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Analysis From Washington: Romania--Criminals Threaten Post-Communist Countries Most

Washington, 12 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Countries in Eastern Europe face a new security threat, one far more insidious than the open aggression that has threatened them in the past: the infiltration of their governments by organized criminal groups.

That message was delivered by Romanian President Emil Constantinescu to a Europe Forum conference held in Berlin over the weekend.

The Romanian leader spoke for virtually all the attendees when he said that "our countries no longer fear armed aggressions of a truly classic type but rather the infiltration in our state structures of mafia-type connections which question even our reason for being."

But if there was widespread support for Constantinescu's conclusion, there was very little agreement on how to overcome this plague and provide genuine security for the countries of this region. Some participants at the meeting such as Moldovan interior minister Mikhail Plamadeala suggested that only international cooperation could allow these countries to fight organized crime, terrorism, and illegal migration.

Others, such as Bulgarian deputy prime minister Alexander Boshkov, put their hopes in the expansion of Western institutions. He said that "if NATO and the European Union won't be there, then somebody else will -- together with drugs and arms trade."

And still others, including Russian deputy foreign minister Aleksandr Avdeyev, said that these countries could overcome this threat only if they were able to achieve more rapid economic growth.

All of these suggestions would help. No country in the region can be expected to cope on its own with the globalization of crime that has occurred alongside the globalization of the economy.

Moreover, no country in Eastern Europe will be able to take the necessary steps unless it has confidence that it will enjoy the support of Western states, a confidence that membership in NATO or the European Union would certainly give.

And no country will be able to escape the current crime wave unless it achieves substantial and sustained economic growth.

But what is striking in the reportage from this meeting is what the leaders did not talk about: the need for the governments of these countries to develop both a strong and independent judiciary and a culture that views criminal activity as the threat it now is.

And unless these countries achieve both of these, none of the other measures their leaders mentioned in Berlin will have much of a chance of saving them from the new criminal international.

But achieving these goals will not be easy for any of them because of the inheritance left them by the communist system. Under communism, these countries did not have an independent judiciary but they did have a strong police system.

Moreover, under communism, both leaders and led were accustomed to all kinds of official corruption, so accustomed that they often saw it as almost a norm.

And under communism, the party leadership could be counted on to oppose the most extravagant forms of private corruption precisely in order to protect its own even more extravagant form of public corruption.

When communism collapsed in these countries, many people expected that the end of coercion would lead to a liberal democratic judicial system and to a law-based state.

But the experience of the last decade in most of these countries has been very different: it has shown that the end of communist coercion offered criminals even more opportunities than they had had before. Both the weakness of post-communist state structures -- executive and judicial -- and widespread popular attitudes that criminal activity and corruption are somehow inevitable have limited the ability of many governments in the region to respond adequately.

But as a result of their inability to do so and of the lack of adequate help from outside, many of these governments now face a security threat far greater than either they or the West had anticipated.

The Berlin meeting is an indication that both groups are now groping toward an understanding of this problem and that they recognize, as one German parliamentarian put it, that "security is no longer identical with the defense of a country's external borders."