The Experience of Civil Society as an Anticorruption Actor in East Central Europe

Article excerpt

I. The double paradox

The celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in East Central Europe was accompanied by the usual soul-searching customary at such moments. After successfully completing their EU accession, most countries in the region experienced the full brunt of an economic crisis and their politics after EU accession reflected some disappointment. While their overall democratization seems incontestable, particularly in comparison with the less successful eastern half of post communist Europe, many of the expectations of 1989 were not fulfilled. Among the disappointments, the persistence of corruption and the underdevelopment of civil society are perhaps the most surprising, seeing that the great popular movement of Solidarnosc started in Gdansk as a protest against local corruption and in due course reached such proportions as to undermine the whole Polish regime. This paper addresses precisely those two interconnected issues. Why, despite their most remarkable progress on democracy, have most East Central European states retained modest levels of governance? Is civil society still able to play any significant role in improving governance, even after its institutionalization at low levels of participation, after its initial high mobilization in the early years of democratization?

Does the impact, or lack of impact, of civil society do anything to explain the quality of governance? To answer those questions, this paper will analyze the association between civil society and good governance (section 1), put it to the test (section 2); and propose a model to explain the difficulty of establishing ethical universalism as the normative basis of governance in democratic post communist countries (section 3). Finally this paper will draw on a database of 'good governance' projects in civil society to understand under what circumstances the impact of civil society materializes (section 4). The database used for the project was constructed during 2009-2010 by the Romanian Academic Society for the Open Society Institute and includes 471 projects from sixteen countries. The period examined runs from 1998, the first year of assessment of the whole post-communist region of by Freedom House Nations in Transit which examined both governance and civil society in depth.

Since the World Bank began monitoring the world governance indicators (2), very little significant progress has been registered globally, despite an unprecedented investment in good governance policies and the raising of awareness encouraged by NGOs like Transparency International (Kaufmann, 2005). One set of explanations refers to the quality of our indicators, time-lagging and statistical aggregates not being sensitive enough to capture incremental evolution. According to that argument, progress does exist but we fail to notice it. The second type of explanation seems more substantial: both qualitative and quantitative measurements capture little evolution because, despite the unprecedented attempt to create a legal global anticorruption framework as well as national efforts to show goodwill and endorse international standards, there is little to show. Good governance is the outcome of a very long historical process, and quantitative models of good governance invariably attach a considerable proportion of the explanation to historical factors (La Porta et al, 1999; Treisman, 2000). Perhaps the evolution towards good governance is such a lengthy incremental historical process that it is simply not apparent if studied with reference to such a short period of time as fifteen years.

Eastern Europe is the ideal test case for such questions. The paradox of good governance in East Central Europe is that the region registered the largest initial progress in its first years of transition--indeed positioning it on average as showing the most successful transition among all the regions of the world- only to stagnate afterwards at a level well below the average governance scores of the OECD, despite international assistance, EU conditionality and finally successful EU accession (see figure 1). …