Special Features: Nations in Transit & World Press Freedom Day

This sixth edition of Freedom House’s weekly newsletter, Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic, highlights World Press Freedom Day and introduces Nations in Transit 2020, the latest report in our annual series on democracy and authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

This is a shorter edition of Freedom House’s weekly newsletter on the coronavirus and its effects on democracy, Keeping Democracy Healthy in a Pandemic.

Protest Serbia

Here at Freedom House the publication clock never stops: today we launched the latest iteration of our annual report on Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union— Nations in Transit 2020: Dropping the Democratic Facade. The region, which stretches from the heart of Europe to the borders of China, is always important for understanding the global trajectory of democracy, and this year is no different. As Research Director Zselyke Csaky writes in her main essay, attacks on democratic institutions that used to be hidden behind a veneer of compliance with democratic norms are now taking place out in the open. Looking forward, Freedom House president Mike Abramowitz said that the coronavirus crisis has created an inflection point, after which things could become much worse in the region, or democracy could be revitalized. We hope that this experience will illustrate the importance of transparent and accountable governance and catalyze new demands for change.”

  • The region also holds valuable lessons for the United States. In an essay published in Foreign Policy this week, Zselyke and our vice president of research and analysis, Sarah Repucci, describe the Polish government’s partisan push for elections without adequate preparation in the shadow of the coronavirus. They warn that unless US leaders from both parties come together and start taking significant technical steps now to prepare for a safe vote under pandemic conditions in November, the bedrock of American democracy—free and fair elections—could be in jeopardy.
  • Finally, to mark World Press Freedom Day, our research director for strategy and management, Mai Truong, lays out the urgent need to protect media independence, which faces new threats during the coronavirus crisis. Arrests for publishing “fake news” and “false information,” as well as rhetorical demonization of the media, hinder reporters’ ability to provide quality coverage of a public health emergency and hold governments accountable for their performance. At the same time, an already fragile news industry is under even more economic pressure due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, with plummeting revenue from advertisements forcing widespread layoffs and closures. We should stand up for press freedom now to prevent more lasting damage to democracy after the crisis is over.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back next week with a full version of the newsletter. Stay safe, and stay free.