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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 12:335–349.


Governmental Corruption in East-Central European History


The topic of this paper is an effort to describe the anatomy of corruption accusations against governments with special regard to East-Central Europe and to show their international characteristics and differences among the countries throughout the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th. For the sake of a thorough comparison I have included some cases in England and France.

For the research I used different types of sources: articles on history and politics, monographs, different data bases (archives)1, daily newspapers etc. In spite of the wide range scale of sources, particular chapters and paragraphs written on each country and period are insufficient. During the socialist period East-Central European researchers could not deal with the phenomenon of corruption and since the changes of regime in 1989–1990 works covering the history of corruption in the area have not yet been written. For example, we have several monographs about corruption in the 17–20th centuries in England but only a few articles have been published on the theme in this region. It is important to mention that very few specialised books with a modern attitude have been published in foreign languages about the political history of post-socialist countries, and usually those could not reach Hungary. It is typical that the countries (and libraries) of the area have not been specially interested in each other’s past and problems and in acquiring books about them. Finally, I have to remind the reader of the fact that I can give only a stunted representation of reality. On the one hand, it is evident that governmental corruption involves more cases than brought to light. On the other hand, we cannot establish a ranking list of the countries on the basis of the number of cases mentioned in this paper since the number of scandals can also imply the impact of publicity, the strength of the courts or the conditions of the sources.

Because of the scarcity of sources on governmental corruption, I have adopted a broad definition of corruption in my work: „behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding (personal, close family, private clique), pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private-regarding influence.”2


Typology of Governmental Corruption

The types of political corruption were essentially the same in Eastern and Western Europe. The differences lay in the time when a certain type of corruption played a decisive role in a history of a given country.

(1.) The most widespread form of political corruption was the electoral one. It is important to emphasize that, in opposition to the other forms, in periods of elections it is the political elite who attempted to bribe the society. This type has age-long traditions in England. Researchers have already analysed in depth the characteristics of „rotten boroughs”, the deception of the voters and the manipulation of electoral procedures.3 From the beginning of the 19th century, however, we can observe the decreasing importance of electoral corruption. The world of the Old Corruption characterised by the total domination of a narrow political clique, the vigorous patronage system and the enormous burden of taxes had ended. The elite realised that its power could be preserved and revolutions could be avoided only by economic reforms (free trade, tax reductions, cheap government etc.), and the gradual extension of political rights.4 The reform of the electoral districts, the extension of franchise and the introduction of secret voting developed a new voting behaviour and a new way of policy-making, which replaced the old system and political culture. The huge number of new voters made it necessary to build up party organisations, to formulate detailed party programmes and to transform the electoral campaigns (the election in 1885 was the first when the main role was reserved to the parties). The electoral reforms and the anticorruption laws decreased the possibility of electoral corruption to the minimum. The Corrupt Practices Prevention Act in 1854 punished bribery, ‘treating’, coercion etc., while in 1883 the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act limited campaign expenses, increased the fees and defined the role of party agents. After 1883, election affairs occurred very rarely (the last more significant one was in 1906).5

In France, the number of eligible voters became higher and higher and in 1848 the franchise was extended to all males over the age of 21. In spite of that, electoral corruption has not disappeared from France as the alternating political leaders always tried to influence the elections in order to consolidate their power. Before 1848, the elite tried to manipulate electoral procedures by modifying the rules, excluding voters from electoral lists, frauds in vote counting, gerrymandering, paying the travel expenses of pro-government voters etc. After 1848, Napoleon III proceeded to the revision of the electoral law (extension of the six month residency requirement to three years), revoked the National Assembly’s right to investigate irregularities and also considered the direct manipulation of the voters important. The Catholic elementary education was made obligatory and official candidates supported by all means available to the administration were set up. Electoral corruption was repressed after the fall of Napoleon III in 1870, although election campaigns were regulated by the legislation only later.6

