Anti-Corruption in Slovakia: The Role of Civil Society

By Pawelke, Andreas | Romanian Journal of Political Science, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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Anti-Corruption in Slovakia: The Role of Civil Society

Pawelke, Andreas, Romanian Journal of Political Science

1. Introduction

The accession of Slovakia to the European Union (EU) on May 1st 2004 was meant to be "an irrevocable shift away from the bad habits of the past" (The Economist, 2009). After having turned from the "laggard" of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) into a leading reformer within only ten years, the accession to the EU should mark the final step in a series of important strides towards a full-fledged democracy with a clean, transparent and reform-oriented government. While Slovakia has undoubtedly become a consolidated, well-functioning democratic state, there are worrisome signs of a shift backwards to misgovernance, abuse of power and outright corruption which characterised the post-communist years of the 1990s.

The re-emergence of cronyism, favouritism and embezzlement of public money requires immediate and concerted efforts. But who can take on the role of the anticorruption crusader? The current government does not seem to consider the fight against corruption as a top priority and external pressure for reforms is largely absent. Conditionality for EU membership has lost its power to push for reforms and international donors seem to have slowly lost their interest in the region of Central and Eastern Europe after the 2004 EU enlargement. Given this situation it falls on civil society to step in and hold the government in check, monitor the activities of the political elite and advocate for measures to fight corruption. But is Slovakia's civil society able to take on this role? Does it have the potential and strength to demand accountability and transparency?

According to the publications of various international organisations, civil society plays a key role in fighting corruption (see e.g. OECD, 2003). This is all the more surprising given the lack of empirical studies on the relationship between civil society and anticorruption (Grimes, 2008, p. 3). Even though some studies have contributed to closing this gap (e.g. Tisne & Smilov, 2004), little is known about the impact of civil society action on the levels of corruption. The objective of this analysis is to further the understanding of civil society as an anti-corruption actor by looking at the case of Slovakia. Does the assumption of civil society as an important player in the fight against corruption hold true? If so, which strategies have been most successful and under what circumstances?

Apart from these more theoretical questions, there is an important practical dimension to the issue of civil society and anti-corruption. Civil society organisations (CSOs) and donors alike need guidance in searching for adequate anti-corruption strategies. CSOs are in constant search for the most effective approach to curb corruption. Donors need to decide on what organisation, and thus what approach, to fund. They have a strong interest in investing their limited financial resources most efficiently, or to put it more bluntly, they want to get the biggest bang for their buck. Therefore, this analysis seeks to come up with recommendations for the future role of Slovakia's civil society in anti-corruption. What has worked in the past and what lessons have been learnt? How should CSOs react and adapt to the new environment? For instance, should they seek cooperation or confrontation with the government? Donors need to ask themselves if their current funding strategy has the strongest possible impact. What projects and what organisations should donors support in the future?

2. Corruption And Anti-corruption In Post-communist Countries

While there are distinct differences in the extent and the specific forms of corruption across post-communist countries, they share a considerable set of similar features (Karklins, 2002, p. 22). This suggests that the current corruption is at least partly rooted in systemic features of the former communist regimes and/or in the transition from communism to democracy and a market economy (Howard, 2003).

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