Clientelism and Corruption in Post-Communist Countries

Rastislav Diovčoš


All the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe went through quite similar processes in last decades. In the issue of corruption it was the same. Although there were some differences between the countries mentioned in my project I will focus on the similarities of the processes in these countries. I will try to identify the factors that influence character of corruption methods. I will try to find out if these activities are more dependent on institutions or on political culture. I have chosen five characteristics that, in my opinion, influence character of corruption activities and, at the same time, differ conditions in Central and Eastern Europe from liberal democracies. These characteristics are: character of the former regime, character of transition, mal/functional institutions, economic situation and personal preferences of individuals.

All democracies must rest on some basic principles, one of which is the public accountability of decision making. Democracies depend upon their claim to accountability in a way, which fundamentally sets them apart from all non-democracies. A question, which arises, is why some countries appear more prone then others to political corruption: are there cultural causes of corruption, or does the emergence of political corruption depend upon more institutional factors? One possible response is to formulate the issue in terms of structure and agency. In such an approach, ´embedded local cultures´ might be seen as a structural given: thus rather then an appeal to some conceptions of national character, the nature of social practices in a country can be seen as a reflection of the long-term development and organization of its social and political system. The structural approach to political corruption places particular emphasis on the nature of state development. Administrative organization and efficiency are key variables, alongside the manner in which the political order becomes institutionalized. If the processes of social and political exchange are clearly separated from those of political and economic exchange, the penetration of political order becomes institutionalized. If the processes of social and political exchange are clearly separated from those of political and economic exchange, the penetration of politicians into bureaucratic structures becomes more difficult. (Heywood, 1997)

(1) After the break-up of the eastern bloc in 1989 the process of transition from one type of political regime to the other - to the liberal democracy – has started. Slovakia went through this process too, in that time as a part of Czechoslovak federal republic. In fact, the transition was accompanied not only by a collapse of the old communist economic system but also by a collapse of belief in the old communist value system (but now the majority in these countries think that the old regime was better in many ways). The end of socialism in Central and Eastern European countries was greeted with enthusiasm. The western public and the people who had endured the economic absurdities of the system expected economic performance to improve dramatically and the countries to turn overnight into a well-functioning and prosperous market economy. In practice, this idyllic picture did not quite materialize. The rule of law in socialist countries has not differed in its relevant formal features from the rule of law in democratic countries. In spite of this the content of politics and the use of law diametrically differed. That is why the judicial system cannot be regarded as the one, that determine political regime and clientelistic relationship even thou institutionalisation is one of the main conditions of the ability of the political system to reflect the changes that are produced by society. Success of transition depends mainly on two factors – on a quality of leaders and on a will of people to pass the changes, inward an acceptance of changes.

The experimentation with the transformation of society and human beings into communist type of man, who is in society equal in all the ways with others could not be successful because the man always want to gain the power, the influence and to live in a prosperity and that is what the communist type begrudged. This regime tried to make all people equal. Activities of individuals were suppressed in the name of equality. This is a part of the inheritance of the former regime that generates the problems in Slovakia and other post-communist countries as well. This character was reflected in the issues of corruption and clientelism as well. In spite of the fact that the rules, which everyone in the state had to abide, were strict, almost every activity of citizens was depended on agreement of civil servants. On all the levels of bureaucracy that played the role of some kind of court that could permit or prohibit the activity you wanted to do was able and often necessary to ´facilitate´ the decision-making. This was the way in which the relationship citizen-bureaucracy was influenced by corruption ties. By trying of system to set up equality it resulted in necessity also in a common issues, natural requirements to enforce the decision using corruption and clientelistic methods. The necessity of these practices was transmitted into acceptation of this phenomenon in life after the fall of the communist regime.

By becoming common of corruption relationship in communist regimes for people, this kind of ´naturalized´ component of communistic regimes penetrated into political culture of these countries also after the fall of regime. This kind of behaviour was tolerated. After the fall of regime it was expected that by institutional change and change of political processes will change the outlook about corruption and clientelism will change too. After the ideals in first years of transition it was find out that the influence of the past is much more powerful.

(2) Every transition is characterized by the change of rules. In society where the political process is gradual cannot be enough space for corruption activities as it is in countries in transition. The changes caused the opportunities to corruption activities because every change of rule of law or any change in general can cause unexpected effect. Although the changes in rule of law happened there are still some reasons why we cannot call democracies in these countries – liberal democracies.