In Hungary electoral corruption existed until 1947. The elite, which took power after 1867, was regularly accused of corruption by both the opposition and foreign countries. In spite of that, the elite was continually restricting the number of eligible voters and did not investigate corruption cases. The elite, in opposition to general European trends, did not dare to extend the franchise to national minorities (who included nearly half of the total population) and was violently fighting against the opposition. It was afraid that universal suffrage would result in the disintegration of the Hungarian political regime. Yet, the national minorities usually voted for the ruling party. Between the two World Wars the politicians tried to prevent the strengthening of the left- and right- wing extremists by corruption and by the limitation of franchise. Universal suffrage and secret voting only existed between 1918 and 1922. In the period of the elections wining and dining and transporting the voters to voting places, bribery, exclusion of voters from the electoral list, fraudulent vote counting and the intervention of local administration were the general practice. Secret ballot was reintroduced in 1938 but, at the same time, franchise was restricted. According to the researchers the most corrupt constituencies were in the areas with mixed populations.7

The situation was the same in Rumania and in independent Czechoslovakia and Poland established after the First World War. These countries were, in principle, parliamentary democracies. Nevertheless, power was in the hand of a narrow elite continually deceiving and intimidating the voters and the opposition while the constitutional system was weakened by frequent crisis.8

To sum up, we can state that in Western Europe electoral corruption definitely ceased by the second half of the 19th century, while in Eastern Europe it still survived a century later.

(2.) From the middle of the 19th century, in the period of industrialisation and urbanisation, a new type of political corruption became general: governments developed closer and closer relations with figures of economic life; bankers, managers of industrial companies needed politicians who could provide them big contracts or loans and, at the same time, the political elite needed money for the functioning of the political system. This was a great sociological change: politicians did not ‘live for’ politics – they ‘lived off’ it. But this relationship implied large risks: the chance of failing increased, but on the other hand, the possible profit was enormous. Scandals of the period were named after the Panama scandal which broke out in 1892 in France. Previously, ministers (for example Teste, Cubieres) had to resign for having given industrial licenses for bribes but the Panama scandal covered the whole political elite and undermined the prestige of the Third Republic. The elite was accused of having voted a lottery loan for the Panama Company for bribes.9

In England, there was an even closer relationship between politicians and businessmen. In the first years of the 20th century more than half of the ministers of the Salisbury government held directorships in public companies. In 1912 the case of a big telegraph company, which had won a state contract while several ministers had shares in it, was cleared up (Marconi affair). During the First World War, many businessmen became leading officials, ministers (so-called businessmen-cum-ministers). It could even occur that officials continued their civil professions during the period of their government work.10

In Hungary, accusations against government members were made in the 1870s in connection with large-scale railway and urban construction (ministers were accused of orienting the railway lines towards their estates, or of making the state buy up their properties). The opposition found the most injurious that the state contracts were signed without public and controllable tenders. For example, a Belgian building contractor wanted to bribe the Hungarian under-secretary of Transports with 40 000 forints to get a profitable railway concession (the case was made public by the politician). Several politicians became members of different railway boards of directors in exchange for having voted considerable state subsidies for the construction.

Between the two World Wars in East-Central Europe, most of the scandals were caused by selling export and import licenses (the accusations were directed especially against the leaders of the Ministry of Trade and of Agriculture). This phenomenon had several causes. On the one hand, the new states of the region that emerged in the 1920s gave up the principle of free trade: they protected their national economics by high custom duties and restricted the import of foreign articles. As a consequence, however, shortages of several goods came about and the national products became more expensive because of the high production cost (higher than abroad). On the other hand, the beginning of the 1930s was marked by the shortage of products and money due to the Great Depression. Governmental corruption derived from the following practices: companies bribed officials to get trade licenses or officials turned a blind eye to the trade of unlicensed products in return for bribes.11

In 1924 the President of the Czech Senate, Karel Prasek, was forced to resign because he had embezzled large sums of money as the director of a distilling company (he avoided paying the tax with the help of the Ministry). In Rumania the illegal trade of spirits (‘spirit negru’) by politicians and officials became public in 1931. Cases of 400 officials from the Ministry of Finance were examined for financial abuses. A Select Committee in Parliament was formed, but several of its members were allegedly implicated in the affair. Besides the illegal trade of spirits the press also accused politicians of trafficking with state forests, corns and petrol for their personal profits.12

