As the nations of the Eastern bloc – one after another in 1989 – rejected communism and the dominance of the former Soviet Union, they sought to join Western institutions such as NATO and the European Union. For some, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the path was relatively smooth, but others still struggle with issues of good governance and civil society. Regional analysts generally point to a host of impediments to democracy and good governance – including organized crime, corruption in government institutions, a lack of trained professionals, weak democratic institutions, and unstable coalitions.
A Bulgarian Perspective
Bulgarian journalist Ilin Stanev, the Washington correspondent for Dvevnik daily newspaper and Kapital weekly newspaper, says the major challenge can be summed up as a "lack of guts." Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now's International Press Club, Stanev argues that everyone knows what must be done, but "there is no will to do it." Corruption and organized crime are rampant, he says, because civil society lacks the power to fight it," he said. "Furthermore, democracy is not just a matter of holding elections, which Stanev calls "only the visible part of the iceberg." Below the surface one needs to adhere to the rule of law, if organized crime is to be addressed.
A Romanian Perspective
In Bucharest, Romanian analyst Suzana Dobre is director of the Romanian Academic Society, a think tank that promotes good governance and political integrity. She says that, under the pressure of meeting requirements for membership in the European Union, Romania adopted measures to "address injustice and corruption," but unfortunately that effort has not been sustained. In fact, according to Dobre, there was not only a noticeable drop after 2007 in the "political will" to continue reform but also a "desire to reverse the reforms that took place before accession."
However, Suzana Dobre says there are improvements in other spheres. For example, the media are more open than before. Nonetheless, the ownership of large media organizations is often "linked" to the government or to the major political parties. For that reason, Dobre says, it is difficult to evaluate the "accuracy and balance" of the information they provide. On the other hand, print media in Bulgaria are generally free, but public television is quite a different story, says Ilin Stanev of Dnevnik.
A Serbian Perspective
Serbian journalist Svetlana Vukovic, author of the program Pescanik produced by B-92 independent radio station in Belgrade, says that Serbia represents a "special case in the ex-communist world." After the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Vukovic notes, countries such as Bulgaria and Romania chose a "path of democratization and European integration." But under Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia chose "nationalism and war." Even after 2000, Vukovic says, the major institutions of Serbian society "resisted democracy change," and people who had been "responsible for the war crimes of the 1990s" continued to wield influence in the police, army, and secret service. In 2003, she says, this situation culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djinjic, a man who "insisted on European integration."
Even though Serbia's new government favors European integration, there continue to be violent demonstrations on the streets, and Svetlana Vukovic says it is a "big question" whether the ruling party will prevail or new elections will need to take place. According to Vukovic, Serbia is a divided society, almost equally balanced between those who lean toward Europe and those who favor nationalism.
It is very hard for journalists to be independent, Svetlana Vukovic says, because Serbian media are attached to political parties, except for B-92. And that's because radio is "less valued" than television. In addition, the pursuit of civil society in Serbia can come at a very high price. Vukovic points to the case of well-known Belgrade lawyer Natasha Kandic, who led the campaign in the 1990's against the excesses of the Milosevic government and is now a "great friend of B-92." But to this day, Vukovic says, Natasha Kandic still has to have bodyguards, which "shows that things haven't really changed."
Despite all the obstacles, there are men and women in Serbia – and in Bulgaria, Romania, and the successor states of the former Yugoslavia – who continue to fight for democracy and good governance. But many Western analysts believe that real change will require political leaders who commit themselves to the rule of law.