When the Berlin Wall fell in the annus mirabilis, 1989, constructive initiatives were taken. With generous support from a number of donors, including the Austrian National Bank, members of the Eurasia Barometer Consortium on the base of the Paul Lazarsfeld Society decided to commence researching public opinion in the transition economies. Until then the society had concentrated on issues within Austria, such as Austrians' sense of nationhood and the public opinion on foreign development aid.
In 1990, members of Eurasia Barometer Consortium acting on the basis of the Paul Lazarsfeld Society decided to engage in first contacts with public opinion research institutions in former Communist countries; we found out that the required knowledge and skills were readily available, and that surveying institutions and faculties of sociology had gathered valuable experience in research on the fringes of society, above all in studies on the younger generation. Difficulties were encountered primarily in the field of technical implementation, most of all in Russia, where the Paul Lazarsfeld Society conducted a nation-wide survey among 3,500 respondents. Surveys could only be conducted in areas with functioning means of public transport. In the transition economies closer to the West, the new democracies as we came to call them, this was less of a problem.
In 1994, Manfred Güllner, head of the FORSA Institute, Berlin – Dortmund, founded the German branch of the Paul Lazarsfeld Society, and the Austrian and German branches agreed to cooperate. In line with the logic, the Austrian branch covered the Central and East Central European economies, as well as the Ukraine and Belarus, while the German branch was dealing with Russia and the Baltic states.
urned into fish soup, but no one knows how to now turn the fish soup back into an aquarium. After the second generation of reformers has also been worn down, and as the example of the Czech Republic has shown, nostalgia has grown strong – some people in the transition economies mistakenly spoke of the past as a golden era. Such romantic distortion of the historical facts does not make the difficult reform processes easier to sustain. The surveys showed, with few exceptions, that the population does not want to return to the Soviet or any other undemocratic system; where such trends became evident, strong resistance was soon to be felt. Yet the path into the future remains unclear. The transition economies have set off on their road towards a democratic society and there is no turning back: Voters demand their rights; above all, the right to participate in democratic governance.
Nowadays Paul Lazarsfeld Society is still operating in Vienna, Austria as an independent research center.