(3.) The trade of honours and decorations was also a widespread practice during the period. This form of corruption was known and accepted Europe- wide. By buying honours, the members of the new and strong economic elite of the age of capitalism could enter into the traditional political elite. First, I can mention the case of the Hungarian under-secretary of Home Affairs, count Zichy Ferraris. In 1879 he was accused by the opposition press of abusing his authority and relations for personal enrichment: as an example, he was thought to obtain honours, baronies and building licenses in return for money. In 1887 the so-called Wilson scandal broke in France. The police discovered that high-ranking officials and senators were trafficking in honours. The son-in-law of President Jules Grévy, Daniel Wilson, was also implicated in the affair as he used the presidential seal for trafficking.13 The practice of selling honours and decorations was also widespread in England, according to the rumours there was a regular tariff. Honours were obtained especially by businessmen who financially supported the parties. The Liberal Party led by Lloyd George disposed over a party fund of 1,500,000 pounds (‘Lloyd George Fund’) which had mostly come from the selling of honours.14

(4.) The main cause of governmental corruption, besides private gains, was the unsolved issue of party financing. In England, nearly every party maintained itself from secret funds, licenses and honours sold for bribes. In Hungary, during the elections in 1910 László Lukács the Minister of Finance at that time accepted money for the ruling party, and in 1921 the Hungarian Smallholders’ Party covered its expenses by selling export licenses. In consequence of the illegal trade of spirits in the 1920s, more than 10 million crowns were allegedly transferred to the Czech ruling parties. In 1928, the Polish Minister of Finance, Czechowitz had to resign because he had given an extraordinary credit of 8 million zloties for the election campaign of the ruling parties.15

Targets of accusations

The target of accusation can be a particular government politician whose accusers (his enemies or the press) want his fall because of personal affronts. For instance, in 1872 the Hungarian Prime Minister, count Menyhért Lónyay, was attacked with corruption accusations by the opposition for one year (until his resignation), for villa-building and railway concessions, while other members of his cabinet were not accused. Most often these accusations were formulated during the election campaigns or intense political situations. Generally, the accusers questioned the personal honesty and reputation of the given politician, trying to exclude him from political competition in this way.16 Corruption often concerned the whole political elite. In these cases, accusations were formulated by the persons left out from business, for example, the leaders of companies which had not received licenses or politicians who had not shared in the bribes. Details of the affairs could reach the press or the radical MPs by chance. For instance, in the Panama scandal more than 100 MPs among whom 6 former and 2 ruling ministers were accused. The other famous corruption case of the period was in 1933–1934 and it also involved the whole French ruling class. A Ukrainian impostor, Alexandre Stavisky, embezzled several million franks but was never arrested because of the protection he received from considering his influential political and banker friends, although his actions were denounced forty-five times to the police.17 By 1900, 30 % of the English MPs held directorships in public companies. I can also mention the corrupt Hungarian politicians after the First World War. Two scandals broke out, which implicated a significant part of the Hungarian elite: in 1923, MPs and government members could acquire shares very cheaply from big Hungarian banks before public subscription. In 1932, it came to light that certain tobacco factories regularly gave free cigars and cigarettes to influential politicians,18 and we must not forget that many Rumanian and Czechoslovakian politicians were enriched after the First World War by smuggling spirits.

Corruption accusations could concern the whole regime of political institutions. Because of corrupt elections or suspicious party finances the opposition or the extra-parliamentary forces, radicals and socialists frequently formulated accusations against the whole election and party system. Generally, the most serious consequences followed the charges against institutions, because they could result in the deception of the society and help the birth of dictatorship. The succession of scandals and party conflicts strengthened the extremist groups. After the Stavisky affair riots and antiparliamentary demonstrations began in Paris. After the First World War Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Hungary had to face serious internal crisis marked by political assassinations, explosions and frequent changes in the cabinets. In the 1920s corruption scandals occurred in series, the political life was paralysed, the authority of the ruling class decreased to its minimum (the MPs came to blows several times with each other, in Czechoslovakia a bottle of alcohol was put on the seat of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons etc.).


Functions of accusations

The most obvious aim of corruption accusations should be to clear up the different governmental abuses. But the noble purpose of finding the truth is often pushed into the background for the accusers. None of the anticorruption campaigns and inquiries serves only to clear up of a particular case, but they also want to discredit the former cabinets. In Eastern Europe, corruption accusations often served the intimidation or the liquidation of party rivals. In this case the corruption accusation became a political slogan. In 1926 Marshal Piîsudski, profiting from the discontent of people, took power, occupied Warsaw then published his program which contained the elimination of corruption and the restoration of order: „My programme is the diminution of robbery and pursuit of the path of honesty”, he said. He condemned the crimes and wrong decisions of the previous governments and declared war against corruption. Before long the list of former government members and high-ranking officials accused of corruption was published. In 1927 a special commission was established to investigate governmental corruption. On the other hand, electoral corruption flourished during the Pilsudski regime, as well.19

