On Sunday morning, CIPE Program Manager Zoia Tsybrova braved the cool, rainy weather to observe the EuroMaidan protests forming in the center of Kyiv. The Shevchenko building, where the rally was intended to be held, could not hold all the participants, and it did not take long for people to start walking, meeting friends and family, filling the streets of Kyiv. The mood, says Tsybrova, was euphoric. Not only on Sunday but today as well. Three days later, the people are still there, with a mass of students demonstrating still; the good mood remains, with people handing out hot tea and sandwiches to those on the streets. People are still dressed up for the occasion, smiling, walking with Ukrainian and European symbols, with homemade cards, signs, banners, and flags.
What was the impetus of this? The protesters were pushed over the edge by the government’s decision to suspend the pursuit of an association agreement with the European Union (EU). The association agreement could have been signed in Vilnius, Lithuania at the EU Partnership Summit on November 28-29. It is a political and free trade deal that has been on the international community’s radar for a number of months as it offered the possibility to Ukraine to begin integration into the European Union.
The deal’s suspension caused a response that was both unexpected and a turnout that was noteworthy, to say the least. Early estimates have put the number of protesters rallying on Sunday at 100,000. Ukraine has not seen a protest this large since the Orange Revolution in the winter months of 2004 leading into 2005. Following the government’s decision to suspend the pursuit of this agreement with the European Union on November 21, the people have come together in mass rallies again on Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Over the weekend, protests sprung in other cities around Ukraine, too, from east to west.
I’m not a devoted fan of Rush. My husband, on the other hand, has all the Rush lyrics memorized and he recently pointed out a song that stuck with me called Heresy. The song appears on Rush’s 1991 album Roll the Bones and talks about the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe – something I experienced first hand in Poland.
The song’s opening evokes familiar images from a quarter century ago of the unthinkable becoming real: the Berlin Wall coming down…
“All around that dull grey world
From Moscow to Berlin
People storm the barricades
Walls go tumbling in”
But the song doesn’t dwell on that dramatic moment of euphoria. Instead, the mood shifts quickly to palpable anger over decades of oppression, poverty, and life in fear that spanned both sides of the Iron Curtain due to the ever-present nuclear threat.
Here is how Rush’s lyricist Neil Peart explained his reasons behind writing the song, “The deconstruction of the Eastern Bloc made some people happy. It made me mad. (…) it was all a mistake? A heavy price to pay for somebody else’s misguided ideology, it seems to me, and that waste of life must be the ultimate heresy.”
Romanians protest against President Basescu in January 2012. (Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)
Though some recent machinations remind us that democracy can be a fragile thing, one can observe with guarded optimism that the overall transformation of the Central and Eastern European region to market-oriented democracies has been relatively successful. To understand where we are today, it’s important to look back to see how far Eastern Europe has come in 25 years.
Many take the Eastern European transitions for granted, noting the existence of market institutions and young democracies before World War II and subsequent Soviet domination, and characterizing the transition as a mere return to business as usual in the region. This interpretation is flawed, as it fails to realize that what we historically took to be “market institutions” and “democratic practice” in the region prior to post-war communism were deeply flawed and often only skin-deep.
On June 23rd, Albanians took to the polls for parliamentary elections with big implications for the future of their country. With European Union candidate status on the line, this particular election was viewed by the international community as a “crucial test” for Albania’s democratic maturity. Albania’s candidacy status has been denied its past three attempts at a bid, partially due to the lack of transparency and fairness in its electoral process.
The Socialist Party candidate and former Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, won handily with 53 percent of the vote, ousting the incumbent, Sali Berisha, and his Democratic Party after eight years in power. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe lauded the election as being free and fair, and a marked improvement from the past. In addition, the losing party officially accepted the results for the first time in the five parliamentary elections since 1992.
Another first for this election cycle was the prominence of business issues in party platforms. Jobs and the economy were the number one issues in the campaigns of all three major political parties. Never before have Albanian politicians shown such an interest in engaging with business in a public-private dialogue. It remains to be seen how the new government will continue these conversations now that the election is over, but there is a cautious optimism among business leaders in Albania that there will be a much more supportive atmosphere for genuine cooperation.
