The Authoritarian Surge
The American Interest
by David J. Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova
The wait for the Fourth Wave of Democracy continues. Several times over the past decade, it seemed that it was about to unfold: in 2003–05, with the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, and the “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan; and in 2011 with the “Arab Spring”, which sparked hopes in a part of the world that had shown virtually no movement in democratic development for decades. The turmoil in Egypt, the difficulties experienced by Libya and the daily tragedies in Syria have placed those hopes on hold.
As the wait for the fourth wave continues, we are witnessing a diametrically different phenomenon: the surge of new authoritarianism. It is happening across a culturally and historically diverse set of countries but is particularly noteworthy in the countries of Eurasia and even Central Europe. We see it in Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan in its harshest forms, and in milder versions in Turkey, Hungary and, some even worry, Georgia. The recent Freedom House report, Nations in Transit, paints the following picture:
Several of Russia’s neighbors saw increasing pressure on political opposition and civil society. Five of the 12 countries in the Eurasia region suffered score declines on Nations in Transit’s civil society indicator, including Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Belarus, which stepped up their persecution of perceived enemies through legal and extralegal means.
In Central Europe, most states were able to respond to the mounting public backlash against unpopular austerity measures without straying from core democratic norms. However, in Romania, a new center-left government treated public dissatisfaction with President Traian B?sescu and the outgoing center-right government as a mandate to entrench its own rule and browbeat critical media outlets. Hungary, which showed dramatic decline in last year’s report, slipped further as the administration of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán continued to defend its controversial reorganization and restaffing of the country’s media, data protection, and judicial oversight bodies, while also pursuing legislation to regulate additional dimensions of political and social activity.
Let us complement this report with trends pointing to the emergence of new electoral authoritarianism in Egypt, with a duly elected President from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the case of Tayyip Erdogan, the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Turkey, seeking to establish a sultanist regime in his country while relying on support from the conservative majority.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.