East-Central and Southeast Europe

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Thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, East-Central and Southeast Europe is still the most democratic of all BTI regions, but it is also the only region to have continuously lost ground in terms of the quality of democracy since 2008. Governance performance is also trending downward. And while the current economic situation appears to have improved – most of the development models in the region are not particularly sustainable.

Democratic backsliding – underway since 2008 – continues in the region. Most of these setbacks have taken place in those countries once known as pioneers of freedom in the region. Nonetheless, the mass protests in recent years underscore how unwilling civil society is to accept the march of authoritarianism.

In comparison with the BTI 2018, six of the region’s 17 countries have shown slight improvements in the area of economic transformation. However, many measures, particularly in the areas of education and research, stand in the way of long-term development. Such policies are often politically motivated.

The murder of a mayor in Poland is a particularly shocking example of just how polarized ideological camps in many countries have become. And in the Balkans, thoughts of redrawing borders are being voiced – a dangerous game.

Problems in East-Central and Southeast Europe often begin with the political leadership itself. Far too many of the region’s leaders see little if no need to target transformation. But there are increasing signs that citizens are losing patience with corrupt and illiberal practices. In North Macedonia, Romania and Slovakia, citizens have taken to the streets in mass protests that have forced governments to introduce tangible change. The spirit of 1989 still seems to be alive. The EU, on the other hand, has lost much of its glamour as a beacon of hope.

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