Corruption in Central and Eastern Europe

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The fundamental reality is that Central and Eastern Europe have been facing political corruption for several centuries. There have been numerous regime changes throughout the history of this part of Europe. The history of the past century alone has changed the political climate so much that it is hard to look at a more current political reality without at least mentioning the two largest changes that Central and Eastern Europe have experienced. Those changes are of course the rise of the Nazis and the subsequent following World War II, as well as the rise and fall of the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), both of which changed the entire continent of Europe, as well as other parts of the world, in ways that would never have been expected. However, in recent history, there are specific causes that have led to the political corruption that exists today. The fall of the Soviet Union left all of the states it contained in a matter of political turmoil and chaos. Central Europe, though some of it fell prey to the collapse of the Soviet Union, alternatively, went through a period of discovering itself, transitioning from authoritarian regimes under the guise of socialist or communist principles into democracies or socialist democracies. The drastic political transition over the past two decades has left many countries in Central and Eastern Europe open to several different kinds of political corruption. The transition to stability, globalization of the economy, and the effects of such corruption in Central and Eastern Europe need to be further analyzed in order to properly explain the current political climate in this part of the world.

Though there are far too many countries in Central and Eastern Europe to analyze individually, it’s worthwhile to look at a few examples of the rise of corruption in a couple of specific countries. For instance, the transition for Hungary from an authoritarian regime to democracy has been a long, complex process. According to Antal Visegrády, “on September 27, 1987, with the establishment of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, Hungarian opposition forces concentrated in Lakitelek.” Visegrády shows that the Hungarian model of democracy started in the late ’80s, but did not actually establish a democracy until much later. It took them several years to develop what they wanted their government to be. It wasn't until 1990 that Hungary actually developed a parliamentary system with a democratic leadership though. Due to the breakdown of a socialist authoritarian society, this was made possible, but the reality is that Hungary still had a long way to go in order to participate in a free society. In some ways, Hungary still does. This is just one of many examples, but Hungary’s system was actually over the years changed, partially following the guidance of Poland’s example.

Poland was not the model democracy, not that it can be said that any country actually is, but because Hungary borrowed from Poland’s constitution, it’s imperative to understand exactly what the Polish did in order to create their own democratic union. Much of Poland’s own history in creating a democracy took time and created problems within Polish society before they maintained the democracy they have now. For instance, Visegrády also notes that the Hungarian opposition parties borrowed from the experiences of the Polish Round-Table Negotiations, and the East German opposition parties borrowed from both of these experiences. The reality is that while Poland created a model for other countries to follow early on, there is still rampant corruption within Poland. There is little to be learned from a country that is still discovering how to rid itself of the corruption that is contained within, yet there is no country that is corruption-free. Poland is still dealing with its corruption problems, which appear to the public as only getting worse according to Aleksander Surdej who states, although between 1991 and 2003 the percentage of people who think that corruption is a big social problem increased from 71% to 81%. This shows that no matter how amazing a governmental system may seem as its formed, it may not necessarily lead to a better way of actually accomplishing the demolition of corruption within the society.

The systemic nature of transitioning from one form of government to another is incredibly difficult, yet combining a single part of the world with so much transition at one time made the process far more complex and in some cases unsustainable. The instability of governmental shifts for many of these countries has made the political rife with corruption. The primary reason being that there has been no model for transition from authoritarian, communist, or socialist regimes to democratic ones for Central and Eastern Europe to follow. The lack of a model of this kind of governmental shift created a culture that breeds corruption because people are inherently greedy. The old adage rings true in this case, which is to say power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. According to Roman Jurik, changes and revolutions in 1989 had a deep impact on constitutional law in Central and Eastern European Countries. Though in many of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the government did not necessarily evolve into a democracy or socialist-democracy but rather developed in another way that bred corruption. Jurik continues by saying, [a] common issue for all the Central and Eastern European countries was that many states disintegrated. In many of the ex-Soviet countries, the power became too much to handle for an individual or group, which spread corruption throughout the political system.

Modern-day Russia is a perfect example of what happens when corruption is not held within check by some other system of government. Vladimir Putin has just taken over Crimea and will, very likely, take over at least eastern Ukraine, if not the entire country in the coming weeks, months, or years. While Russia maintains its position is reasonable under the circumstances, Putin is acting like a child testing the boundaries before other things happen. While most western countries are powerless to stop Russia militarily from taking over Ukraine, they can and have imposed some economic sanctions. The reality is that economic sanctions don't actually accomplish anything when dealing with megalomaniacs. This is another example of corruption, but on a much wider scale because it involves the ingesting of part of one country by another.

