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7 E. Eur. Const. Rev. 37 (1998)
Corruption, Clientelism, and the Future of the Constitutional State in Eastern Europe

handle is hein.journals/eeurcr7 and id is 137 raw text is: .Special Reports
How the ride of law can faciltate the sprea of sioue
Corruption, Clientelism, and the Future
of the Constitutional State in Eastern Europe
Andras Sajo

hat are the principal preconditions of an
effective anticorruption policy? Corruption
in Eastern Europe is decidedly mis-
understood and is, to some extent, enveloped in
myths. An elementary failure of understanding helps
explain the preponderance of misdirected policies in
the region. An inquiry into the potential for, and
problems of, the efficient enforcement of the laws
against corruption in Eastern Europe, as well as the
dangers that official policies toward constitutionalism
pose, is therefore in order. In particular, four key issues
merit discussion.
(1) Designing a feasible anticorruption policy
first requires an understanding of the particular nature
of corruption in postcommunist societies. Corruption
in Eastern Europe is structural in the sense that it is
part and parcel of the region's emerging clientelistic
social structures. An analysis of corruption cannot be
divorced from an understanding of cientelism.
(2) Clientelistic structures in Eastern Europe are
related to the previous communist nomenklatura. But
the way actual socioeconomic developments are
currently unfolding creates levels and forms of state-
centered clientelism distinct from those of earlier
regimes. The nature of Eastern Europe's cientelism
has a direct impact on the kinds of anticorruption
policies adopted in the region and their potential for
(3) Anticorruption policies are, in part, a response
to characterizations of the region by those outside the
region. Postcommunist states are often said to be satu-
rated with corruption, steeped in cientelism. This view
is a frequently recycled theme of the Western press and
is dutifully amplified by the East European press, which
mostly uses it in partisan struggles. Exaggerating the

problem and exploiting it for political purposes has
triggered inappropriate legal reactions and moral
crusades. The ritual affirmation that corruption charac-
terizes the postcommunist state has dwindled into a
stereotype, and it fosters a spiraling delegitimation of the
new democracies. The public's misperceptions about
corruption and government sleaze are partly the conse-
quence of this simplification, which has direct
consequences on anticorruption policies. Such conse-
quences range from hysterical short-term police actions
to social hopelessness and resignation. That the public's
understanding of corruption is warped by Western
categories does not mean that no corruption exists in
Eastern Europe, only that how it is perceived is not
always the result of genuine endogenous factors. Were it
not for the drumbeat of external criticism, corruption
would not be construed as an acute social problem, at
least not in East Central Europe.
(4) The success of constitutional democracy in
Eastern Europe depends in large measure on society's
values, such as meritocracy, Political morality requires
transparency to be effective. But morality and trans-
parency depict, perhaps somewhat misleadingly, a cor-
ruption and cientelism that undermine the faith of an
increasing number of citizens in the promises of a demo-
cratic state based on the rule of law. The rule of law
and the fight against corruption and favoritism have an
inherently problematic relationship. The public's belief
in, and allegiance to, the rule of law is fragile, for the
whole concept was parachuted into Eastern Europe. It
is alien to most of the local cultures, acquainted as they
are with only the primacy of surviving by mutual
social favors. Those seeking to combat corruption and
favoritism with the rule of law, moreover, have been
profoundly disappointed. The rule of law inhibits swift

SPRING 1998                                                                                                        37

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