The State of Democracy After 25 Years: Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe

By Ola Cichowlas and Dr Andrew Foxall

Politicians across Central and Eastern Europe risk trampling on the hard-won democratic gains made in the 25 years after the collapse of communism, a new report by the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society has found.

Warning that throughout these states power is rapidly becoming concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy individuals, The State of Democracy After 25 Years: Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe highlights the alarming extent to which much of the region is rolling back on democracy.

The report highlights a number of threats to democracy, including: rising levels of corruption; decreasing independence of the judiciary; and the politicisation of anti-corruption efforts. It calls for the European Union to reinforce its commitment to nurturing democracy in its eastern fringes through effective law enforcement and improved dialogue.

Key findings of the publication include:

  • While formal democratic standards are high throughout Central and Eastern Europe, in some countries many of the underpinnings that define a functioning democracy are regressing.
  • Since the mid-2000s, political parties in Central and Eastern Europe have developed questionable relationships with authoritarian regimes, including Vladimir Putin’s revisionist Russia. This undermines not only the region’s democratic standards but also threatens European solidarity and defies the fundamental values of the European Union.
  • Although political elites in Central and Eastern Europe are rolling back on democracy, ordinary citizens are not willing to give up their hard-fought post-1989 gains. In 2014, protests swept through the region as citizens voiced discontent with the way that their countries are heading.

Ola Cichowlas, co-author of the report, commented: “The aftermath of the global financial crisis saw a rollback on democracy in the heart of Europe. In parts of the former Eastern Bloc, today’s political elite prioritise business interests over commitments to human rights, and political stability over freedom and liberty.

“In doing so, they are drifting from the hard-earned achievements over the past 25 years. Given the renewed threat from Russia, Brussels needs to be far more assertive in supporting European values in the region.”

The State of Democracy After 25 Years: Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe is available to download here.


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