During the establishment of communist power, corruption accusation proved to be an effective weapon against the ‘enemies’ of the regime. Enlarging corruption cases of the former capitalist regime served the condemnation of those who did not agree with the communist ideology. The condemnation of the whole regime with its democratic institutions and excluded its previous elite from political life. For example, in Hungary in the 1950s communist historians and journalists publicised one after another archive condemning the previous regime and airing governmental corruption cases. Analyses enclosed to the documents, hardly disguising their propagandistic aims, drew an extremely distorted picture about the recent past. I can distinguish two main waves of the early political trials in the area: before 1948 they were organised against the democratic parties (anti-communists) and after 1948, against the leaders of the social democrats and different communist party groups. The methods were always the same. The pretext of the trials was most frequently an accusation of treason and sabotage which, logically, resulted in the most severe punishment. Furthermore, such an accusation seemed to be the most suitable to damage the moral reputation of a politician in the eyes of society and he could hardly defend himself against it. Besides the accusations mentioned above, corruption appears frequently as a secondary crime, especially against politicians being responsible for leading the economy.20 It is important to emphasise that rehabilitations after Stalin’s death proved that the accusations were baseless most of the time and cleared the politicians. In Rumania corruption accusations appear within the communist party in the battle between opposing groups. In 1952 the Gheorghiu-Dej group attained Vasile Luca’s, the Minister of Finances’ expulsion from the party, his arrest and the removal of his supporters: the Home Minister Teohari Georgecu and Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Pauker. Luca was charged with sabotage, causing great damage to the State and fraud. He was sentenced to death but it was reduced to life imprisonment (he died in jail). The removed politicians were rehabilitated in 1968.21 In 1962 Antonín Novotny, leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the President of the Republic removed his popular rival, the Home Minister Rudolf Barak who was later sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for sabotage and abusing state property.22

With the consolidation of the communist regime, the corruption accusation previously used to directly discredit and condemn the targeted politician was pushed into the background. According to my research, Rumanian developments constitute an exception. The Ceausescu-regime built up from the mid-’60s continuously used corruption accusations. Besides the shameless nepotism of the leader (nearly 60 members of the Ceausescu family occupied leading positions), we can observe frequent changes of politicians not belonging to the family or being in disgrace. That is why analysers often call this regime ‘socialism in one family’. Ceausescu called non-family politicians to account for the deterioration of the economic situation in Rumania. The most frequent charges against them were „infringement of communist ethic”, „the pursuit of private benefits” and financial offences. Their punishment was removal from their position and expulsion from the party. We can find significant purges in 1972 and 1975 (deputy prime ministers Vasile Rus, Ilia Fasui, Dimitriu Popa and Virgil Actarian were removed), in 1982 (fall of deputy prime ministers and ministers Cornelia Filipas, Corneliu Burtica and Emil Bobu) and in 1988 (six members of the government were dismissed and others received warnings). In the last decade of the Rumanian dictatorship government politicians were replaced every one or two years. In my opinion, such frequent replacement in the leadership is connected with the nature of dictatorships. While other socialist states moved toward consolidation, Ceausescu built up an archaic (Stalinist) model recalling the 1950s where everything was dependent on the authority of one-person (this was also characteristic, for example, of Cuba and North-Korea).23

The third function of accusations was political extortion. In several cases important political decisions were forced by threatening with corruption accusations. The most typical case occurred in Hungary in 1921. The secretary of the Minister of Agriculture was arrested for selling export licenses for bribes (Esküdt-affair). However, he did it with the approval of the minister who was, at the same time, the leader of the Smallholders’ Party. Supposedly a part of the bribes was needed to cover the expenses of the party. After the arrest of his secretary, the minister was in an awkward situation. Prime Minister István Bethlen used the corruption accusation to force him to approve the union of the Smallholders’ Party and the Bethlen’s Party (KNEP). The strong governing party was actually formed in 1922. Nevertheless, the corruption case was not closed as the secretary of the minister made a full confession. The minister was saved from trial by his sudden death.24 In 1948 Gyula Kelemen, a Hungarian Social Democrat under-secretary of Industry was arrested. He was charged with sabotage, smuggling and transferring significant sums abroad for private use abusing his authority. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The aims of the communists were to remove a popular politician from the leadership of the Social Democrat Party (Kelemen disapproved of the fusion of the two parties of the Left), and to discredit the successfully working Ministry of Industry directed by Social Democrats. After the scandal broke, the Social Democrat Minister of Industry was forced to leave his post and to emigrate. In the same year Zoltán Tildy, politician of the Smallholders’ Party was removed from the presidency of the Hungarian Republic. Since the communists could not manage to create legal-sounding accusations against him, he was intimidated through his family. His son-in-law, ambassador to Cairo was arrested and sentenced to death with charges of treason and several financial crimes. The communists’ real aim was to discredit Tildy and to force him to resign. Soon Tildy resigned referring to moral reasons. He was kept in house-arrest for years.25




