Corruption in Post-Communist Europe: Immorality Breeds Poverty

By Zuzowski, Robert | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Corruption in Post-Communist Europe: Immorality Breeds Poverty


Zuzowski, Robert, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


Corruption plays a central role in many nations and even in some international institutions. In this article, the author reviews a vast literature, including empirical studies and perceptual surveys, relating to the existence, effects and causes of corruption, giving particular emphasis to the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe. He indicates that during the Cold War there was a taboo against discussing the subject, allegedly for fear of appearing judgmental toward Third World peoples whose support was desired, but also because the West sought the support of the leaders of these countries on the international scene. He argues that corruption is a moral problem, and is not to be understood simply as economic maladjustment.

Key Words: Corruption; Justice; Fairness; Economic development; Post-Communist Eastern Europe.

Nowadays hardly anyone discusses corruption as a moral problem. Most commentators perceive it as a technical problem to be solved by technical means only - like, say, solving the problem of high car-accident rate. Nobody, or almost nobody, sees it as something having to do with morals or ethics, as well. This is a strange phenomenon because corruption is intrinsically linked to moral ideas of fairness, equity and justice. Perhaps we are even born with a sense of fairness. Nevertheless, one could argue that corruption in public places is most likely as old as the state system itself, and a part and parcel of it.

One of the oldest documents tackling this issue was written by an Indian author Kautiliya in the fourth century B.C., who shrewdly observed that "Just as it is impossible not to taste the honey thai finds itself at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up at least a bit of the King's revenue."

The King's revenue, he noted, can be "eaten up" in forty ways; that is, there are forty ways to commit embezzlement.2 Embezzlement, however, is not fully synonymous with corruption: the latter is wider than that, denoting not only economic corruption in public places but political corruption and corruption in the private sector. This paper, however, is limited to the discussion of corruption in public institutions in Eastern Europe since the demise of communism. The term "Eastern Europe" as used here means all post- communist countries in Europe. Three aspects of corruption will be discussed in detail: moral, political and economic.

Deflning Corruption

But what exactly is corruption? It is more than just stealing a ruler's wealth or taking bribes in exchange for political and economic favors. What does a concept of moral corruption imply? Does it involve "moral deterioration, decay or depravity?"3

Some writers define corruption in terms of the acceptance of money, goods or services by public officials in return for misusing their official powers: a misuse of authority for personal benefit, monetary or otherwise. A dictionary defines corruption as a "Perversion or destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties by bribery or favor; the use or existence of corrupt practices, especially in a state, public corporation, etc."4 Transparency International, a non-governmental organization established in early 1990's to fight corruption globally, similarly defines corruption as the misuse of entrusted power for private gain.

Even nepotism, that is, the giving of a favor such as employment by a person in position of authority to his relatives, is included. It seems that a description of corruption as an abuse of office by public officials is closest to the contemporary understanding of it by an average person. Not every act of corruption has to be illegal to be considered corrupt; some acts may be in compliance with legal norms and yet be regarded as corrupt by the populace at large. Indeed, in some cultures nepotism and gift-taking by officials are not seen as improper, corrupt acts. In others, they are not only improper but illegal. …

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