Against the Odds: Whistleblowers in Eastern Europe Starting to Prevail

Eastern Europe Whistleblower

While most countries in Western Europe continue to struggle to pass and enforce whistleblower protection laws, many of their Eastern European counterparts are scoring victories. These successes can be traced to anti-corruption projects and campaigns supported by the EU, UN and other international organizations.

Here are some recent cases in which courts ruled in favor of victimized employees.

Ukraine: First-Time Protection for Family Member

In the midst of a war, officials in Ukraine still have the presence of mind to protect whistleblowers. For the first time under its 2019 whistleblower law, a family member of a corruption witness has won a retaliation case in court.

“It’s an important precedent in Ukrainian whistleblowing history,” reported Serhiy Derkach, head of corruption prevention and detection at Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP). “Ukraine protects not only whistleblower’s rights, but also their families.”

The case began when a person learned a local public official had provided false information on an asset declaration form. Following an investigation, police opened a criminal case of illicit enrichment against the official.

A relative of the whistleblower, who is a school director, was then reprimanded by local officials. Both the whistleblower and the relative applied to the NACP for retaliation protection. The agency intervened on behalf of the relative in court, which found the reprimand illegal and revoked it. Also, the head of the municipality was ordered to pay moral damages.

“Usually, family members are an easy target for victimization, as they are living in the same community,” Derkach observed. “Whistleblowers hesitate to speak up because of the possible negative impact, not only on them but their family. We believe that by offering legal protection to family members, more whistleblowers will be encouraged to make a disclosure.”

Romania: Rare Win for Dismissed Employee

Romania is well known in anti-corruption circles for having one of the world’s oldest whistleblower laws and the first in continental Europe. But the 2004 measure rarely has been put to the test. A notable victory was reported in July.

Local media reported a court had ordered the reinstatement of a water system technician who was fired after exposing political favoritism in hiring. Among the nepotistic appointments, the technician reported he was forced to hire a former waitress to work as a water management engineer in a flood-prone river basin. Romania’s ruling National Liberal Party also reportedly arranged the hiring of preschool teachers and lottery workers with no relevant experience.

While working in the city of Bârlad for Apele Române (“Water Romania”), the technician exposed the scandal this past February in interviews with several media outlets. (WNN is withholding his name though it already is public in Romania.)

Then-President Florin Cîțu claimed his position was eliminated via a reorganization. “I tell you the cold facts,” Cîțu is quoted as saying in local media, “that post was abolished. He was offered another post and he didn’t take it. He has not been fired.”

A court disagreed with Cîțu’s assessment. A judge ordered the local water agency to reinstate him to his previous position and compensate him for lost wages and €400 in court costs.

Moldova: Landmark Victory for Public Employee

Since passing its first whistleblower law in 2018, Moldova has received support from European and international experts to set up its protection system and enforce the law. The efforts have paid off.

Moldova’s Ombudsman’s Office has recorded its first successful case. (WNN is withholding all identifying information to protect the whistleblower.) A public employee known as “Hon. X” was intimidated and harassed after reporting misconduct within the agency. The retaliation culminated in his dismissal.

Following an inquiry, the Ombudsman confirmed the employee suffered retaliation and that the agency had done a poor job handling reports of misconduct from its staff. The agency ignored the Ombudsman’s recommendation to reinstate the employee and stop further retaliation. With the Ombudsman’s support, the employee went to court, which found the agency had violated his rights and ordered him to be reinstated.

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