Hungary’s descent into the Partly Free category in Freedom House’s just-released annual assessment of global media independence should set off alarms for those who believed the country’s press freedom was firmly established.
In a stunningly short period of time, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used his Fidesz party’s supermajority in the parliament to push through a raft of measures that are patently hostile to media independence. A controversial media law that came into force on January 1, 2011, drew sharp criticism from a range of international observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s special representative on the media, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Commission.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet today with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to sign a strategic agreements focused on energy and raw materials. Merkel, whose country has been cultivating access to Kazakhstan’s natural resources for some time, is not likely to devote much of the discussion to her guest’s domestic troubles. Nazarbayev prefers to present Kazakhstan as an eager business partner, committed to its international obligations and open to gradual reforms, and foreign governments and companies often have an economic interest in accepting this image at face value. However, recent events suggest that popular frustration with the country’s authoritarian system is becoming more difficult to ignore.
On December 1, Kyrgyzstan inaugurated Almazbek Atambayev as its new president in the country’s first orderly transfer of power since independence. Atambayev won more than 60 percent of the ballots in an election that monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized as peaceful, though suffering from significant irregularities, particularly in the vote tabulation process and the compiling of voter lists.
Perhaps the biggest story to emerge from Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Russia is the central role played by new media. To be sure, the failure of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party to obtain a solid majority in the State Duma, even while cheating, is significant. But the Kremlin-approved parties that profited from the antigovernment protest vote—the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and the faux-opposition A Just Russia party—appear unlikely to stimulate reform. The election results thus reflected deep disillusionment with Putin, but utterly failed to provide a road map to future change.