Democracy 'under siege' across CEE, warns ex-PM
The economic crisis has brought back authoritarian regimes in some countries in emerging Europe, experts say
A prolonged economic downturn in the eurozone and the return of authoritarian parties in capitals from Budapest to Sofia threaten to unpick the fabric of democracy across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), experts warned.
Parts of the democratic process are under siege, Radmila Sekerinska, president of the National Council of European Integration, told Emerging Markets at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) conference in Istanbul.
In her opinion, the regions old autocratic tendencies are returning, but in relatively subtle ways such as centralized control of key institutions like the judiciary and the media, thus weakening free speech and human rights.
Some of the political parties have become so accustomed to being in government that there is no clear line between a [governing political] party and the state. And in some cases, the party takes over some of the duties of the state, Sekerinska said.
The most visible example of this lies in Hungary, where Premier Viktor Orban, in power since 2010, has been accused by critics of increasingly bending key institutions, from the civil service to the central bank, to his will.
Sekerinska pointed to the rising power of embedded political regimes across Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. She highlighted pressing concerns about the waning of democratic values in Bulgaria, Albania, and also in her own home country of Macedonia, where recent elections have been marred by allegations of vote tampering.
This is a really dangerous time, Sekerinska said. Its only a matter of time before some of these countries [fall under the control of] authoritarian regimes.
Following local elections in March in Skopje, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned that partisan media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities failed to provide a level playing field for all parties.
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Sekerinska, who was twice acting prime minister of Macedonia, points to a brace of interlinked reasons for the return of the more authoritarian state. The first is a paucity of role models: the depressed eurozone has lost much of both its allure and its authority as a result of the debt crisis.
There is a trend out there toward more autocratic governments and this to a large extent reflects the economic crisis and a lack of dynamic economies around Europe, Carlos Primo Braga, professor of international political economy and director of the Lausanne-based Evian Group, said.
Many in troubled emerging European states, struggling for economic growth and ground down by job insecurity, opt to bow to a higher power, rather than wield their hard-won democratic rights, Sekerinska said.
Citizens across the region are increasingly saying: okay, I am willing to give up my rights so long as I can get something beneficial and financial [from the state], she said.Its a feeling that the government is looking after you. I dont believe this is a uniform picture across the entire EBRD region but increasingly its hard to talk about democracy as picture perfect.
Recent opinion polls showed disenchantment with the European Union throughout the bloc but EIB President Werner Hoyer said this was unjustified.
"There is anger against the EU and I do not find it justified," Hoyer told Emerging Markets. "Cutting the branch on which we are all sitting would be the worst mistake you can make. I think we should explain and defend the European project more offensively."
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