was accepted.

It gave her a chance to not only belt out a few tunes, but also to make friends in a crowded new city.

“I’ve had some good luck,” she says. But she knows not everyone is as lucky.

Few jobs for refugees

Semenenko’s parents have found work in Ukraine’s competitive capital city. But according to a recent survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) mission in Ukraine, fewer than half of such families in Ukraine even have regular income from employment.

Even those who do can’t manage to pull in very much. According to the IOM’s survey, 59 per cent of internal refugees made less than $68 Cdn per family member per month.

“The general level of well-being of most IDPs is quite low,” says Manfred Profazi, IOM Ukraine’s chief of mission.

Some assistance is available from the Ukrainian government: $20 Cdn a month if a refugee is able to work and $46 Cdn if not. But refugee activists worry that new Ukrainian government rules and “monitoring commissions” will take these benefits away from the most vulnerable refugees like the elderly and disabled.

“For people who live in poverty, on the very brink of survival, these small subsidies mean a lot,” activist Andriy Timoshenko told the Kyiv Post last week.

“They don’t have anywhere to live or anything to live on.”

From Syria to Ukraine

Assad Hawlkat might have a place to live, but it’s not where he wants to be.

A Kurd from Kobani in northern Syria, Hawlkat left home several years ago to study at a university in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. He earned an undergraduate degree, got married and was working towards a graduate degree when Russian-backed rebels seized Luhansk.

“In 2015 they started saying they might have to send all the international students out because of the situation there,” he says. He ended up going back home to Kobani, itself recently liberated after a long siege by ISIS.

Hawlkat, a fervent painter, didn’t last long back home. Extremists threatened him after a small exhibition of his paintings earned their ire and soon after he came back to Ukraine to pursue his graduate studies in Kyiv.

Nothing to go back to

After his parents told him there was nothing to come back to in Kobani, Hawlkat applied for refugee status in Ukraine. He is still waiting.

But he can’t go back to Luhansk, where he’d rather be. His wife is there but can’t leave because she’s looking after her ill mother and grandmother. As a refugee claimant, he isn’t allowed to get through the front lines to visit.

“I have all the photos to prove my story but they say no,” he says, frustrated.

But for Hawlkat, art is his outlet. He displayed some of his paintings at the World Refugee Day celebration.

His paintings are visual odes to what he’s lost and what he hopes to get back. Some of his pieces are based on photographs, including of his own war-torn hometown in Syria.

Others are abstract pieces, from multicoloured swirls of oil to flowery yet fiery electrocardiograms that express emotions he can’t put into words.

“As an artist, I’m burning from the inside for my paintings,” he says. “I can’t live without them.”

As Maria Semenenko shelters herself from the afternoon sun, she is asked what she would say to Canadians about herself and her life.

She pauses, seeking the right words in English.

“Value peace, all that you have,” she says. “Because just one time, you can lose it all.”

Let’s get to know Ukraine’s IDPs

Let’s get to know Ukraine’s IDPs

The UN’s World Refugee Day is June 20. It’s a day to draw public attention to the tens of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world who’ve had to flee their homes because of war, conflict or persecution.

Sadly, there’s no shortage of IDPs in Ukraine. There are 1.7 million IDPs across the country who have been forced to flee Donbas and Crimea over the past two years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to return home anytime soon.

Yesterday the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and the UNHCR released results from a timely poll of Ukrainians’ attitudes towards internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine.

It was really two surveys – one a representative in-person survey of Ukrainians as part of KIIS’s regular omnibus (data from which I’ve bored people with before), and the other a telephone survey just of Ukrainians in cities with large populations (CLP in the report and the rest of this piece) of IDPs.

It’s a really effective way of parsing out the differences in attitudes between people who actually have met and know IDPs and those who haven’t. And they’re certainly different.

Tonight’s episode of ‘Talking to IDPs’

Turns out most Ukrainians haven’t actually had that much contact with IDPs in their communities. Only 17% of Ukrainians country-wide have had a conversation with an IDP, and 39% haven’t ever spoken with an IDP nor know of any living in their vicinity. Even in CLPs less than half (47%) have actually spoken to an IDP.

But as you can see in the crappy screenshot I’ve taken of Figure 1.2 of the report, people in CLPs are more likely to know about IDPs where they live, to have spoken to some, to have some as neighbours/friends or relatives and/or to live with some. Not surprising.

Figure 1.2

These numbers differ across Ukraine and again, not surprisingly, they mirror the distribution of IDPs across the country. Look at the bottom graph – in western Ukraine just under half (49%) of respondents have never spoken with an IDP nor know of any living in their vicinity, compared to 41% in central Ukraine, 34% in southern Ukraine and 26% in eastern Ukraine.

How do Ukrainians feel about IDPs?

The vast majority of Ukrainians have positive or neutral attitudes towards IDPs, particularly those who actually live in cities with large IDP populations.

Across the entire country, 43% of Ukrainians said they had positive attitudes IDPs, while 58% did in CLPs. Not many Ukrainians hold negative views of IDPs – only 6% across all Ukraine and a minuscule 2% in CLPs.

Ukrainians’ opinions of IDPs haven’t changed much in the past two years. Five percent of people across Ukraine said their attitudes towards IDPs had improved – compared to 10 percent in CLPs – and 7 percent said their attitudes had worsened, compared to only 3% in CLPs.

While there are a few regional differences in attitudes towards IDPs, these attitudes look to be more associated with (lack of) familiarity with IDPs than anything else.

Look at Figure 3.4, particularly the top green bar(s) for western Ukraine and western Ukrainian CLPs. In western Ukraine negative stereotypes of IDPs are more common – but remember that western Ukrainians had less contact and less familiarity with IDPs than people in any other part of Ukraine.

Figure 3.4

What’s more, those negative stereotypes are much less common in western Ukrainian cities with large IDP populations, much like everywhere else in the country. While almost a quarter of western Ukrainians think that IDPs “support separatism,” less than one in ten western Ukrainians in CLPs do. This tells me that the best way for a Ukrainian to understand ‘what IDPs think’ is to meet and chat with some – just like, say, in Canada or the US, the best way to understand what Syrian refugees are like is to…you know, meet some.

For reference, here’s Figure 3.3 of the “positive” characteristics, where you can see a similar trend the other way, particularly when it comes to the idea that IDPs are “very vulnerable and need help.”

Figure 3.3

What’s more, people who have more contact with IDPs and/or know some tend to be more likely to be willing to hire them or to rent them a place to live.

Table 10

Familiarity, it seems, doesn’t have to breed contempt.

With my stats hat on, I have to acknowledge that there could be other reasons for all this. Are more positive/less negative views of IDPs more related to factors like income/socio-economic status and level of education that are higher in big cities that happen to have large IDP populations? Do people in population centres with IDPs tend to be more liberal in their political views, which itself would explain their positive attitudes towards IDPs? All possible, yes, but I doubt it. If I had the data set I could run this and answer that question. So, you know, UNHCR/KIIS, hintity hint hint.

What matters? Media coverage matters

The takeaway from this is that the more Ukrainians encounter, meet and get to know IDPs, the more likely they seem to be to have positive attitudes towards them. But you can’t get every Ukrainian in every village, town and city to get to know an IDP, particularly if there isn’t one for miles around.

That’s why media coverage of IDPs in Ukraine really matters. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents in this poll said they based their opinions of IDPs on mass media; media coverage is even important for shaping the opinions of people who’ve met IDPs (53%) and those who have IDPs as friends or neighbours (38%).

What’s the best substitute for actually getting to know someone who’s had to flee their home? Watching, reading or hearing a good, accurate story about one.