Together with Hungary, Bulgaria is no longer considered as a “Consolidated Democracy” according to the latest “Nations in Transit” report by Freedom House, a US-based government-funded NGO.
Attacks on opposition parties, the press, and civil society organizations are becoming the norm in Central and Eastern Europe as the spread of illiberal politics undermines the foundations and prospects for democracy, according to Nations in Transit 2018, the 23rd edition of Freedom House’s annual report on democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Eurasia.
“Illiberal politics are becoming the new normal in Europe”, said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Government-led smear campaigns against civil society groups, journalists, and the politics. To protect democracy, leaders need to confront attacks on democratic principles, especially when those attacks are close to home.”
In 2018, Nations in Transit registered the most score declines in the project’s 23-year history: 19 of the 29 countries had declines in their overall Democracy Scores. For the second year in a row, there are more Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes than Consolidated Democracies.
The report divides the countries in the following categories: Consolidated Democracy, Semi-Consolidated Democracy, Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime, Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime, and Consolidated Authoritarian regime. In addition, each country has a score, from 1 to 7, 1 meaning Most Democratic and 7 Less Democratic.
The countries covered are the 10 new members of the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, the six countries of the Western Balkans, the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, Russia and the five countries of Central Asia.
Among the EU members, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia are in the category ‘Consolidated Democracy’, while Hungary, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are ‘Semi Consolidated Democracy’.
Among the Western Balkan countries, only Serbia and Montenegro qualify as ‘Semi Consolidated Democracy’, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania rank as ‘Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime’.
Of the Eastern partnership countries, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia ranks as ‘Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime’, Armenia ranks as ‘Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime’ and Azerbaijan and Belarus as ‘Consolidated Authoritarian Regime’.
Both Russia and all the five Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan rank as ‘Consolidated Authoritarian Regime’.
Among the EU countries, Estonia has the best ranking: 1.82, and Hungary has the worst: 3.71.
Bulgaria’s ranking of 3.39 is slightly better than Romania’s (3.46).
The Country report on Bulgaria clearly shows that the situation has constantly worsened since 2009, when the first such report was made. The data are dismal with regard to media freedom: from the ranking of 3.75 in 2009 the figure is now 4.25, together with Romania, the worst among all EU member states.
“Bulgaria’s media environment has deteriorated significantly in recent years, with an increase in hate speech and violence against journalists. Transparency of media ownership continued to be a serious problem, as was the fusion of media and politics, media monopolies, and lack of transparency of funding sources. Local government has been struggling with debt and dependence on central funding, which limited local independence and initiatives throughout the year”, the report says.
Bulgaria’s ranking for corruption has also worsened since 2009, from 4.0 to 4.25. In comparison, Romania scores better at 3.75.
Poland recorded the largest category declines and the second-largest Democracy Score decline in the history of the report. The government’s takeover of the judicial system, politicization of public media, smear campaigns against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and violations of ordinary parliamentary procedure have resulted in a dramatic decline in the quality of Polish democracy, Freedom Hose notes.
Hungary has registered the largest cumulative decline in Nations in Transit history, after its score has fallen for 10 consecutive years.
Serbia’s score declined for the fourth straight year, threatening its status as a “Semi-Consolidated Democracy.” The consolidation of power under President Aleksandar Vučić continues, writes Freedom House.
The bright spots this year are considered to be Macedonia, Uzbekistan, and Estonia. A change of government in Macedonia in June brought a chance to reverse years of state capture and resolve disputes with neighbors. Uzbekistan’s modest thaw after the death of the president in August 2016 produced its first score improvements since 2005. Despite being already the best performer in the survey, Estonia’s score improved in three categories.
‘The EU is in a difficult bind’
The report says that the EU is in a difficult bind, contending simultaneously with growing nationalism and increasing interdependence among its member states.
It also calls on Western EU members to be tough with Poland and Hungary:
“Yet western member states would be wrong to assume that ignoring attacks on the rule of law in the eastern half of Europe can provide protection from their effects, even in a multispeed arrangement. In the end, if the revolutionary forces at work in Hungary and Poland prevail, the impact will be felt across the union, which depends in part on the consistent enforceability of judicial decisions. No single market can function with zones of legal uncertainty. What happens in Warsaw or Budapest will also affect Paris and Berlin —and the sooner decision-makers realize it, the better.”