Democracy is under attack in Europe and Eurasia. In a new report, the non-profit, watchdog organization Freedom House says worsening corruption, abuses of power, and the rise of extremist parties are leaving many countries vulnerable to interference from outside actors.
The group also says the number of countries receiving the report's worst classification has doubled over the past ten years. Also, it says 12 of the 29 countries it assessed in its new report received downgrades in their level of democracy - especially in parts of Europe and Eurasia. And the group lays much of the blame on Russia.
“The big story for the 2015 edition is not surprisingly Russia’s escalation of and new forms of aggression internationally and domestically,” says Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska, project director of the report titled "Nations in Transit."
The report uses various factors like the electoral process and independent media in making its determinations. It says Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine threatens both.
“Russia is a driver of the decline in Eurasia, particularly in areas of civil society, and that has really accelerated in the last few years,” says Habdank-Kolaczkowska.
But that measure of civil society – the people’s ability to gather under a common banner – is something that helps bolster Ukraine’s standing in the report, even if only to the level that existed before the regime of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.
“Civil society was always and remains extremely vibrant in Ukraine. The fact that that was the one rating that didn’t really decline under Yanukovych is something that other authoritarian leaders have noticed, because they realize you can do everything else right but if you don’t crack down, people will still agitate for what they deserve,” says Habdank-Kolaczkowska.
Which, she says, points back to Russia’s involvement in not only the decline of other nations’ rankings but in its own as well.
“It needs a change in the character of the leadership. It needs a regime that is no longer aggressively against all forms of democratization,” says Habdank-Kolaczkowska.
The report also slams Moscow as the lead agitator in Ukraine’s current crisis.
In the Balkans, according to Freedom House, four out of seven countries registered declines, including Serbia and Montenegro for threats to media independence.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the only country to register an overall score improvement was the Czech Republic, where the report said conditions calmed after political scandals and instability in 2013.
Freedom House says conditions remain "dire" in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which had the lowest scores of the report.
Habdank-Kolaczkowska says that to counter the latest negative trends such measures, the European Union and its allies must do more to uphold democratic standards within Europe.