Freedom House: the index of democracy in Russia has decreased by almost a third in 10 years

Researchers note the erosion of democracy in most countries of the former socialist bloc

The democracy index, calculated by the non-governmental organization Freedom House, has dropped in Russia over the past 10 years by almost 30% – from 1.86 to 1.39 units. At the same time, Russia, as in 2010, continues to be in the category of consolidated authoritarian states. This is stated in a report titled “Countries in Transition 2020: Dropping the Democratic Fa├žade,” which was published by Freedom House on Wednesday..

The overwhelming collapse of democracy

However, the trend is not new and it manifests itself not only in Russia. More and more leaders of world states have recently refused to even pretend that they are playing by the rules of democracy, according to a report on the development of democracy and civil liberties in countries in transition – European and Asian states of the former socialist bloc..
In pursuit of their own interests, many of the politicians at the helm in these countries have ceased to hide behind the facade of the nominal conformity of democracy. They openly attack democratic institutions and try to do away with the rest of the restrictions on their power..
In many countries, attacks on the independence of the judiciary have increased, threats to civil society and the press are heard, election results are rigged, and parliaments are no longer the center of political debate and oversight of the executive branch, the authors of the report write..
They state a “staggering collapse of democracy” in 29 states that are part of the countries in transition. There are fewer democracies in the region today than at any time since the publication of the first annual report in 1995. Coronavirus pandemic has further increased the vulnerability of citizens to further violations of their rights.
According to the Freedom House rating, Russia is among the seven consolidated authoritarian regimes among countries in transition, along with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine belong to the category of transitional (hybrid) regimes. And the best case with democracy and human rights among the 29 countries included in the ranking is in Estonia, which the authors of the report classify as consolidated democracies. This category also includes Lithuania, Latvia and Slovenia..

Hold on to power at any cost

In authoritarian transition countries, incumbent rulers used their control over state institutions to further strengthen their positions. Perhaps nothing has demonstrated this trend better than the constitutional “reforms” launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin in early 2020. Reforms, if implemented, will help Putin keep his post almost for life.
The announcement of the constitutional reform took everyone by surprise, signaling that Putin has a firm grip on the helm of power and is always one step ahead of allies and rivals when it comes to the continuity and survival of his regime, the authors of the report write. More importantly, the likely changes to the country’s constitution showed Putin’s contempt for the rule of law and basic principles of constitutional governance, Freedom House adds..

Freedom House: the index of democracy in Russia has decreased by almost a third in 10 years

The leaders of a number of other authoritarian states in Eurasia – and, in particular, in Central Asia – are also concerned about the political future. Perhaps hoping to avoid scenarios such as a velvet revolution in Armenia and the arrest of former President Almazbek Atambayev in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned in March 2019 only to take most of the power from his designated successor, Kasym -Zhomart Tokayeva.
The presidents of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan appoint their relatives to high government posts, possibly paving the way for the creation of political dynasties.

Chinese influence

Freedom House: the index of democracy in Russia has decreased by almost a third in 10 years

In addition to Russia’s lingering negative influence, China is pursuing an ambitious foreign policy in virtually all 29 countries in the region. Beijing’s involvement in the fate of transition states ranges from suppressing adverse media coverage of China’s actions to providing financial assistance to corrupt elites and supplying repressive governments with citizen surveillance technology..

About the Freedom House Mission: Democracy in Crisis

Xi Jinping’s regime is not so much spreading its own one-party model as it is increasing its influence, adapting solutions to local needs, exploiting institutional weaknesses, and entering local corrupt political and economic structures. This approach undermines the rule of law and transparency, further contributing to the deterioration of governance and repression in a particular region..

Environmental agenda in the service of the Kremlin?

While environmental protests can become an excuse for citizens to hold the authorities accountable, the ruling classes are trying to seize the initiative from the opposition. For example, in Russia, the authorities harshly dealt with mass protests over the creation of a landfill near the Shies railway station in the Arkhangelsk region..
The tenacity of the protesters, who began to attract the attention of the international community with their calls for the resignation of regional leaders and even President Putin, cost them bone fractures and multimillion-dollar fines, but in the end the authorities surrendered. In January 2020, the court ruled to stop the construction of the landfill in Shies.

Freedom House: the index of democracy in Russia has decreased by almost a third in 10 years

At the same time, the Kremlin is reportedly contemplating a “reset” of the Russian Environmental Party, a puppet loyal to United Russia, in an attempt to intercept and spearhead growing environmental activity across the country, the authors of the report write..

  • Artem Gurevich

    In journalism – since 2001. From 2005 to 2009, he was responsible for public relations at Nokia in the Russian Far East. He worked in Singapore, Thailand, Brazil and Argentina, developing corporate publications for Coca-Cola and Kaspersky Lab companies. In 2017, he participated in the restart of RTVI, worked as an Internet news editor at the channel’s New York office. On «Voice of America» – since 2018.


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