Until the end of the Second Word War the elites of all the analysed countries were quite passive in clearing up corruption accusations, and the cases were rarely brought to trial throughout Europe. In England, for example, between the two World Wars proposals for transforming the honour system and solving the problem of party finances were generally abandoned. None of the big parties supported the proposals since they had no interest in liquidating their own patronage system.26 In France, after the Panama scandal the Select Committee and the regular court cleared all the MPs except one. Most of the implicated persons continued their career in politics. In the Stavisky affair, under the pressure of events, the minister most implicated, Albert Dalimier, resigned and was followed by the whole Chautemps government. However, allegedly more than 100 other MPs were implicated in the affair. Nevertheless, legal proceedings were not introduced since the prosecutor died in a suspicious accident and the major part of the documents disappeared. In January 1934 Stavisky committed suicide – more precisely, the police let him bleed to death in order to avoid his confession about his connections. Both scandals show the weakness of the police and the courts, and the instability of the Third Republic.

The common feature of Hungarian cases is that legal proceedings rarely took place. Politicians preferred to conceal the scandals and to solve the problems by a duel or suicide than by regular court. During a hundred-year period only 10% of the election petitions were accepted in Hungary.27

The Zichy-case mentioned above is very illuminating from this point of view. Zichy voluntarily resigned and tried to clear himself as a private individual. He asked for the establishment of a Select Committee of Parliament but this was not organised. The embittered Zichy also resigned from his seat in Parliament. Before long, the elite turned its back on him and he was excluded from several aristocratic clubs. Finally, he was mortally wounded in a duel fought in his honour and died in 1880.28 The accusations have never been investigated by a regular court. Only one leading Hungarian politician had been sentenced by the court for corruption.

Leaders of the Ministry of Welfare used significant sums of money taken from different social foundations for elderly people, disabled persons or orphans, for personal purposes. The scandal broke out in 1930. For a long time the government refused to admit the accusations but, finally, the case was brought to trial. After four-year long proceedings the under-secretary Imre Dréhr was sentenced to three and a half years of imprisonment, but he committed suicide. The Ministry was liquidated, the Minister implicated in the affair had died before the end of the trial, and several officials were excluded from clubs.29


The elite legitimated political corruption by making a difference between corruption for private gains (‘immoral corruption’) and corruption for the sake of the nation or the party (‘ethical corruption’). Corruption cases related to the financing of the parties and elections were not considered serious crimes. Moreover the accused was often seen as a hero. Hungarian Prime Minister Lukács had to resign because he accepted illegal campaign money, but his party did not consider him guilty. In England, no government member had to resign because of the trade of honours. Of course, politicians used the money acquired for party purposes also for their private aims.30

In every country politicians often blamed others for their own fiascos. If they had to resign for their corruption affairs (it occurred quite rarely) and they could not conceal it by an illness or retirement, they generally made the press or the opposition responsible for the scandals, the moral crisis and the government’s faults. They often sued journalists for libel and tried to limit the freedom of the press. For example stricter regulation was accepted in Hungary in 1914, in Czechoslovakia in 1924. In France the government tabled a bill against the freedom of the press after the Stavisky affair (later it was withdrawn). Politicians especially wanted to end the role of the jury and increase the fines in libel cases. In Rumania the government tried to prevent the publication of corruption accusations through the use of censorship.


Governmental corruption and unresolved accusations caused great damages in most of the countries examined. Corruption affairs were usually connected to general economics, politics and moral crisis. In France, after the Panama scandal, the moral of political life deteriorated in the eyes of the people. Corruption became a frequent topic of plays and romans, and public opinion regarded politicians as thieves. The succession of scandals and party conflicts strengthened extremist groups.

