Sofia Orloski – on the report of human rights defenders, which characterizes the level of freedom in the world and warns of a negative trend
International human rights organization Freedom House on Wednesday published its next annual report on the state of affairs with civil liberties in the countries of the world. The document, titled “Freedom in the World: Fighting for Democracy in the Absence of Leadership,” states that of the 195 countries assessed in the report, 83 (43%) are classified as “free,” 63 (32%) are classified as "partially free" and 49 (25%) – to “not free”.
Sofia Orloski, Senior Program Manager for Eurasia at Freedom House, spoke about the specifics of the situation with civil liberties in 2019 in the Eurasian region..
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Freedom House expert: authoritarianism in Russia is an established system
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Danila Galperovich: What are the main details of the Eurasian picture of civil liberties, what did you see important?
Sofia Orloski: In general, the situation remains unsatisfactory. We see that for the fourteenth consecutive year, the situation with freedom in the world is deteriorating. In our Eurasian region, everything is “consistently deplorable”. There are some changes in only a few countries, but mainly we see that authoritarian regimes continue to exploit populist rhetoric. And those countries that have undergone democratic changes over the past few years are in a difficult situation when they need to hold this moment by force.
D.G .: When Freedom House says that traditional democracies are starting to lose ground, and this is one of the main theses of the report – what is meant?
The State of Global Democracy with Freedom House
S.O .: First of all, in 2019 we noticed an increase in nationalist rhetoric. We see this, including in the countries of Central Europe: for example, Hungary continues to use rather harsh rhetoric in relation to migrants, that is, to those people who are “not like us”. We see that in Poland the ruling Law and Justice party continues to put pressure on the judiciary. And despite the fact that in last year’s elections Law and Justice lost the Senate, nevertheless, the pressure of this party on the third branch of power – the judiciary – continues. The changes compensate each other, and the rating remains the same as last year..
D.G .: If we talk about Russia, how stable is the picture there, or did you see some changes over the past year??
S.O .: Changes, of course, were, but again – they neutralize each other. There were a lot of positive moments associated with the fact that society mobilized around the elections – for example, the protests in Moscow and throughout Russia last summer. There was a mobilization of the social movement and solidarity in the case of Ivan Golunov, and in other similar cases. But, on the other hand, we see that in the end the same proteges of United Russia won the gubernatorial elections. We see that some new wave of pressure on the LGBT movement is beginning, and the murder of an LGBT activist (Elena Grigorieva – D.G.) was committed last year. This, of course, has a very strong impact on the final score for this component. As a result, it is the same with Russia: the rating does not change, the rating remains in the same place as last year..
D.G .: In addition to these facts, what else causes concern in Russia?
S.O .: The existence of harsh legislation that restricts rights and freedoms continues to be of concern. This is, first of all, the legislation on foreign agents, on undesirable organizations. This is the ongoing pressure on the opposition forces, ongoing corruption scandals. We do not see any changes here, unfortunately.
D.G .: You mentioned the case of Ivan Golunov. What can you say now about the situation with freedom of the press in Russia??
S.O .: I think the situation is stagnating here. The wave of solidarity in the case of Golunov, of course, made everyone happy, but, nevertheless, we do not see any significant changes, for example, the repeal of the law on foreign media agents. On the contrary, we see that there has been an addition to this government regulation targeted at individuals. Therefore, it is also very difficult here to talk about any positive trends..
D.G .: When we talk about the situation in Russia, authoritarianism in it is structured, it is present in the entire system, or is it such a clearly expressed signal from above that the authorities at all other levels are forced to fulfill?
S.O .: If we consider this within the framework of 2019 and the changes that have taken place, everything is still the same here – the structure of government is rigid, everything is controlled from above. There are certain mechanisms of interaction between, for example, the legislative branch, the executive branch, the judiciary, but they play more the role of a screen than active elements of government, where the roles of, for example, government and parliament would be balanced. I think the answer is obvious here: this is an established system of power, where there is a certain corporate elite interested in retaining power by all means. That is, it is not only President Putin, and it is unlikely that something will change very quickly if only the President changes..
D.G .: If you look at the situation in Eurasia outside of Russia, the movement in which direction do you observe?
S.O .: First of all, I would note Azerbaijan and Belarus, where the situation remains deplorable. There was a small surge of positive changes in Azerbaijan in connection with the local elections at the end of the year, where a lot of independent candidates and civil activists ran for office. And literally a few, but they were still elected in the local elections. However, Azerbaijan still remains a consolidated authoritarian regime, and the pressure on civil activists, on public organizations, on lawyers, as we note, was very strong last year. Belarus is the same. Here, of course, it is important to note the sharply intensified negotiations on the union state, which caused concern among civil society, especially in the second half of the year. But the parliamentary elections there did not bring any changes: not a single independent candidate entered the legislature. And the situation there with the work of journalists, as before, remains sad. Journalists are subjected to all kinds of pressure and fines. Activities without accreditation are still prohibited, that is, changes are almost invisible.
Reporter for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in Moscow. Collaborates with «Voice of America» since 2012. For a long time he worked as a correspondent and presenter of programs in the Russian service of the BBC and «Radio Liberty». Specialization – international relations, politics and legislation, human rights.
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