Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Challenging the East-West Divide: Insights from a Comparison of Ukraine and Italy

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Challenging the East-West Divide: Insights from a Comparison of Ukraine and Italy

Article excerpt

This article examines how political behaviour has impeded the

functioning of political institutions in Ukraine and Italy. It applies

an actor-centered institutionalism and argues that even non-democratic

political elites can co-exist within a democratic

framework. It analyzes actors' conduct in regard to the

democratic institutions of the constitution, judiciary and media.

The paper concludes by identifying three pillars of political elite


Keywords: political elite, Italy, Ukraine, informal power

1. Introduction

Italy is one of Europe's problematic children: in this country, a veritable crisis of the political system has provoked the rise to power of Silvio Berlusconi. As of the date of writing, he has been sixteen years in power, a term few communist leaders managed to reach. In spite of his questionable conduct regarding proposed laws and rhetoric, he has managed to stay in office. Public protest has existed but has been too weak to oust the incumbent. Similarly, instability from within the political elite emerged as a threat to his rule with the split of the Fini-party from the Berlusconi coalition in 2010 being the decisive element. In Ukraine, the crisis of the political system after the break-up of the Soviet Union paved the grounds for a rise to power of Leonid Kuchma who was about to install an authoritarian system. (1) However, he underestimated the degree of public frustration and his powerful clan was stripped off power through public protests in December 2004 following the manipulation of the presidential elections. Subsequent democratic governments were unstable, partly due to the attempts to introduce a parliamentary-presidential system and inter-elite struggles. This paved the way for the old elite to return to power: Viktor Yanukovych, a representative of the "old" system, won the presidential elections of January 2010.

This paper concentrates on a core problem of democratizing countries and established democracies noting that in both cases unsuitable and inadequate political behaviour has impeded the functioning of political institutions. The purpose of this paper is to show that even non-EU members and ex-Soviet Union states may have much more in common with countries that are considered the "core" of Western Europe.

2. Theories and Concepts

This paper applies an actor-centred institutionalism to reveal the reasons for poorly functioning political systems in Western and Eastern Europe. I concentrate on political elites, "persons who are able, by virtue of their strategic positions in powerful organizations and movements, to affect political outcomes regularly and substantially". (2) They are the decision-makers and the drivers of a country's development. In certain states political elites affect politics in rather undemocratic way and put themselves above the democratic structures they operate within. This means that the actors do not behave according to their democratic mandate, in particular their mandate to advance the common good; instead they have in regard their personal well-being. The article argues that political elites instrumentalize democratic political institutions for personal power purposes in countries with different political backgrounds. In Italy, the democratic framework has deteriorated in the decades after the Second World War. In Ukraine, an efficient democratic framework has never been introduced. Western researchers of elites have underlined the necessity and desirability of an elite-institution unity in maintaining democracy. (3)

The article contributes to the knowledge we have on political elites in showing that undemocratic political elites are capable of co-existing with a democratic institutional framework. This is an aspect that has been neglected in Western elite research: the existence of democratic regimes where non-democratic political elites co-exist with a democratic framework, i. …

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