CIPE is currently partnering with a broad coalition of business associations and chambers of commerce to help strengthen the ability of the Albanian business community to conduct advocacy and act as a constructive partner in the public-private dialogue with government. By coalescing, the Albanian business community can take advantage of favorable political winds to improve the overall business climate and, thus, climb further up the ladder towards EU accession.
David Mack is Program Assistant for Eastern Europe & Eurasia at CIPE.
One of the most famous opening lines in all of literature comes from the great Russian novel Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With that, Tolstoy encapsulates a simple truth: dysfunction takes myriad forms. That’s not to say that one cannot learn from another’s experience. Indeed, some of the most important lessons can come from those who have already tried and failed. Experience is singular, but patterns can illuminate.
It is in that same spirit that Boris Begović writes the latest Economic Reform Feature Service article, which offers Serbia’s lessons in democratic transition to countries currently in flux. Dr. Begović, a longtime CIPE partner who was a chief economic adviser to the federal government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for 15 months during 2000-2002, examines the approaches that worked for Serbia—and those that didn’t. Read the full text of The Serbian Experience in Transition.
Earlier this month, the US Embassy in Romania organized an event with women entrepreneurs and students titled, “Women Entrepreneurs in Romania: Perspectives from the Public and Private Sectors.” Speakers at the event included the Minister of SMEs, Maria Grapini, and Gabriela Chiriac, President of the Women’s Association of Entrepreneurs in Galati. Both guest speakers have been closely involved in all the activities dedicated to women entrepreneurs in Romania including the creation of the Coalition of Women Business Associations (CAFA) and are dedicated to consolidating entrepreneurship in Romania.
The discussion brought together several members of CAFA, women entrepreneurs, and students interested in opening their own businesses. In discussing entrepreneurship and how to become successful in business, Grapini shared her personal experience in developing a personal brand as a manager and entrepreneur. While focusing on the idea that in order to be successful entrepreneurs need to unite, Chiriac stated very clearly, “Entrepreneurs unite your forces!”
Grapini also mentioned the Open Doors Campaign as a source of valuable advocacy experience for Romanian private sector representatives. The Open Doors Campaign was a CIPE-supported initiative centered around three grassroots coalitions which developed and promoted policy recommendations as part of a unified business agenda in 2002-2003.
Though both ladies emphasized the value statement behind the brand as the most important element in building a good and consistent reputation, their message to the young students and other women in the room was to be professional, stay with your values, and be consistent. It is a very strong message as positive values need constant reinforcement these days, in Romania as well as in many other countries.
For more information, see the press release published by the US Embassy here.
Camelia Bulat is Executive Director of the Regional Center for Organization Management.
This article was originally posted on the Community of Women Entrepreneurs blog.
Panelists at a Riinvest public procurement conference in 2012. (Photo: Riinvest)
In February this year, Kosovo celebrated five years since its declaration of independence. The new country is working to establish a viable democracy with well-governed institutions conducive to economic development and prosperity. Persistent corruption, weak rule of law, and poor quality of public institutions have undermined Kosovo’s reform efforts and sewn distrust in the government among citizens. Much of this is due to the political system that condones patronage relationships between politicians and business cronies who rely on weak institutions to secure control of the economy.
At the core of the problem is lack of accountability within government agencies and limited mechanisms for oversight by civil society and the private sector. Public procurement tenders, for instance, are awarded based on privilege and political loyalty rather than free and fair competition. Furthermore, government employees in charge of managing public tenders are left unaccountable for their flawed decisions and the resultant inefficiencies and corruption. In order to dismantle this crony system, Kosovo’s civil society and private sector need to take action to bring greater transparency and accountability to the public procurement process.
Since public tenders make up roughly one fifth of Kosovo’s GDP, it is crucial to strengthen the management of public funds and build a transparent and accountable implementation system that guarantees fair competition for everyone in the private sector. CIPE and its partner, the Riinvest Institute for Development Research, a leading think tank in Kosovo, have been working since 2011 to address the weaknesses in the public procurement process.