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Nations in Transit 2015: Democracy on the Defensive in Europe and Eurasia
Democratization efforts in Europe and Eurasia face new, increasingly aggressive attacks by authoritarian states and other adversaries, according to Nations in Transit 2015, released today by Freedom House.
“Eurasia’s authoritarian regimes tirelessly warn their people that moves toward democracy as seen in Ukraine can only end in chaos, violence, and poverty,” said Sylvana Habdank-Kołaczkowska, project director of Nations in Transit. “To prove them wrong, it is imperative that the EU and its allies provide substantially more financial and political support for the development of a successful democracy in Ukraine. This is clearly an adversarial process, and advocates of democracy cannot prevail if they are unwilling to fight harder for their goals.”
The number of countries in Eurasia receiving the report’s worst classification has almost doubled in the past 10 years. Conditions in Central and Eastern Europe are still better by comparison, but worsening corruption, abuse of power, and the rise of extremist parties have left many countries vulnerable to interference from Moscow.
“Given the nature of the external threat, the EU needs to do more to uphold democratic standards within Europe,” Habdank-Kołaczkowska said. “The bloc’s strength and unity depend on maintaining transparent, accountable governance in every member state.”
- Of the 29 countries assessed for 2014, 13 were rated as democracies, 6 as transitional regimes, and 10 as authoritarian regimes.
- As in each of the previous 10 years, the average democracy score declined in 2014, with 12 countries suffering downgrades.
- Russia earned its largest ratings decline in a decade in 2014, as the Kremlin stepped up suppression of dissent at home while seeking to destabilize the new government in Ukraine.
- Following the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s corrupt presidency and two rounds of well-administered, competitive elections, Ukraine received four ratings improvements for 2014.
- Hungary, driving the decline in Central and Eastern Europe, fell out of the category of “consolidated democracies.” The demotion to “semi-consolidated democracy” came after seven straight years of score declines.
- In the Balkans, with journalists in a precarious situation and judicial reforms stalling, four out of seven countries registered declines.
- Legal restrictions and government harassment targeted NGOs in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, leading to ratings declines for civil society in all four countries.
- The only countries to register improvements in Eurasia were Georgia, which held direct mayoral elections for the first time in 2014, and Ukraine.
- Conditions remained dire in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—the report’s worst performers.
Central and Eastern Europe
- In addition to “free but unfair” elections in Hungary, balloting in Poland and Romania was marred by mismanagement and technical problems.
- The survey’s best performers in the category of independent media—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—struggled to come up with adequate responses to Russia’s propaganda onslaught. Slovakia received a downgrade in this category due to greater concentration of media ownership.
- The only country to register an overall score improvement in the region was the Czech Republic, where conditions calmed after political scandals and instability in 2013.
- Macedonia, which was demoted to a “transitional regime” in last year’s report, continued to decline, particularly in the categories of electoral process and civil society.
- Threats to media independence and erosion of journalistic standards led to downgrades in Montenegro and Serbia.
- Government reforms and steps to combat corruption earned an improvement in Albania—the only country in this region to register an overall gain for 2014.
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.