Study: Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy in Former Soviet Countries | Freedom House

Study: Challenges and Opportunities for Democracy in Former Soviet Countries

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Recent developments in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have altered assumptions about democracy's prospects in the former Soviet Union, raising questions about what a new democratic spring means for countries from Central Europe to Eurasia, according to a major study released today by Freedom House.

The study, Nations in Transit 2005, presented today at a briefing in Brussels, suggests that the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, as well as more recent events in Kyrgyzstan, may have opened a new wave of democratic expansion in the post-Soviet environment. The study warns, however, that the failure of leaders throughout the region to uphold commitments to democracy and to preserve their own citizens' meaningful voice in governance is a political dead end.

"The findings of this year's Nations in Transit study make clear that citizens in the former Soviet countries have what it takes to make their countries democratic," said Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor. "In particular, Ukraine's extraordinary return to the democratic path in 2004 confirmed the potential for the peaceful spread of liberal democracy and free markets to former Soviet countries still suffering under corrupt and authoritarian regimes," she said.

Nations in Transit 2005 is available online.

Country-by-country summaries and regional ratings are also available.

Based on the study, which tracks the movement of countries toward or away from democracy, Freedom House urges Western leaders concerned with encouraging democratic practices and good governance in the region to:

  • Assist countries in consolidating important democratic gains. For example, ensure that additional U.S. foreign assistance is delivered to Georgia, which has been selected for enhanced support under the Millennium Challenge Account.

  • Engage and provide incentives to countries, such as Moldova, whose leaders have communicated a desire for greater integration with Western democracies.

  • Consider new strategies to deal with consolidated authoritarian regimes such as in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan.

  • Address countries that are backsliding. Press President Vladimir Putin to make good on pledges to advance democracy in Russia and address democratic deterioration in Armenia.

  • Promote nonviolent approaches to change and provide clear and effective responses to violence when it does occur.

"With the stakes so high, the transatlantic community must renew efforts to support good governance, independent media, civil society, the rule of law, and free and fair elections in the former Soviet states," said Nations in Transit editor Jeannette Goehring. "The community also must devise new strategies to deal with governments that are increasingly consolidating authoritarian rule and give assistance to countries that previously may have been overlooked."

Russia warrants special attention. "The fate of Russian democracy has enormous implications, both for the former Soviet region and globally," said Ms. Windsor. "The fact that democracy has failed in so many countries of the former Soviet Union is due in part to the increasingly authoritarian Russian example. The U.S. and Europe should press Moscow to play a constructive role in supporting democratic practice both at home and abroad."

Freedom House found that the eight new European Union members from Central and Eastern Europe held their position as the highest ranking countries in the study. These countries-Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia-continued to show the strongest overall performance in the key areas of democratization tracked: electoral process; civil society; independent media; governance; corruption; and judicial framework and independence. However, Nations in Transit also points to the need of all these countries to tackle widespread corruption.

The Balkan countries showed signs of increased stability in 2004, yet still confronted substantial challenges to democratic consolidation. Bulgaria and Romania both joined NATO in 2004 and remained on the road to joining the European Union in 2007. At the same time, analysis of both countries makes clear that attention is still needed in areas such as advancing judicial reform, fighting corruption, and increasing media independence.

The Western Balkan countries of Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro (including Kosovo) face the most substantial challenges of democratic consolidation in the Balkans. At the Brussels briefing, Jasna Jelisic, an advisor to the Nations in Transit study and a journalist with the Sarajevo-based weekly news magazine Dani, noted that these countries are "only halfway down the road to joining the European community of democratic nations and building prosperous, open societies."

"Although much remains to be done, the events of 2004 demonstrated that the European integration process is having a major positive impact on democratic consolidation and stability in the Western Balkans and is giving hope to people for the future," Ms. Jelisic said.

Zamira Eshanova, another advisor to the study and regional expert on Central Asia for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said: "The turmoil from power successions-those that have occurred and those that are anticipated, though nobody knows when-is having an increasingly destabilizing effect on Central Asia. The question is: What institutions are in place and how will relative levels of democratic strength and weakness play out in post turmoil regimes?"


Nations In Transit 2004: The Ratings

Produced annually, the Nations in Transit study 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 judicial framework and independence. 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. Nations in Transit 2005 is an updated edition of surveys published in 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1997, and 1995. The 2005 study covers the period from January 1 through December 31, 2004, and includes for the first time separate analysis and ratings of national democratic governance and local democratic governance.

Largest Improvements in Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Both Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina experienced ratings improvements in 4 out of 7 Nations in Transit categories-the highest number in the study. Ukraine's ratings improvements were more substantial owing to the extraordinary challenges the country overcame in late 2004 and the success of pro-democracy supporters in reinvigorating and jumpstarting democratic political development in the country. Ukraine's ratings improved significantly in the categories of electoral process, civil society, independent media, and judicial framework and independence. As in previous years, Bosnia continued slow but steady democratic progress and received modest ratings advances in the categories of electoral process, independent media, judicial framework and independence, and corruption.

Largest Declines in Russia and Azerbaijan, Deterioration in Armenia. Russia and Azerbaijan both experienced ratings declines in 4 out of 7 Nations in Transit categories-the greatest number in the study-owing to the consolidation of authority by presidents in both countries. In Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev's efforts led to declining ratings for electoral process, civil society, independent media, and judicial framework and independence. Russia's more substantial declines occurred in the categories of electoral process, civil society, independent media, and judicial framework and independence. Russia's performance in 2004 stands in stark contrast to the positive changes noted in neighboring Ukraine. Over the last two years, Armenia has shown a less dramatic but still disturbing decline in the areas of electoral process, independent media, and judicial framework and independence.

Electoral process.
(+) Nine countries or territories experienced ratings improvements for electoral process: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
(-) Five countries or territories experienced declines in electoral process: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Poland, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Civil society.
(+) Eight countries or territories showed gains for civil society: Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Latvia, Montenegro, Romania, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.
(-) Three countries or territories experienced setbacks for civil society: Azerbaijan, Russia, and Slovenia.

Independent media.
(+) Seven countries or territories experienced improvements for independent media: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.
(-) Eight countries or territories showed declines in independent media: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Hungary, Romania, Russia, and Tajikistan.

New Governance Ratings

  • Eight countries or territories showed better national democratic governance than local democratic governance: Armenia, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
  • Thirteen countries or territories showed better local democratic governance than national democratic governance: Albania, Belarus, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • Eight countries or territories received the same ratings for national and local democratic governance: Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

Judicial Framework and Independence.
(+) Nine countries or territories had ratings improvements in this category: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan..
(-) Seven countries experienced setbacks in their ratings for this category: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, and Russia.

Corruption.
(+) Five countries showed improvements in their ratings for corruption: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, and Slovakia.
(-) Four countries showed regression in their ratings for corruption: Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, and Turkmenistan.

Eight countries or territories showed better national democratic governance than local democratic governance: Armenia, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

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.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhouse). Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our newsletter.