In Central Europe, the last few days have offered insight into the all too common and unfortunate problems shared by the former communist countries.

A corruption scandal broke out in Poland when it was revealed that the Chairman of Poland’s Financial Supervision Authority had supposedly solicited a troubled bank-owner for a bribe in order to avoid severe financial penalties.

In Slovakia, the police summoned the organisers of anti-government demonstrations for questioning after receiving an anonymous “tip” that informed authorities about a planned coup, supposedly assisted by none other than George Soros, of course.

Viktor Orbán’s diplomats smuggled the former Macedonian Prime Minister out of his country to avoid a criminal trial; he had been under house arrest after allegations of corruption had been brought against the politician. Instead of facing the charges, he has now applied for asylum in Budapest.

Andrej Babiš

While in Czechia, investigative journalists discovered that the son of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is accused of misappropriating European subsidies, had been held for a time in Russian-controlled Crimea. In all likelihood, this was probably done so as to not damage his father’s standing and reputation with his testimony during the corruption trail.

The timing of his “vacation” in Crimea, at very least, raises questions, but coupled with the fact that Andrej Babiš Jr is directly involved in the affair himself as he was the co-owner of the company in question when it received the disputed subsidies, the PM’s explanation for this his son’s disappearance seems ever more doubtful.

The pieces of the puzzle

What is the common denominator of these affairs? A lack of checks and balances ensured by stalwart government bodies that should be the bedrock for these fledgling countries.

Almost thirty years after the collapse of communism and the establishment of democratic institutions – such as the police or the prosecutor’s office – the above instances raise doubts as to whether these government bodies can withstand prolonged, or even temporary, political pressure.

Regrettably, this issue goes much further than just the police or the judiciary; It is about rescuing a system that was set up during the tumultuous shift from socialism to post-communism and is just beginning to slowly move towards a functioning liberal democracy.

Under these circumstances, those defending the rule of law have one of the most important roles in society. Unfortunately, most of the time we are blissfully ignorant to their actions; only when they fail in their attempts to shield the state and the people against such undemocratic acts, such as the above examples, do the people sit up and take notice.

Where it leaves us

Frankly, the reason for this situation is simple: we have been unable to build a functioning state apparatus independent of the political upheavals that have been rampant since the transitions that began almost three decades ago.

The grim story of the Czech Civil Service Act, which obfuscated the state procedures related to government personnel, and its subsequent use for political purposes is a clear example of these disturbances.

In Poland, the chief financial regulator, who has ties to the head of National Bank and the President asked for a bribe, which quickly ended the ruse that Polish business is separate from politics.

In Slovakia, policemen acted against active members of the civilian population based solely on rumours widely spread by conspiracy theorists and disinformation websites.

Nikola Gruevski (left) and Viktor Orbán (right)

Remarkably, the credibility of the police had only begun to recover since the February murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kušnířová, which has resulted in an unusually successful investigation. Now, the police are again facing suspicion of being manipulated for political purposes.

In fact, few who are watching Hungary become a near-feudal state of Viktor Orbán will be surprised that the Hungarian PM’s diplomacy has developed a “private service” for his foreign political partners. The Hungarian leader, a well-known opponent to migration, now claims that the question of asylum for the Macedonian ex-PM is a legal matter for the competent authority.

Finally, two journalists did what the Czech police were not capable of achieving over the last three years: they have spoken to important witnesses and the co-accused in a case where the prime minister himself is suspect; after which, Andrej Babiš suddenly left for Switzerland…where his son lives with his mother.

Usually, when a defendant attempts to influence witnesses or other accused individuals, he or she is taken into custody, but what can the police do when that person in question is the prime minister whose loyal party member is the minister of justice?

Additionally, Babiš is known for trying to gain control of the secret service, believing or at least profaning to believe in an organised plot stemming from the Czech protests. The Czech PM even goes as far as to employ a number of former police officers in his company, Agrofert.

Unsurprising to Central Europeans, Andrej Babiš has been fighting his adversaries using methods that were common practices of the Communist secret service.

A time for reflection

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the pan-European picnic and other events which marked the year of miracles in 1989, and we will be asking why we are where we are today? A big part of the answer will be in our relations to the law, morality and the observance of certain values.

The relation to the abstract value of the rule of law – which is now under discussion in the European Commission due to possible violations by the Polish and Hungarian governments – can have very concrete implications, and they may show that our societies deserves the more derogatory moniker of “post-communist” rather than “democratic”.

This article is part of the Visegrad/Insight #DemocraCE project and was originally published in Czech by Hospodářské noviny and can be read here.

Martin Ehl is the Chief Analyst at Hospodářské noviny (Economic daily)


Report

Over the past several years, it has become ever more apparent that the post-Cold War era of democratic reform, socio-economic development and Western integration in Central Europe is coming to an end. Five scenarios for 2025 map possible futures for the region and encourage a debate on the strategic directions.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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