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An Awkward Celebration in the Heart of Europe

November 20, 2014 in Economics

By Dalibor Rohac

Dalibor Rohac

There was not much jubilation at the events commemorating 25 years since the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. During his speech at an official gathering of Central European heads of states in Prague, the President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, was booed by the crowd and pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

In neighbouring Slovakia, meanwhile, the anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution was marked by the surprising resignation of Pavol Paska, the speaker of parliament, following a scandal over corrupt public procurement of medical equipment, implicating him and his family. On Monday, a crowd of some five thousand people gathered in Bratislava to protest against rampant corruption and the growing ties between big business and government. On the same day, over 10 thousand Hungarians protested in Central Budapest against corruption, at an event dubbed ‘Public Outrage Day’.

There can be no question about the enormous economic, social, and human progress that countries of the region have made since 1989. However, there is a gap between the exuberance epitomized by the recent Foreign Affairs article by Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer and UCLA political scientist Daniel Treisman, who write about what they see as “normal countries,” and the growing dissatisfaction of many of the citizens of these countries, illustrated by this weeks protests — as well as by the growth of fringe, anti-system, populists of different ideological stripes.

The widely shared feeling of dissatisfaction in the heart of Europe cannot be dismissed simply as a product of people’s unrealistic expectations of the change that the fall of communism would create.”

Among the successful countries of Central Europe, this backsliding has been the most pronounced in Hungary. Its Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, cited Turkey and Russia as examples of illiberal democracies that worth following and emulating. Though disturbing, Mr Orban’s rhetoric pales in comparison with his actual policies, which have aimed consistently at suppressing the civil society and extending the power of the state.

Corruption is a problem, both for Hungary and its neighbours. On most indicators of institutional quality and corruption, a significant gap persists between post-communist countries and the more successful European economies- and it might even be widening. Slovakia, for example, ranked 57th on the 2004 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. By 2013, it moved down to 61st place. The Czech Republic, in turn, fell from 51st to 57th place.

This goes hand in hand with the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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