A growing number of leaders in Central and Eastern Europe „have dropped any pretense” that play by the rules of democracy. They openly attack democratic institutions and are working to restrict individual freedoms, the U.S. non-governmental group Freedom House says in a new report.
These attacks have resulted in a dramatic democratic breakdown across Central Europe, the Balkans, and Eurasia, the Nations in Transit 2020 annual report on democratic governance in the region said.
Poland has dropped out of the group of Consolidated Democracies and become a Semi-consolidated Democracy, while Hungary, Serbia, and Montenegro have all left the category of democracies entirely and become Transitional/Hybrid Regimes.
“Many leaders in this region are no longer pretending to care about democracy or the rule of law,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
“The coronavirus crisis has created an inflection point, after which things could become much worse, or democracy could be revitalized,” he added.
The report said that countries were “increasingly exposed to malicious foreign interference as democratic consensus has been replaced by great-power rivalry. The Chinese government is actively taking advantage of institutional weaknesses, while political leaders in democracies on both sides of the Atlantic are failing to stand up for core values in the region, enabling and aggravating the democratic deterioration.”
The indicator with the largest number of declines in Nations in Transit 2020 was Judicial Framework and Independence, with six countries deteriorating: the Czech Republic, Georgia, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland, and Slovakia.
It said the electoral framework has been manipulated in a way that gives undue advantage to incumbents, parliaments have become sidelined or hollowed out by opposition boycotts, and the independent media and civil society continue to face smear campaigns.
“It is time for European leaders who are committed to freedom to address the crisis in their own neighborhood. The United States also has a pivotal role to play and should rededicate itself to a foreign policy that emphasizes the defense of democratic values.” Abramowitz said.
“In a new development, the judiciary and the rule of law have also become targets in many countries. Governments are packing courts with loyalists, adopting restrictive laws that do away with judicial independence, and in some cases persecuting individual judges,” the report said.