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Global Democracy in Retreat According to Freedom House

Monitoring group downgrades Hungary, Serbia from ‘free’ to ‘partially free,’ while Uzbekistan marks a modest improvement.

6 February 2019

Worldwide freedom has continued its decline for the 13th consecutive year, as net country score declines consistently outnumber net improvements, according to the annual report of U.S.-based international human rights group Freedom House.

 

Alongside already authoritarian states who have now removed the disguise of democratic practices, countries that had progressed dramatically after the end of the Cold War, including long-standing democracies, have backtracked on reforms.

 

The report observes the effective use of open political space by anti-liberal, populist movements of the far right to emphasize national sovereignty to a level that damages democracies both internally by ignoring core civil and political rights, and externally by “weakening the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes.”

 

Some notable changes in the post-communist region include:

 

  • Hungary’s Victor Orban “has presided over one of the most dramatic declines ever charted by Freedom House within the European Union,” the report says, noting his efforts to methodologically “deny critical voices a platform in the media or civil society.” That has contributed to the change of Hungary’s status from Free to Partly Free.

 

  • Similarly, Serbia’s status has also worsened from Free to Partly Free as a result of President Aleksandar Vucic’s “de facto accumulation of executive powers that conflict with his constitutional role,” the questionable election process, and the unfavorable conditions for independent journalists.

 

The exploitation of power by the elites in the Eurasian countries has continued, while antidemocratic leaders in Central Europe and the Balkans have undermined the authority of their respective constitutions and the rights they safeguard. Some examples from the report:

 

  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliev have each secured new presidential terms.

 

  • Montenegro’s president, Milo Dukanovic, exceeded his assigned constitutional roles while Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski led a move to assume political control over the country’s judicial system.

 

  • Media independence continues to suffer as journalists in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Slovakia operate under dangerous conditions “risking arrest, violence, and even death for their independent reporting in 2018.”

 

Nonetheless, Armenia’s so-called Velvet Revolution and the Uzbekistan government’s release of political prisoners and eased restrictions on NGOs provide a sliver of hope for democracy in the region, says Freedom House. The same can be said for the continuous efforts to build upon dynamic civic movements, active in the past, for justice and inclusion in countries where democratic institutions are under attack.

 

  • Freedom House reports “[a] total of 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018, with only 50 registering gains.”

 

  • Serbia, Moldova, and Romania are among the countries with the biggest decline in conditions for political rights and civil liberties with Serbia dropping 6 points and Moldova and Romania dropping 3 points each.

 

  • In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, internet censorship continued to be the name of the game to stamp out dissent, involving the blocking of websites, file-sharing, or music-streaming platforms, as well as social media networks. 

Compiled by Rose Joy Smith

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