In view of the absence of a thorough investigation of the cases, corruption accusation has become a dangerous weapon in the hands of politicians. The leaders of political parties often issue corruption allegations in order to discredit each other without rigorous evidences and the possibility for the accused to refute the accusations convincingly. Corruption accusation is becoming an East-Central European ‘mythological topos’.31 But it is a double-edged weapon: baseless accusations of corruption can be an obstacle for effective politics on the state-level, and the accusations appearing weekly can discredit the whole elite in the eyes of the public and will increase its dissatisfaction.



It seems to me that the development of Western and Eastern Europe became different only in the post-World War II period. In Eastern Europe, the same mentality was conserved while in the West a slow change began as the institutions of the anticorruption war have been built step by step. In France, for example, the prosecutors and the Bureau to Prevent Corruption, in Great-Britain different committees and prestigious tribunals doing a painstaking work (Lynskey Tribunal, Scott Inquiry, Nolan Committee) continue the battle against governmental corruption. On the other hand, we have to realise that in the last decades a significant part of the West European corruption cases were publicized by the media. They constantly watch public characters (‘watchdog journalism’). Moreover, they put the morality of politicians to the test several times: for example in England the Sunday Times succeeded in bribing MPs for tabling a Question in Parliament (the bribery was also tape-recorded, ‘Cash for Questions’ Affair), the Guardian cleared up the Aitken Affair with a forged letter.32

In Western Europe political culture has slowly changed. When a scandal becomes public knowledge, the resignation of the concerned politician follows. He will wait for the clearing up of the case as a simple citizen, and does not jeopardise effective government work and the popularity of his party. (In France and in England this principle has become a general practice for the 1990s.) Naturally, the shaping of new political culture and the behaviour of politicians has not yet been completed. We can still discover certain phenomena from the past. Party financing is not solved yet, and the transparency of party funds and donations is not guaranteed. The distinction between good and bad corruption also exists.33

In contrast, everything remained unchanged in Eastern Europe during the decades of the communist regime. The supremacy of the communist party and its position above the law resulted in the fact that party members were not judged by the same criteria as everyone else. A party member accounted for his crimes practically in front of the party forums, his case remained in a closed circle and he evaded legal proceedings and publicity. Many party members did not have to face a regular law court (except for the big anticorruption campaigns). Communist parties functioned practically above the legal system. The law were born inside the party, the police were directed by the party and the courts were not independent. Therefore, a politician could evade the legal proceeding (he had immunity) if the party wanted him to do so. On the other hand, it was difficult to ascertain who was responsible. Inside the party the exaggeration of the collective decision-making process reduced individual responsibility. The powerful centralisation and the reformed political outlook of professional decisions increased the lack of responsibility even more.34

We can see very clearly that the political elite do not have any interest in a more severe regulation and a more serious anticorruption campaign. The real aim of these anticorruption campaigns was to put an end to corruption and to signal to the elite the limit of illegal enrichment. It also intended to calm down public opinion and to symbolise the possibility of reforming the system.35 In Poland after the 1980–81 crisis a serious enquiry was started, in the course of which suspicion of corruption emerged in connection with 18 ministers and 56 deputy ministers. The committee established by the party examined, among others, the luxurious lifestyle of Secretary Gierek and his son, the buildings and financial affairs of the former Minister of Foreign Trade and Marine Economy, Jerzy Olsowski (he had accepted bribes from international companies). He committed suicide in 1981.36 During the 1980s similar campaigns took place in Czechoslovakia and in Hungary. In, Rumania Ceausescu used the anti-corruption campaigns, to calm down society and to conceal problems of the national economy.

