Democracy and Dissent in Former Soviet Union, New EU States | Freedom House

Democracy and Dissent in Former Soviet Union, New EU States


~ Over Past Decade, Russia Falls Farthest ~

In a sign of broad, cross-regional pressures on democratic development, countries throughout the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe suffered declines in their democratic institutions, according to Nations in Transit 2010, a new study released today by Freedom House.

The democracy scores for 14 of the 29 countries examined in Nations in Transit worsened in 2009 compared with the previous year. In the former Soviet Union, six countries saw an erosion in their overall score. Six new European Union member states also experienced declines, with two countries in the Balkans accounting for the remainder. By contrast, only five countries covered by the survey registered improvements.

The findings in this year's edition cap a decade in which all of the countries in the former Soviet Union save one suffered declines in democratic accountability. Russia experienced the single largest overall deterioration during this 10-year period.

The Nations in Transit overview essay identifies rapidly shrinking space for dissent as a core feature of the authoritarian systems that prevail in the former Soviet Union. One sign of this phenomenon is the growing list of activists, journalists, and legal representatives who have lost their lives while fighting for basic human rights and the rule of law.

"The Nations in Transit findings suggest that there is a deep and ongoing governance crisis in the former Soviet Union," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "The intimidation and violence used against lawyers, reporters, and civic activists in Russia and other countries in the region cast a pall over these societies and their ability to build rules-based systems," Windsor added.

On a regional basis, the former Soviet Union stands out for it systematic denial of basic rights. At the close of the decade, and 20 years after the end of the Cold War, nearly 80 percent of residents of the former Soviet Union-some 221 million people-still live under entrenched authoritarian regimes that deprive them of fundamental political rights and civil liberties. Within the larger region examined by the report, only the Balkans sub-region is performing better now than a decade ago on overall democracy scores.

Key Findings:

•    A Decade of Democratic Regression in the Former Soviet Union. The democratic performance of nearly every country in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union has worsened over the last decade. No country in the region has undergone a sharper decline than Russia, whose scores on media independence, civil society, the judiciary, and electoral process have all suffered.

•    Press Freedom in the Crosshairs. Declines in independent media were most numerous in 2009 and appeared in every subregion examined. Kyrgyzstan experienced a wave of attacks against independent journalists and a decrease in the news media's ability to criticize government policies. Kazakhstan failed to liberalize its media law in keeping with its commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the use of libel suits to punish investigative journalists continued to mar the country's record on press freedom. Encroachments on media independence were noted in five new EU member states. Overall, 10 countries-Albania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia-regressed on media independence in 2009.

•    Clouds Gather Over Internet Freedom. A number of countries saw growing restrictions on internet freedom. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the authorities advanced legislation classifying websites as mass media outlets, making online media more vulnerable to government restrictions. During protests and police violence that followed Moldova's contentious election in April 2009, the government blocked a number of websites, with a particular focus on social-networking sites. While Russia's internet generally retains a good deal of openness, on several fronts the authorities are insinuating themselves into the medium. These efforts include the acquisition of blogging platforms and popular websites by Kremlin-friendly companies and the emergence of commentators and provocateurs who subvert online discourse.

•    Declines in New EU Member States. Amid pressures that included economic recession and rising nationalism, a number of new EU member states suffered declines. Slovakia experienced the sharpest downturn, with its scores falling in five of seven categories. Hungary's ratings fell in three categories-the judiciary, media independence, and corruption. Over the past five years, eight of the ten new EU states have undergone declines in their overall democracy scores.

Nations in Transit 2010 examines the state of democratic governance from Central Europe to Eurasia in 2009. The analysis provides detailed narrative essays and assigns each country a set of ratings based on performance on key democratic indicators.
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.

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