Screaming at a Wall. Societal accountability from below in Bulgaria and Hungary


The article investigates engagement in anti-corruption activism in Bulgaria and Hungary. Since the late 2000s, protest events occurred in greater numbers in the two post-communist countries, addressing questions either directly or indirectly related to high-level or political corruption. Bulgarian and Hungarian collective anti-corruption actors share a common framing of the issue ('state corruption' or 'state capture'), though their struggles vary in their modes and strategies ('civic self-organisation' versus the dominant role of 'transactional activism'). The article crucially reconstructs the context within which anticorruption activism took place, the different forms of mobilisation, and the specific framing of the issue by means of original interviews with prominent Bulgarian and Hungarian activists. Finally, attention is devoted to the subaltern fortunes of these struggles in attaining the aspired goal of societal accountability.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v10i3p773

Keywords: Anti-corruption; societal accountability; activism; Bulgaria; Hungary


Ackerman, J. (2004) ‘Co-Governance for Accountability: Beyond “Exit” and “Voice”’. World Development, 32(3): 447-463.

Bánkuti, M., G. Halmai, and K.L. Scheppele (2012) ‘Disabling the Constitution’. Journal of Democracy, 23(3): 138-146.

Bauhr, M., and M. Grimes (2014) ‘Indignation or Resignation: The Implications of Transparency for Societal Accountability’. Governance, 27(2): 291-320.

BBC (2013) ‘Bulgaria holds prayers to end suicides and despair’. Available at:

Beissinger, M.R., and G. Sasse (2014) ‘An End to “Patience”?’, in L. Bartels and N. Bermeo (eds.) Mass Politics in Tough Times: Opinions, Votes and Protest in the Great Recession. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 334-370.

Beyerle, S. (2014) Curtailing Corruption: People Power for Accountability and Justice. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Beyerle, S., and T. Olteanu (2016) ‘How Romanian people power took on mining and corruption’. Foreign Policy. Available at:

Bosi, L., M. Giugni, and K. Uba (eds.) (2016) The Consequences of Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bozóki, A., and E. Simon (2010) ‘Hungary since 1989’, in S.P. Ramet (ed.) Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 204-232.

Císař, O. (2013) ‘Post-Communism and Social Movements’, in D.A. Snow, D. della Porta, B. Klandermans, and D. McAdam (eds.) Encyclopaedia of Social and Political Movements, Vol. 3. London: Blackwell, pp. 994-999.

Dalton, R.J. (2005) ‘The Social Transformation of Trust in Government’. International Review of Sociology, 15(1): 133-154.

della Porta, D. (2015) Social Movements in Times of Austerity. Cambridge: Polity.

della Porta, D., and M. Diani (2006) Social Movements: An Introduction. Oxford: Black-well.

della Porta, D., and M. Giugni (2009) ‘Democracy from Below: Activists and Institu-tions’, in D. della Porta (ed.) Another Europe: Conceptions and Practices of Democracy in the European Social Forums. London: Routledge, pp. 86-108.

della Porta, D., and A. Vannucci (1999) Corrupt Exchanges: Actors, Resources, and Mechanisms of Political Corruption. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine De Gruyter.

Djoreva, V. (2001) ‘Seeing Beyond the Crowd: A Case Study of the Political Protests in Sofia in the Beginning of 1997’. Polish Sociological Review, 133(1): 99-122.

Ekiert, G., and J. Kubik (2014) ‘Myths and Realities of Civil Society’. Journal of Democracy, 25(1): 46-58.

Engler, S. (2016) ‘Corruption and Electoral Support for New Political Parties in Central and Eastern Europe’. West European Politics, 39(2): 278-304.

Foa, R.S., and G. Ekiert (2017) ‘The Weakness of Postcommunist Civil Society Reas-sessed’. European Journal of Political Research, 56(2): 419-439.

Freedom House (2012) ‘Freedom of the Press: Hungary’. Available at:

Fung, A., and E.O. Wright (2001) ‘Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance’. Politics and Society, 29(1): 5-41.

Gagyi, A. (2015) ‘Social Movement Studies for East Central Europe? The Challenge of a Time-Space Bias on Postwar Western Societies’. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics, 1(3): 16-36.

Gamson, W. (1992) Talking Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gherghina, S. (2014) Party Organization and Electoral Volatility in Central and Eastern Europe: Enhancing Voter Loyalty. London: Routledge.

Greskovits, B. (2015) ‘The Hollowing and Backsliding of Democracy in East Central Eu-rope’. Global Policy, 6(S1): 28-37.

