Corruption weighs heavily on peoples' minds in the Western Balkans and the general perception in the region is that it is increasing in both the public and private sectors, observed speakers at an event hosted by Gallup House yesterday (10 May).
Organised in cooperation with the European Fund for the Balkans, the event focussed on governance, corruption and political accountability in the region – drawing on data from Gallup’s 2009 Balkan Monitor survey.
The survey, carried out in September last year, revealed that more than two-thirds of Balkan respondents see corruption as "pervasive" and "widespread" in both government and business.
The perception of corruption in business is highest in Croatia (92%), Serbia (91%) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (90%), with the figure having risen for all countries except Albania and Macedonia since 2006.
The perception of corruption in government is highest in Kosovo (84%) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (81%), with Montenegro the notable exception at a much lower level of 49%.
Alarmingly, more than a quarter of respondents in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo said they are personally affected by organised crime in their day-to-day life. More than half of Albanians said they had to offer a bribe or gift to solve a problem last year, compared to just 8% of Croatians.
Gallup Europe Managing Director Robert Manchin stressed that the level of confidence people have in their government and judiciary is ''crucial'' to their own perceived wellbeing. He also noted that those who trust their politicians feel less affected by the economic crisis – regardless of their actual material situation.
Dušan Relji?, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), pointed to the ''lawless'' period in the Balkans between 1991 and 2001, when violence and criminal activity prevailed and created a ''new sector – the forbidden economy''.
This period coincided with an economic embargo on the former Yugoslavia imposed by the international community – seen by many from today's perspective as extremely counterproductive. The EU monitored and coordinated efforts on enforcing the embargo.
EU credibility deteriorating?
Relji? believes that the Western Balkan countries ''stand a huge chance'' of purging their societies, with the EU's use of conditionality an important factor. However, he warned that some member states are in no rush to integrate the region and that the promise of eventual membership based on compliance with conditionality must be more credible.
''If the countries and the political elites especially in the Western Balkans see, notice, feel that the credibility of the promise is weakening, deteriorating, their readiness to comply also deteriorates,'' he warned.
Relji? also highlighted Kosovo as a real problem area due to its high birth rate and lack of jobs and employment programmes for the large young population. ''The most direct means that the EU could use to lower the level of corruption and crime in Kosovo is to permit labour migration,'' he suggested.