Former Soviet Countries Lagging Behind in Democracy | Freedom House

Former Soviet Countries Lagging Behind in Democracy

New York

Europe is facing a widening and worrisome democracy gap, according to a major new report released by Freedom House today.

The study, Nations in Transit 2004, shows that the enlargement of the European Union on May 1 formalized a new divide between the stable, democratic nations of Central Europe and the Baltics and the weaker post-Communist states that continue to lag behind in key areas of democratic development.

The study is available online.

Country-by-country summaries are also available online.

"The findings of this year's Nations in Transit study make clear that much remains to be done to extend the benefits of liberal democracy and free markets to the majority of post-Communist countries in Europe and Eurasia," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor

"Western leaders must renew efforts to support political and economic reform in the post-Communist countries. At the same time, they must press slow-to-reform governments harder for tangible improvements in securing basic rights, promoting free and independent media, supporting the rule of law, and introducing effective and transparent governance," she said.

The study also showed worrisome setbacks in Russia, which continues to backslide in key areas of democratic practice. According to Nations in Transit 2004, President Putin's policies "have sought to centralize power, leaving little room for a vibrant civil society, independent media, or political opposition... While Russia has emphasized the importance it places on maintaining strong ties to the West, it is headed in an increasingly authoritarian direction."

In Nations in Transit 2004, the eight new EU members from Central and Eastern Europe held their position as the highest ranking countries in the study, showing the strongest overall performance in the six key areas of democratization tracked: electoral process; civil society; independent media; governance; corruption; and constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework.

Freedom House found that the non-Baltic post-Soviet states have regressed over the life of the study. Russia has registered the most significant decline in scores since last year, with Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine also showing significant downturns. Continued poor performance was documented throughout the Central Asian countries, which include some key U.S. allies. "While there were some bright spots in the past year -- especially in Georgia -- the longer-term outlook for democracy in the non-Baltic former Soviet states remains bleak," said Nations in Transit editor Amanda Schnetzer.

Nations in Transit covers two countries, Armenia and Georgia, that have been selected for enhanced U.S. foreign assistance as part of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), for which over $1 billion in foreign aid funding under the program has been allocated. Their selection was based on a number of criteria set out by the Bush Administration, including commitments by those nations' governments to "ruling justly." Nations in Transit 2004 suggests some cause for concern regarding Armenia's democratic trajectory, particularly in the areas of free and fair elections, independent media, and human rights. Georgia's performance since the "Rose revolution" of last November suggests more promise in this regard.

Nations In Transit 2004: The Ratings

The Nations in Transit survey, produced annually, provides comprehensive analysis of transitions in 27 post-Communist countries (plus Kosovo) by tracking progress and setbacks in electoral processes; civil society; independent media; governance; corruption; and constitutional, legislative and judicial frameworks. It also provides a unique set of comparative ratings based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic development, and 7 the lowest. The 2004 study covers the period January 1 through December 31, 2003

The eight countries joining the European Union on May 1 remained the highest-ranking countries in the study. The majority of ratings improvements documented in Nations in Transit 2004 were confined to countries in the Balkans. (Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo were rated separately this year for the first time and are not included in the ratings summaries. However, historical ratings for Yugoslavia are included in the appendix). The majority of setbacks in ratings were experienced in the non-Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union.

Largest Declines in Russia
Russia experienced ratings declines in the greatest number of categories (5 out of 6), followed by Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine (4 out of 6 each). The overall backward movement exhibited among the non-Baltic former Soviet states in key areas of democratic reform suggests a growing resistance or unwillingness of government leaders to push forward with positive changes. Russia, in particular, has failed to lead by example in the region, where its influence remains pervasive.

Electoral process.
(+) Three countries experienced ratings improvements for electoral process: Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Estonia.
(-) Six countries experienced declines in electoral process: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.

Civil society.
(+) Seven countries showed gains for civil society: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovakia.
(-) Five countries experienced setbacks for civil society: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine.

Independent media.
(+) Three countries experienced improvements for independent media: Albania, Estonia, and Latvia.
(-) Seven countries showed declines in independent media: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, and Slovakia.

(+) Four countries showed progress in their ratings for governance: Bosnia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Tajikistan.
(-) Five countries showed regression in their ratings for governance: Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan.

Constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework.
(+) Four countries had ratings improvements in this category: Bosnia, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Macedonia.
(-) Four countries experienced setbacks in their ratings for this category: Azerbaijan, Croatia, Russia, and Ukraine.

(+) Only two countries showed improvements in their ratings for corruption: Bosnia and Macedonia.
(-) Five countries showed regression in their ratings for corruption: Albania, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.

The full Nations in Transit report is available online.

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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