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The East: Survey Finds Democratic Gains But Uneven Reform

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 29 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A new study shows that eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy is alive and well in several of the former communist countries in Central and East Europe, but that political and economic reform in many nations of the former Soviet Union has been slow, uneven and in some cases, non-existent.

The survey called "Nations in Transit 1997" was conducted by Freedom House, a New York-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the strengthening of free societies.

The survey examined more than forty themes connected to political and economic liberalization in 25 former communist countries, including the rule of law, freedom of the press, civil society, public administration, privatization, economic reform and elections.

This is the second time the survey has been conducted.

One of the significant findings of the 1997 survey was the apparent connection between political and economic liberalization. According to the survey, those countries making the greatest strides toward political and civil freedom have also made the most changes in terms of economic liberalization.

Those countries scoring the highest in this regard are Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. According to the survey, citizens of these nations enjoy a free press, the protection of human and civil rights, economic freedom, and an established rule of law.

However, the survey says that those countries who have made the least progress in terms of political and civil freedom -- Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- have also done poorly in the economic sphere.

The survey says that these four countries have tightly controlled state economies and autocratic political systems which routinely violate fundamental human, civil and political rights.

Adrian Karatnycky, president of Freedom House and also a co-editor of the survey, said that although the basic concept of democracy and a free economy rooted quickly in Central and East Europe, many countries of the former Soviet Union instead turned to various forms of tyranny.

"There is a tendency to underestimate the legacies of totalitarianism and imperial rule, and the long road that must be traveled along the path of reform," Karatnycky said.

He added that those countries the most tightly controlled during the Cold War are understandably the slowest to liberalize.

The survey also provides a third category of countries -- neither the best nor the worst -- but those showing uneven political and economic growth. Those listed in this third group are Russia, Moldova, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Macedonia, Croatia, Albania, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

Within this group, Russia rated the highest in terms of progress made on the political and economic liberalization front.

Karatnycky said one of the interesting findings of the survey is the confirmation of the direct correlation between economic reform and economic growth. Six of the seven highest rated countries who had embraced a free market economy recorded steady economic growth over the past few years.

On the other hand, except for Bulgaria which registered a slight economic improvement, none of the six lowest rated countries in terms of economic reform showed any growth.

Freedom House points out that since the publication of their first survey 18 months ago, there has been a significant decline in political freedom in three countries -- Albania, Armenia and Slovakia. However, they also note that notable political gains were made by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania and Russia.

Freedom House also says that since the survey's first publication, Bulgaria, Belarus and Macedonia have moved toward an abandonment of economic liberalization, while Moldova and Ukraine showed major improvements in economic reform.