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Study Finds Worsening Conditions for Democracy and Human Rights in Central Asia
In a major new study of post-Communist transitions in Europe and Eurasia, Freedom House finds that the worst conditions for economic and political freedom persist in Central Asia, a region that has been a source of terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
The comprehensive study, Nations in Transit 2002, underscores the importance of growing U.S. engagement in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, but suggests that continued aid will prove more effective if linked more directly to initiatives aimed at improving respect for human rights, good government, freedom of expression, and the rule of law.
Since September 2001 and the launch of the war against terrorism, the United States has stepped up its strategic involvement in Central Asia and increased its commitment to the region's post-Communist countries. However, the governments of these states--particularly in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan--are among the world's worst human rights abusers. According to the study's findings, these countries have exhibited political regression since 1991, when the majority of Soviet republics gained independence, and have consolidated authoritarian rule.
The report indicates a strong correlation between political openness and economic reform throughout the post-Communist world, suggesting that foreign aid and assistance to the impoverished countries of Central Asia is unlikely to result in sustainable growth in the absence of political reforms. Additionally, the report shows that the politically and economically more open states of Central and Eastern Europe significantly outperform the 12 non-Baltic independent states that emerged from the collapse of the USSR in terms of both political and economic reform. At the same time, the study's findings link the failure to reform politically with high levels of corruption, which is rampant in Central Asia.
Given this confluence of factors, the United States should seize the moment to use its foreign aid resources to strengthen independent civic life in Central Asia and to forge new political openings in these largely authoritarian states. Indeed, the leverage of continued aid and strategic cooperation should be employed to push them toward meaningful reform.
"Creating more open political systems, societies, and economies in Central Asia must be understood as a key component of an effective strategy for eroding the appeal of political extremism," declared Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky, a co-editor of the study. "It must be understood as an integral part of the arsenal in an effective war on terrorism."
Other Report Findings
Non-Baltic former Soviet Union
Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia either have seen reform that has stalled or, like the Central Asian states, have regressed in their political development. The Nations in Transit findings indicate a widening and worrisome democracy gap between these countries and the other post-Communist countries that lie to their West.
Central and Eastern Europe
The post-Communist experience of Central and East European countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia proves that good government and economic development go hand-in-hand. Despite occasional minor slippage, these countries have consistently scored at the highest levels of democratization and economic liberalization in the annual Nations in Transit study. As the European Union ponders eastward expansion to these and other countries, it can have confidence in the values and institutions of these candidate states.
Slovakia deserves particular mention for the period covered by the report as one of only two countries to demonstrate significant improvements in all three areas studied: democratization, the rule of law, and economic liberalization. Although the stakes are high for the much-anticipated parliamentary elections in September, the citizens of Slovakia can gather strength in knowing that the roots of political and economic liberalism now run deep and would likely thwart any leader who might apply authoritarian methods to problems that require democratic solutions.
Southeastern Europe and the Balkans
Bulgaria and Croatia remain among the cohort of consolidated democracies. Romania, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Macedonia represent the upper tier of what the study defines as transitional governments, which exhibit the potential for further democratic progress.
Yugoslavia stands with Slovakia as one of only two countries in this year's study to show significant improvements in all three areas covered by the Nations in Transit reportdemocratization, the rule of law, and economic liberalization. As the report on Yugoslavia notes, "Although many observers had hoped for more significant political and economic reforms in 2001, the new regime still made considerable progress."
About The Project
Nations in Transit 2002, the sixth in a series, is the only comprehensive, comparative, and multidimensional study of reform in former Communist states. The 445-page report, which covers events through December 31, 2001, contains three overview essays of the region and separate in-depth studies of 27 post-Communist countries. It tracks the record of these countries in key areas of reform, including democratic elections, civil society, independent media, decentralized governance, the rule of law, corruption, and market economics. The research and ratings for Nations in Transit 2002 were undertaken by an international group of more than 40 specialists on Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. The study was made possible by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Open Society Institute.
Members of the media should send inquiries and requests for a copy of the report to Michael Goldfarb ([email protected]).
Freedom House is America's oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and defending democracy and freedom worldwide.
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.