Progress in the slow lane – Eastern Europe’s common problems

As someone coming from Eastern Europe, by now it should be obvious for me that not only the countries of the region, but also their capitals and their cities are facing similar – if not exactly the same – problems most of the time. However, for some reason it always surprises me when someone points out particular issues they are dealing with in their own communities. I find myself nodding my head at every point of the speech, for we share these concerns and in some respect we have these types of issues in my city as well.

One such moment was during the first day when Pedja mentioned the increasingly widespread privatization of the house council chairperson profession in Belgrade. A house council, which could and should be the smallest form of democracy, is being ignored by the residents, and is therefore being delegated to private businesses because of conformity and unwillingness to devote time to the council. Pedja also highlighted the city centre moving towards a more service sector based economy, in order to serve the needs of the ever increasing inflow of tourists. This transformation in the character of jobs causes working conditions to worsen, and there is increasingly less job stability for the local people. Moreover, the tourist flow deteriorates the city landscape and architecture, while also leading to higher rents and real estate prices in the inner city because of the use of AirBnB (and some landlords and residents thus preferring to rent out their flats and houses to tourists, from whom they can expect more money, instead of renting it to citizens). Furthermore, his speech emphasized the local governments’ unwillingness to cooperate with residents and their complete disregard for the residents’ well voiced opinions.

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Picture taken from flickr.com

These problems are present in Budapest as well, which made me wonder: What could be the common root causes of these issues, considering that they are especially common in Eastern European cities and capitals? The best explanation I could come up with is that these countries are still experiencing a transitional period following the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. They were suddenly and mutually introduced to free market capitalism, which was not preceded by a process of trial and error, i.e. there was not a long, progressive development in the society (as in the UK or Western Germany), and therefore the necessary counterbalance of social solidarity had no time to evolve and grow its roots into the social structure. Furthermore, unbalanced capitalist greed by definition leads to the development of inhumane, inconsiderate societies.

The needs for these counterbalances are visible, and are slowly in the making.  Nevertheless, it is a question of time for when we will finally reach a social democratic structure that will enjoy the wide support of the population. For me, this was the takeaway of the first day. These are the problems we need to tackle as greens in order to achieve a more considerate society, and the desired future which we are fighting for.

Simon Gergely Császár, participant

Future Can Be Different (Hungarian Young Greens)

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