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Divide Widens in Former Soviet Empire - 2001-08-15

A decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a comprehensive new study finds a growing divide among the 27 nations that once made up the Soviet Empire. The details of the report compare reform in post-communist Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

The new survey, "Nations in Transit 2001," says issues concerning democracy and free markets are creating a demarcation line between Central and Eastern Europe and the non-Baltic former Soviet republics.

The report is the fifth in a series published by the non-profit research organization Freedom House since 1995.

According to the study, former Communist states in Central Europe are making significant progress in consolidating democracy. But little progress has been made in the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics. And five have actually regressed, moving toward authoritarianism. These include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Russia and Ukraine.

Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky says there are multiple reasons for the regional divide, including historical experience. He said, "Another thing that has been a major difference between Central Europe and the former Soviet Union is that the countries of Central Europe were led toward their democracy basically by civic movements that were pressing for change against the old communist order. In the former Soviet Union, much of that change was by local communist officials who were making a break with the past, but who were leading the charge already having taken control of government. So this was not a 'people power' movement as much as a top-down change. Because of that difference, there is another big difference. Virtually all of the systems in the former Soviet Union are presidential systems with a heavy concentration of unchecked executive power."

The report measures progress in areas such as democratic elections, rule of law, civil society, independent media, and market economies from July 1999 until the end of October 2000.

More than 40 scholars and political analysts contributed to the survey. Mr. Karatnycky says they concluded democratic institutions and the rule of law remain weak in the former Soviet republics even in those that have instituted democratic electoral procedures. He continued, "While these countries have moved to the minimum standard, Russia in particular, of having a competitive vote, they are still so many flaws in the daily exercise of freedom of expression, of having a level playing field for building support from donors, a level playing field in terms of access to the public that the fuller idea of democratic practice in a condition of checks and balances is completely absent in a country like Russia."

The Freedom House report does find some new positive trends, particularly in Croatia and Bulgaria. "In the case of Croatia," he said, "there is a real sense that they are moving away from the legacy of former President Franjo Tudjman, who really did run a single party, privileged ruling-party-dominated state, which really suppressed opposition activity and pressured the media. There has been a lot of progress since the broad reform coalition came into power and the elections have been relatively clean."

Mr. Karatnycky says democratic reform in Bulgaria has been slower but is beginning to take root.

The report places the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the same reformist category as the nations of Central Europe. "We give Estonia extremely high marks across the spectrum," he said. "It is nearly at the top of the class with these 27 countries when it comes to its democratic consolidation and it is doing even better in terms of its economic consolidation. Only Poland and Hungary get better marks than Estonia in terms of its economic reform efforts."

The Freedom House report also calls eight of the 15 nations in Central and Eastern Europe consolidated market economies. None of the non-Baltic former Soviet republics fall into the category.