Excerpted from an article published on January 8, 2008, in the APEL press network
“Regional polls confirm that the problems with democracy stem from the elites, not the electorate. The 2005 New Democracies Barometer (NDB), the latest in an excellent series of regional polls, fully confirms this. Citizens in troublesome Central and Eastern European countries are critical towards institutions and most of them express their mistrust in Parliaments and political parties, but are democrats out of conviction and reject non-democratic alternatives, such as authoritarian leads, the dissolution of Parliaments and military regimes. Most of them estimate that the current political system is better than Communism and also better than an authoritarian regime. Of course, democracy is not the problem, but governance is: two thirds of voters complain about corruption and the inefficiency of rule of law and deem their governments inequitable.
Immediately post-adhesion, when the conditions are no longer as stringent, the influence of the European Union vanishes as a soft anesthetic. The political problems within these countries, particularly the messy political elite and the mistrust of parties expressed by voters, have nothing to do with adhesion to the European Union. They were there since the very beginning, although they were concealed or set aside due to the mass focus on the objective of adhesion. Throughout the accession process, political parties had to behave in a civilized manner in order to reach this popular goal, yet, immediately after the constraints were lifted, parties resumed their old habits. Now that countries in the region have joined the European Union, we see Central and Eastern Europe for what it really is – a region that has come a long way, yet one whose journey is not over. The process of joining the European Union is commendable, but it does not signal the end of history.”