For the time being, East Central European democracies are preserving the old mentality. Although anti-corruption campaigns were conducted in nearly every state (for example in Poland: 1994; in Rumania: 1993, 1997; in Hungary: 1994, 1998) since each ruling party had a paragraph concerning this topic in its party programme. However, the measures against corruption are generally short-lived, superficial and quite unsuccessful. These days politicians are continuing to use the accusations of corruption mainly to discredit each other, while they are unable or unwilling to liquidate the very causes (such as party financing, privatisation) of corruption. Accusations are announced, people listen to and talk about the affair and wait but nothing happens. A Select Committee of Parliament may be established for the inquiry, the police may begin to investigate but no real conclusion is achieved. In general, only a few minor characters and some members of the economic elite are punished, politicians usually do not have to face the regular law court. In the East Central European countries most of the cases are made public by politicians, the press can only publish the statements received from the elite (the mentality and behaviour of journalists of the region are quite old-fashioned and respectful towards authority). This situation results the very limited resolution of the affairs – only up to a certain point determined by the interests of the elite. In spite of this situation the political elite in the post-socialist countries is generally against the press, they make the press the scapegoat for the scandals and for their decreasing popularity. Naturally, West European politicians also criticise the press, but in our area the elite tries to fight against it with the aid of the law. In Poland, Rumania, Slovakia and Hungary there have been libel cases against journalists and researchers. Both in Poland and Rumania the accused were sentenced to terms of imprisonment on the basis of communist laws. In Hungary an MP from the ruling party has tabled a bill to limit the media.37

All in all, in the East Central European area democratic political culture is missing. In our area politicians rarely resign voluntarily even if the accusations are substantiated. If the circumstances still force them to resign, they do not admit the charges: they consider themselves as victims or scapegoats and will accuse others, for example the investigating journalists, who always look for new sensations.




In my searching for corruption cases I have used the monthly published volumes of Keesing’s Contemporary Archives and of the World Political Documentation by the Hungarian News Agency (MTI), and the CD Archives of the Hungarian newspaper Weekly World Economy (HVG). I do not refer explicitly to these archives in the survey of the individual cases. Methodologically I profited very much from the paper of Lull and Hinerman entitled „The Search for Scandal”, and from the „Scandal and Social Theory”, written by J. B. Thompson. The two articles were published in: Lull, James and Hinerman, Stephen (eds.) Media Scandals. Polity Press, Cambridge, 1997. pp. 1–33., 34–64. The first version of this paper was made for the Princeton University – Central European University Joint Conference on Corruption (Budapest, October 29 – November 6, 1999).


Nye, J. S. ‘Corruption and Political Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis’ in. A. J. Heidenheimer et al. (eds.) Political Corruption, Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1970. pp. 564–578.


Peck, L. L., Count Patronage and Corruption in Early Stuart England. Routledge, London, 1993. (2nd.); Hursfield, John, Freedom, Corruption and Government in Elizabethan England. Cambridge, 1973.


Harling, Philip, The Waning of ‘Old Corruption’. The Politics of Economic Reform in Britain, 1779–1846. Oxford, 1996.


In detail: King, John, P., ‘Socioeconomic Development and the Incidence of English Corrupt Campaign Practices’ in Political Corruption... pp. 379–390.; Gwyn, William B., Democracy and the Cost of Politics in Britain. The Athlone Press. London, 1962.; O’ Leary, C., The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections, 1868–1911. Oxford, 1962.


Zeldin, Theodore, ‘How the Government Won Elections under Napoleon III.’ in Political Corruption... pp. 373–378.; Kreuzer, Marcus, ‘Democratisation and Changing Methods of Electoral Corruption in France from 1815 to 1914.’ in Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. ed. W. Little – E. Posada-Carbó. London, 1996. pp. 97–112.


In detail: Gerõ, András, Az elsöprő kisebbség. Budapest, Gondolat, 1988. In English: The Hungarian Parliament (1867–1918). A Mirage of Power. Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1997.; Janos, Andrew C, The Politics of Backwardness in Hungary, 1825–1945. Princeton, New York, 1982.


Hitchins, Keith, Rumania, 1866–1947. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994; Polonsky, A., Politics in Independent Poland, 1921–1939. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972.


Bodley, J. E. C., Francziaország. [France] vol. 2. Budapest, 1900. pp. 331–384.; Brogan, vol. 1. pp. 265–285.


In detail: Searle, G. R., Corruption in British Politics, 1895–1930. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987. pp. 172–200., 40–51., 272–284.


In detail: Berend, Iván T. – Ránki, György: Economic Development in East-Central Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1974.; Kaser, H. C. – Radice, E. A. (eds.), Economic History of Eastern Europe 1919–1975. Vol. 1. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.


Articles of the Prágai Magyar Hírlap [Hungarian News in Prague] in 1923–24, and papers of the Ellenzék [Opposition] ( published in Rumania) in 1931.