Linz and Stepan structure their Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation around the concepts of a ´completed democratic transition´ to a consolidated democracy´. By a ´consolidated democracy´ they mean a political situation in which democracy has become ´the only game in town´, and politics is ´no longer dominated by the problem of how to avoid democratic breakdown´. Rose, Mishler and Haerpfer, on the other hand, separate the concepts of ´consolidated´ and ´complete´. They argue that, by the mid-1990s, democracy in Central and Eastern Europe was ´consolidated´ but not ´complete´. It was consolidated in the sense that there was little support for any coherent alternative such as communism or fascism. But it was not complete in that it lacked the full character of a ´complete democracy´, of what others might call liberal democracy. Rose, Mishler and Haerpfer argue that ´corruption has replaced repression as the main threat to the rule of law´ in post-communist Europe. (Miller – Grodeland – Koshechkina, 2001)

(3) Political institutions have moral as well as structural dimensions. A society with weak political institutions lacks ability to curb the excesses of personal and parochial desires. Politics is a Hobbesian world of unrelenting competition among social forces. Morality requires trust, trust involves predictability and predictability requires regularized and institutionalized patterns of behavior. Without strong political institutions society lacks the means to define and to realize its common interests. The capacity to create political institutions is the capacity to create public interests. (Huntington, 1968:24)

A vertical network, no matter how dense and no matter how important to its participants, cannot sustain social trust and cooperation. Vertical flows of information are often less reliable than horizontal flows, in part because the subordinate husbands information as a hedge against exploitation. More important, sanctions that support norms of reciprocity against the threat of opportunism are less likely to be imposed upwards and less likely to be acceded to, if imposed. The vertical bonds of clientelism seem to undermine the horizontal group organization and solidarity of clients and patrons alike – but especially of the clients. If horizontal networks of civic engagement help participants solve dilemmas of collective action, then the more horizontally structured an organization, the more it should foster institutional success in the broader community. Membership in horizontally ordered groups should be positively associated with good government. Membership rates in hierarchically ordered organizations should be negatively associated with good government. Where norms and networks of civic engagement are lacking, the outlook for collective action appears bleak. For political stability, for government effectiveness, and even for economic progress social capital may be even more important than physical or human capital. (Putnam, 1993:175-176)

(4) The fourth factor I have mentioned can be watched from two perspectives: first one is that lower level of living standard result in more frequent using of corruption activity - this factor strengthen this corruption but some economists and political scientists find in corruption nothing but a one of the ways how can become to a good result.

Discussions of the relation of corruption to development tends to be phrased in general terms. Usually the argument between moralists and revisionists tends to be about the possibility that corruption can be beneficial for development. Leaving aside questions of probability, one can argue that corruption can be beneficial to political development by contributing to the solution of three major problems involved: economic development, national integration and governmental capacity. If corruption helps promote economic development, which is generally necessary to maintain capacity to preserve legitimacy in the face of social change, then it is beneficial for political development.

Miller, Grodeland and Koshechkina (2001) ask: Should public-sector corruption be condemned? Most of economists and political scientists are neither such strict moralists nor such strict legalists. Economists give priority to economic efficiency and political scientists to legitimate and effective government – to economies that work and governments that work. Provided corruption has a positive effect on economic efficiency and political stability, economists and political scientists may not rush to condemn it. But pervasive public-sector corruption in a democratic regime can lead to demands for a ´strong hand´ to solve the problem.

(5) The last of the characteristics that I formulated at the beginning of this project is personal preferences of individuals. People in their position decide if they should achieve a goal in the legal, but often more complicated way or they should facilitate this way in spite of breaking the law. The legal way is usually longer, more complicated and the result is unwarranted. The corruption activities occur when demand exceed offer and the potentiality of detection or the imminent punishment is not high.

The low-level corruption cannot be divorced from high-level corruption. A corruption is likely to encourage corruption at the bottom. The analogy with public-sector corruption is close. At a systemic level, pervasive low-level corruption itself becomes a high-level problem. From a democratic perspective, however, low-level corruption is principally important for its own sake, not because of its high-level consequences. It distorts and corrupts the relationship between citizens and the state, and between one citizen and another. Democracy is founded on the principle of political equality, and public-sector corruption is founded on the principle that the state will treat its citizen arbitrarily and unequally.

There is no simple explanation of the problem of clientelism, corruption and mafia. The causes could be found on the structural as well as on institutional and behavioral level. Doesn’t matter how precise any research on this issue would be, we would not be able to change the behavior of people living in uncertain social, political and economic context but at least State should do its best to minimize the negative effects of these deviant factors by strengthening autonomy and efficiency of its institutions. This could gradually lead to the increase of the degree of trust within society, cause changes in the structure of value orientations of the society and later result in, what philosophers would call – common good.






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HUNTINGTON, Samuel. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. Yale University Press, 1968.

KITSCHELT, Herbert – MANSFELDOVA, Zdenka – MARKOWSKI, Radoslaw – TÓKA, Gábor. 2001. Post-Communist Party System – Competition, Representation, and Inter-Party Cooperation. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

MILLER, William L. – Grodeland, Ase B. – KOSHECHKINA, Tatyana Y. 2001 A Culture of Corruption? – Coping with Government in Post-communist Europe. CEU Press, 2001.

PUTNAM, Robert D. 1993. Making Democracy Work – Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press, 1993.