Hanley, S., and A. Sikk (2016) ‘Economy, Corruption or Floating Voters? Explaining the Breakthroughs of Anti-Establishment Reform Parties in Eastern Europe’. Party Poli-tics, 22(4): 522-533. (2016) ‘Medián: A magyarok kétharmada korruptnak látja a Fideszt’. Available at:

Jasper, J.M. (2014) Protest: A Cultural Introduction to Social Movements. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Johnston, M. (1996) ‘The Search for Definitions: The Vitality of Politics and the Issue of Corruption’. International Social Science Journal, 48(149): 321-335.

Johnston, M. (2014) Corruption, Contention and Reform: The Power of Deep Democratization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kitschelt, H. (2006) ‘Movement parties’, in R.S. Katz and W. Crotty (eds.) Handbook of Party Politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, pp. 278-290.

Kitschelt, H., Z. Mansfeldova, R. Markowski, and G. Toka (1999) Post-Communist Party Systems: Competition, Representation, and Inter-Party Cooperation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krasztev, P., and J. van Til (eds.) (2015) The Hungarian Patient. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Lambsdorff, J. (2007) Institutional Economics of Corruption and Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lipsky, M. (1968) ‘Protest as a Political Resource’. American Political Science Review, 62(4): 1144-1158.

Melucci, A. (1995) ‘The Process of Collective Identity’, in H. Johnston and B. Klander-mans (eds.) Social Movements and Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 41-63.

Mungiu-Pippidi, A. (ed.) (2013) Controlling Corruption in Europe. Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers.

Mungiu-Pippidi, A. (2015) The Quest for Good Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mungiu-Pippidi, A. (ed.) (2016) Measuring Corruption in Europe And Beyond. Special Issue of the European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 22(3): 363-564.

Petőcz, G. (2015) ‘Milla: A Suspended Experiment’, in P. Krasztev and J. van Til (eds.) The Hungarian Patient. Budapest: Central European University Press, pp. 207-229.

Petrova, T., and S. Tarrow (2007) ‘Transactional and Participatory Activism in the Emerging European Polity: The Puzzle of East-Central Europe’. Comparative Political Studies, 40(1): 74-94.

Pirro, A.L.P. (2014) ‘Digging into the Breeding Ground: Insights into the Electoral Per-formance of Populist Radical Right Parties in Central and Eastern Europe’. East Euro-pean Politics, 30(2): 246-270.

Pirro, A.L.P. (2015) The Populist Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe: Ideology, Impact, and Electoral Performance. London: Routledge.

Pop-Eleches, G. (2010) ‘Throwing out the Bums: Protest Voting and Unorthodox Parties After Communism’. World Politics, 62(2): 221-260.

Puhl, J. (2017) ‘A Whiff of Corruption in Orbán’s Hungary’. Spiegel. Available at:

Ramet, S.P., and P. Wagner (2010) ‘Post-Socialist Models of Rule in Central and South-eastern Europe’, in S.P. Ramet (ed.) Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 9-36.

Rone, J. (2017) ‘Left in Translation: The Curious Absence of an Austerity Narrative in the Bulgarian 2013 Protests’, in D. della Porta (ed.) The Global Diffusion of Protest: Riding the Protest Wave in the Neoliberal Crisis. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 137-166.

Rose-Ackerman, S. (1996) ‘Democracy and ‘Grand’ Corruption’, International Social Science Journal, 48(149): 365-380.

Rose-Ackerman, S. (1999) Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences, and Reform. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmidt-Pfister, D., and H. Moroff (eds.) (2012) Fighting Corruption in Eastern Europe: A Multilevel Perspective. London: Routledge.

Smulovitz, C., and E. Peruzzotti (2000) ‘Societal Accountability in Latin America’. Journal of Democracy, 11(4): 147-158.

Snow, D.A., E.B. Rochford Jr., S.K. Worden, and R.D. Benford (1986) ‘Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation’. American Sociological Review, 51(4): 464-481.

Spirova, M. (2010) ‘Bulgaria since 1989’, in S.P. Ramet (ed.)

Central and Southeast Eu-ropean Politics since 1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 401-420.

Tarrow, S. (2011) Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Torsello, D. (2012) The New Environmentalism? Civil Society and Corruption in the En-larged EU. Farnham: Ashgate.

Transparency International (2017) ‘Corruption Perceptions Index 2016’. Available at:

Wilson, J. (1973) Introduction to Social Movements. New York: Basic Books.

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.