Democracy Best Hope for Russian-Georgian Reconciliation

Budapest and Washington

Freedom House urges the Russian and Georgian governments to address serious declines in human rights and democracy that were exacerbated by their war over the separatist republic of South Ossetia one year ago.

"The best hope for reconciliation between Russia and Georgia is for both countries to respect human rights, strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law and create an environment that enables civil society to hold governments accountable," said Vladimir Shkolnikov, Freedom House Europe director. "A positive first step would be for the leadership of both countries to put an immediate end to the inflammatory rhetoric we've seen in the lead up to this tragic anniversary." 

A Russian military invasion into Georgian territory on August 7, 2008 followed an escalation in fighting between Georgian forces and South Ossetian separatists. The conflict left hundreds of people dead, displaced tens of thousands and ended in Russia's unilateral recognition of the independence of both South Ossetia and neighboring republic Abkhazia.

In advance of the war's one-year anniversary, Freedom House is releasing Russian-language summaries of its Russia and Georgia reports from Nations in Transit 2009, Freedom House's study of democratic development in 29 former Soviet states. Both countries suffered democratic setbacks in 2008 with their governments' restricting media coverage of the conflict, strengthening executive powers and limiting the work of civil society organizations.

For the first time, Russia's score fell into the range of countries listed in the study as "consolidated authoritarian regimes," declining from 5.96 to 6.11. (Nations in Transit ranks countries according to a 1-7 scale, with 7 being the least democratic.) Vladimir Putin retained his dominant role in the country's political system and used unprecedented constitutional amendments to strengthen executive power. Civil society and independent journalists faced an increasingly hostile environment, including assassinations, intimidation and new restrictive government regulations.

Georgia managed to remain its standing as a "transitional government or hybrid regime," despite declining from 4.79 to 4.93. The country scored lowest on national democratic governance because of the absence of any real checks on President Mikheil Saakashvili's power and the government's reluctance to engage with the opposition.

To learn more about Russia and Georgia, read:

Nations in Transit 2009: Georgia Executive Summary (Russian language)
Nations in Transit 2009: Russia Executive Summary (Russian language)

Nations in Transit 2009: Georgia Full Report (English language)
Nations in Transit 2009: Russia Full Report (English language)

Undermining Democracy 2009: Russia
Freedom in the World 2009: South Ossetia

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Georgia and Russia since 1991. 

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