Reclaiming Democracy. Civil society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe

Postcommunism, with its daunting power of the economy, politics, law enforcement, justice and media, from a present view, can be considered as replaying the period of communism. The patience of the inhabitants in Central and Southeastern Europe has been long but not without limits. Fortunately, the situation in many postcommunism countries lead to civic protest against the new abuses of power. Reclaiming Democracy portraits how people in these European countries fought with energy and courage to get back the democracy in their home.

The epochal social change that took place in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s opened an avenue for millions of Europeans to live a dignified life in liberty and democracy after decades of communism. Yet while the formal establishment of democracy typically took only a matter of days or at most a month, real democracy is an ongoing process. The situation in countries that overcame communist dictatorship and their experience on their way to democracy, is called postcommunism. Postcommunism, with its emphasis on the power of the economy, politics, law enforcement, justice and the media, can be seen, to some extent, as echoing the communist period. Newly formed mafias have simply replaced the old communist authorities, not uncommonly brandishing nationalist flags and slogans.

The patience of people has been enormous, but is not without limits. Fortunately, the ethos of the anti-communist revolutions of 1989 and 1990, the natural self-organization of civil society and the international context made a return to totalitarianism impossible. An important factor affecting the constellation for change was the involvement of civil society. Be it through election monitoring or the supply of independent information, nongovernmental organisations, foundations, youth groups and many other civic initiatives engaged in pre-election projects and campaigns and made a notable contribution to reclaiming democracy.

This book, a project by ERSTE Foundation and The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), is therefore dedicated to the role of civil society in rising up against postcommunism and analysis of the civil society’s role in effecting democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe with emphasis on the Slovak Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine in recent years.