While the economy has been globalized in many ways, Central and Eastern Europe are still part of their own network and can still function reasonably well without the rest of the world’s economy to create commerce and trade. This is a functional problem within the globalization effect of the world economy, however, it has already happened and it is unlikely that it will change in the near future to anything different. The fundamental point is that high levels of corruption still exist today in Central and Eastern Europe. Daniel Treisman states the suspicion that “competitors are getting ahead through corrupt acts and that regulatory officials will impose predatory sanctions if not paid off may make a business strategy of keeping one’s hands clean seem counterproductive.” Though this would seem to prove that getting ahead by corrupt acts is a fact of doing business where corruption exists, there is another facet to the issue that is as of yet has not been discussed. Treisman continues on to say, “at the same time, the lack of trust and civic engagement may increase the supply of corrupt services by reducing the danger to officials of being exposed and punished.” This kind of rampant corruption that exists in Central and Eastern Europe is incredibly hard to discourage due to the nature of the problem. Essentially, as long as it exists in some form or another, it is incredibly difficult to actually eradicate corruption. This aspect of the corruption problem in parts of Europe is one of the most difficult to explain or deal with in many ways. If there is no legal system in place to deal with it and local legal authorities can be bribed, then there is essentially no recourse for corruption both within business and politics. The political system must be intrinsically not involved in corruption for the lack of any subsequent corruption within the framework of the rest of the society. However, this is virtually impossible, or maybe completely impossible as there has not been a society in existence that has had no corruption within the government. The problem then lies within destroying any factions of the government that contain corruption. Certain countries have done this in certain ways. For instance, in Hungary, as mentioned above, the government was designed to minimize corruption as much as possible, but it, like every other government, did not fully succeed in eliminating corruption. Finding a system that actually eliminates corruption after the fall of the Soviet Union and other similar counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe has led to not only affect on the society of a given state but affect on the countries that surround it, as well as the rest of the world.

The effects of corruption within a society are fairly obvious, yet that does not mean they are not complex. Each society deals with corruption differently. In many societies, there are types of business and political corruption that are underreported or unpunished by society. The evidence of that is fairly clear from the recent collapse of the U.S. market and the U.S. government’s subsequent response to the banking industry, which was, of course, to give the banks more money. There are many other easily explained examples of how such corruption goes unpunished and in many ways actually applauded by the government, but that should suffice as a simple example. In the U.S., people suffered as a result while the banks profited by repossessing people’s homes and then selling them at a highly inflated profit to people that could not afford them, which, in turn, allowed the banks to repossess the house again and profit once more at the expense of the American people. Though this kind of corruption exists within the entire world, there is a certain kind of corruption that is interesting to examine in Central and Eastern Europe because of the history of the past century. As mentioned above, the Polish believe that their society has become more corrupt between 1991 and 2003 Polish, which is data that is still more than a decade old. The reality is that if the Polish participated in the poll now, the number would probably be much higher than it was then. This is a fundamental effect of corruption within a society. Corruption generates more corruption. This is only an analysis of the individual society, but worldwide effects are also imperative to examine.

Corruption within one country or state is often brought over to a neighboring state without much regard to borderlines because in the real world borders don't exist; they only exist on a map. Central and Eastern Europe, or rather more specifically, Eastern Europe has been plagued by the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Many of the countries in Eastern Europe have not yet figured out a governmental system that does not rely on corrupt politicians to run the state. On a larger scale, Eastern European countries have experienced massive changes, revolts, public outcry, and takeovers by other countries, primarily Russia, as was the case with Ukraine and Georgia. These widespread takeovers of countries by Russia make it appear as though the Soviet Union may be reforming, although with much more resistance this time. The effect of this kind of corruption is that the world is concerned, and perhaps rightly so, of another cold war between the Americans and Russians, the only two countries left with the desire, willingness, and ability to completely destroy each other with nuclear weapons. Not only would that be a devastating result for any country involved, but the effects on the environment and the economy of the rest of the world would be unfathomable in this type of scenario. Though this is certainly an extreme example of the corruption of political power and its effects on worldwide society, it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that something like this could occur.

In conclusion, this paper has shown some of the realities of why such a high level of corruption in Central and Eastern Europe occur. It has done so via closely examining different forms of transitions of government, like Hungary and Poland, as well as explain the factor of the globalization of the economy as an outside force that acts upon nations that are corrupt or are influenced by corruption. It has also examined possibilities of what these effects may lead to both within a given society and to the world at large. Overall, this paper has effectively researched and examined at both a microcosmic and macrocosmic level to which the corruption in Central and Eastern Europe has begun, continued, and developed over the years, as well as explained the effects of this high level of corruption within the world. Regardless of the governmental system, some corruption will always exist within a given society, but it can certainly be lessened. If Central and Eastern Europe learn lessons from their neighbors and the rest of the world, this high level of corruption both within the political realm and societal realm can be demolished with rapid typing on a computer or a simple stroke of a pen.

Reference List

Matwiejuk, J. and Prokop, K. (eds.), Evolution of Constitutionalism in the Selected States of Central and Eastern Europe, Temida 2, 2010, p. 66.

Surdej, A., ‘Sources of Corruption in Post-Communist Poland’, Forschungsstelle Osteuropa Bremen Arbeitspapiere und Materialien, no. 6 March, 2005, p. 6,, (accessed 19 March 2014).

Treisman, D., The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study, 1998, p. 4, (accessed 19 March 2014).

Visegrády, A., Transition to Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Experiences of a Model Country - Hungary, 1 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 245 (1992), pp. 245-265. vol1/iss2/6, (accessed 18 March 2014).