Brogan, D. W., The Development of Modern France, 1870–1939. vol. 1. 1970. pp. 192–199.


In detail: Searle, G. R., Corruption in British Politics, 1895–1930. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987. Pp. 153–165., 309–313., 379–406.


Polonsky, A., Politics in Independent Poland, 1921–1939. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972. pp. 272–275., 283–289.


Cieger, András, A kormányférfi [The Statesman]. Századvég, 1998. Winter, no. 11. pp. 17–21.


Brogan, vol. 2. pp. 653–668.


Further details on the cases: Horváth, J. – Nemes, J. – Pintér I. – Szabó L., Régi jó világ. A Horthy-korszak nagy panamáiból [Good Old World. From the Great Financial Swindles During the Horthy-period]. Budapest, Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1959. pp. 56–82., 230–241.


Polonsky, A., Politics in Independent Poland, 1921–1939. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972. pp. 171–175., 194–195.


Szilágyi, Ákos, “Korrupció és kompromat anno 1948” [Corruption and Compromat anno 1948] 2000, 1998. September, pp. 10–19.


Fejtõ, Ferenc: A népi demokráciák története. [A History of the People’s Democracies] Magvetõ-Magyar füzetek, Budapest–Párizs, 1991. vol. 1. pp. 215–218.


Fejtõ, vol. 2. p. 163.


Shafir, Michael, Romania. Politics, Economics and Society. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder. 1985. pp. 76–79.


In detail: Horváth, J. – Nemes, J. – Pintér I. – Szabó L., Régi jó világ. A Horthy-korszak nagy panamáiból [Good Old World. From the Great Financial Swindles During the Horthy-period]. Budapest, Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1959. pp. 18–55.; Bethlen István titkos iratai [Bethlen István’s Secret Papers]. Szinai Miklós–Szûcs László (eds.) Budapest, Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1972.


Fejtõ, vol.. 1. p. 149.


Searle, G. R., Corruption in British Politics, 1895–1930. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987. pp. 418–427. According to the author: “British political culture seems...to be based on reticence and concealment.” (p. 418.)


Ruszoly, József, A választási bíráskodás Magyarországon, 1848–1948. [The Electoral Judicatory in Hungary between 1848 and 1948] Bp. 1980. p. 501.


Further cases: Cieger, pp. 3–22.


In detail: Horváth, J. – Nemes, J. – Pintér I. – Szabó L., Régi jó világ. A Horthy-korszak nagy panamáiból [Good Old World. From the Great Financial Swindles During the Horthy-period]. Budapest, Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1959. pp. 163–198.


Gerõ, 1997. pp. 78–81.


Expression of András Gerõ. See: 168 óra, vol. 10. No. 6. pp. 10–13.


Doig, Alan – Wilson, John, ‘Untangling the Threads’ in Sleaze: Politicians, Private Interests and Public Reaction. Ridley, F. F. and Doig, A. (eds.), Oxford Univ. Press, 1995. pp. 14–30.


In the judging of corruption cases, the distinction between private and public interests will play an important role later too. For example in 1990 French former minister Christian Nucci (he is involved in the Carrefour du Développement affair) obtained amnesty on the basis of this distinction. See: Fay, Christophe, ‘France’ in Sleaze pp. 115–128. Most recently, in December 1999, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl based the justification of the secret financing of the CDU on this distinction.


Schöpflin, George, „Corruption, Informalism, Irregularity in Eastern Europe: a Political Analysis.” Südost-Europa, 1984. 7–8. 389–401.; Holmes, Leslie, The End of Communist Power. Anti-Corruption Campaigns and Legitimation Crisis. Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1993. pp. 255–257.


Schöpflin, p. 400.; Holmes, pp. 247–249.


Tarkowski, Jacek, “Old and New Patterns of Corruption in Poland and the USSR”. Telos 1989. No. 80. pp. 51–62.; Clark, John – Wildavsky, Aaron, The Moral Collapse of Communism. Poland as a Cautionary Tale. ICS Press, San Francisco, 1990. pp. 168., 204.


Tucker, Lee, ‘Censorship and Corruption: Government Self-Protection through Control of the Media.’ in Corruption and Democracy. Duc V. Trang (ed.) Budapest, 1994. pp. 185–189.; Dunleavy, Patrick – Weir, Stuart, ‘Media, opinion and constitution.’ in Sleaze... pp. 54–68.;