New challenges to democracy in central Europe

31-10-2003

According to a Budapest based Institute, former Secret police and nomenclature from communist days have gained high positions in governments across Central and Eastern Europe. The Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security say they're concerned about the influence these people are having on politics and policies. Radio Budapest's Agi Varga talks to the Director and founder of the institute Sebestyén Gorka

"What we're experiencing in the region, every country of the region, is the fact that while the institutions of democracy and free market have been created, the culture of liberal democracy and a free market is not developing in the way that it should. Old networks, ambiguous non transparent power structures are affecting in an unhealthy fashion the way that everyday politics is being pursued and also how business and the private sector is being run"

What are the ways in which they are interfering with democratic processes?

"For example the lack of a completely independent judiciary or media. The influencing of court cases, we see the attacks on the media, for example the accusations of party bi-partisan attitudes. Basically the rules of the game are not being stuck to as one would hope. We have this huge scandal in Hungary for instance with the head of the K & H bank, in Slovakia we have the head of the Secret Service being accused of being an anti democratic secret organisation. I could go on and on. There seems to be something wrong in the practice of democracy."

Now obviously this is not just a problem in Hungary, as you say, but what rating would you give to Hungary?

" Hungary I would say is better off than Slovakia, and Romania and the Ukraine and Serbia, and probably at the same level as Poland and the Czech Republic but not as good, not as healthy as the Baltic states."

Why do you think there is no solution to this problem after over a decade of the transition?

" Several reasons - I think that a conscious decision was made, in Hungary for example, that former members of the nomenclature would be allowed to privatise government assets into their own interest groups. And the expectation was that they would stay in the private sector. Now 12 or 13 years later it is clear that people who were in this first or second line of nomenclature want to return to politics, have returned to politics, and they have used to an unfair advantage those assets they were able to privatise into their own pockets. So I think this is a surprise to those people who negotiated the change of regime in Hungary and something that is very difficult to react to now 13 years after the events."

Do you see any solution at all?

" Make all former files under communism accessible to everybody. Then we will not have cases such as we have with Katalin Kondor being attacked as an agent or not an agent, everyone will have access and we can check. Now there is this very strange situation where a third of the files have been released, another two thirds have been kept classified. Why? What is the reason that records from the 60's and 70's to do with communism are still classified? I think there is something suspicious here."

31-10-2003