Human rights watchdog Freedom House is warning of an "antidemocratic turn" in Europe and Eurasia, saying that elected leaders in many countries are undermining democratic institutions in order to stay in power while they promote “alternative authoritarian governance.”
Nations In Transit 2021, the annual report on the state of democracy by the Washington-based group, singles out Hungary and Poland as the worst offenders in the European Union.
Subscribe To RFE/RL's Watchdog Report
Watchdog is our curated digest of human rights, media freedom, and democracy developments from RFE/RL's vast broadcast region. In your in-box every Thursday. Subscribe here.
It says both countries have seen “unparalleled democratic deterioration over the past decade.”
But the report also warns that the majority of countries Freedom House evaluated “are currently worse off than they were 10 years ago.”
Russia and Belarus are categorized as “consolidated authoritarian regimes” with intensifying repression during the past year.
Freedom House says: “The violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, the Kremlin’s attempted murder of anti-corruption activist and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and the Russian military’s recent show of force along the borders of Ukraine demonstrate the lengths to which these regimes are willing to go to stay in power.”
Armenia’s democratic rating regressed during the past year, marking “the first time its democracy has lost ground since the 2018 Velvet Revolution” in Yerevan, the report says.
Georgia’s score returned to where it had been in 2011, “the last year before the current ruling party replaced an unpopular and increasingly repressive government,” it says.
The report says Kyrgyzstan had a “jarring return to strongman rule” under President Sadyr Japarov after previously making progress toward democratic governance -- leaving its score “slightly lower than in 2010, the year of its last revolution.”
“In Ukraine, the government’s reform efforts continued to meet with strong resistance from entrenched interests during 2020,” it says.
Freedom House said that “signs of hope” included Uzbekistan and North Macedonia, which “experienced the greatest democratic progress in 2020.”
It also noted that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s democracy score improved for the first time since 2006 as a result of “a major step forward for local democratic governance” -- the first municipal elections in the city of Mostar since 2008.
Nevertheless, Freedom House concludes that “the overall strength of democracy” across Europe and Eurasia has declined for 17 consecutive years.
“The number of countries classified as democracies has sunk to its lowest point since the report was first launched in 1995,” the report says.
Zselyke Csaky, Freedom House’s research director for Europe and Eurasia, says the region’s decline is especially troubling “in the context of 15 consecutive years of democratic deterioration at the global level.”
“Authoritarianism is not a purely national problem, but one that can spread to infect entire regions and even continents,” Csaky says. “European democracies and civil society groups must coordinate in support of pro-democracy movements in countries where authoritarianism in gaining ground.”