Europe Regional: Anticorruption Efforts and Civic Participation in Eastern Europe

Discussion date: June 8, 2021

Partners: Civil Control Platform and Solidarity Center

Due to the legacy of its communist past, Eastern Europe’s citizens have historically been detached from decision-making processes at the national level. As a result, they have had limited opportunity to actively engage in civic life. Collective forms of political and social organization, such as political parties and non-governmental organizations, are relatively new. Also new is the decentralization of government. While greater autonomy at the local level offers exciting opportunities for engagement, many fear that decentralizing power simultaneously decentralizes corruption. In the partnership with the Civil Control Platform (Ukraine) and the Solidarity Center, the Europe regional meeting was held to discuss the role of citizens and civic engagement in addressing corruption and advancing democratic reform.

Whistleblowers play an important role in fighting corruption. They often face threats as they speak out against those in power, and they need to be protected. Participants in the first session spoke about the historical context and challenges whistleblowers face in Eastern Europe today. Arjan Dyrmishi of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Governance (Albania) outlined the trend across the region resulting from its communist past, in which a practice of people reporting on one another has established a barrier to whistleblowing. Across these countries there are weak protection mechanisms for whistleblowers. In Ukraine, Veniamin Tymoshenko of the Independent Trade Union Association of Aviation Workers commented that despite progressive legislation, whistleblowers have little protection. In Romania, Victor Alistar of Transparency International Romania also explained that there is good legislation; however, these laws aren’t enforced. There is a persistent notion that by whistleblowing, one is betraying one’s colleagues. “We [Transparency International Romania] benefit from the support of trade unions because we thought it is important to have this protection of whistleblowers built up in a culture of good faith, not related to betrayal of your comrades as it was in the Communist period…but it is more related to the freedom of professional speech, freedom of taking part in building general good of society,” as Alistar discussed. The panelists reflected that civil society organizations (CSOs) and trade unions are making efforts to change the rhetoric of betrayal as well as working with journalists to change this narrative.

The second panel discussed strategies to strengthen civic participation in countries in transition. Panelists outlined general challenges to civic participation, including a lack of feeling responsible for one’s country. To overcome these challenges, Cosmin Pojoranu of the Funky Citizens Foundation (Romania) said it is necessary for CSOs to make issues more appealing to the average person. Marek Zelenka of the Organization Oziveni (Czech Republic) noted that while it is easier now than before to be an active citizen due to access of information online, “what is challenging is that you have to be an expert” to understand information available online. Bálint Mikola of Transparency International Hungary agreed that “despite the fact that a lot of information is available, there is a relatively high threshold to participation simply because it’s too complex.” Describing an approach which has been effective in Moldova, Diana Enachi of Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) “Viitorul” cited the example of the Moldovan public procurement law that allows civic organizations to participate in procurement working groups with public authorities. Panelists provided solutions to these challenges and shared websites their organizations have created for public outreach.

Watch the discussion here: