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.
We are constantly saying there is more to democracy than elections. So I was pleased to see a book exactly on this by Susan Rose-Ackerman, From Elections to Democracy: Building Accountable Government in Hungary and Poland. Rose-Ackerman focuses on the importance of policy-making accountability to democratic consolidation in Hungary and Poland. She explores several mechanisms in the two countries for monitoring and citizen participation, and finds most of them insufficient to achieve accountability in policy-making.
For example, government entities tasked with oversight, such as ombudsmen and audit offices, have limited independence and limited mandates, and don’t allow for citizen input into policy-making. Neocorporatist dialogue, another mechanism, tends to be directed by bureaucrats and privileges a select number of organized groups. Rose-Ackerman identifies a need for stronger, pluralist civil society organizations to advance genuine public participation. On the government side, she recommends requirements for posting draft regulations and an open process for receiving public comments.