One of the most important factors for a successful transition and consolidation to democracy is the relationship between citizens and civil servants. The level of trust, efficiency and accountability established between these two actors determines more or less the political culture of the political system. This excellent and thorough study, consisting of nine chapters, undertakes the ambitious task of getting empirical data on what the authors call ‘bureaucratic encounters’ between citizens and state officers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Although the contextualizing first chapter on the historical development and workings of the political systems of the four countries requires considerable previous knowledge from any reader, the empirical evidence extracted from surveys and focus group meetings undertaken during the 1990s is a major contribution to understanding the quality of democracy in comparative perspective (pp. 4–5).
The concept of ‘quality of democracy’ is brought forward as an alternative to the theories of democratic transition and consolidation. The authors also avoid falling into the fallacy of idealizing Weberian types of bureaucracy (p. 139). Instead, the study attempts to find out the patterns of ‘bureaucratic encounters’. The authors are not primarily interested in political corruption in the four countries, but they realize the outcome may confirm such behaviour in ‘bureaucratic encounters’ (p. 1). The study finds out that one of the strategies of citizens is really to offer presents and money to be better treated in a hospital, university or by the traffic police (pp. 74–5). Naturally, this is more widespread in some countries than others, but it can be found in all. The authors are aware of the negative environment in which some of the civil servants work, which clearly prevents enduring reforms. A final chapter analyses the empirical evidence against the proposed reforms presented by different authors, including the SIGMA/OECD group. This long-awaited study is an outstanding contribution to political science. As such, it is certainly comparable to the classic Civic Culture by Verba and Almond, and an indispensable source of research and inspiration in any political science library.