The year 2017 witnessed a serious loss of human rights and freedoms . The decline can be seen from the four corners of the world, as shown by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO that annually reports on the degree of compliance with rights, freedoms and democracy in the world. In the ranking Freedom in the world 2018 they analyze the degree of democracy of 195 countries, evaluating on a scale of 0 to 4 a series of 25 indicators and then assigning an added value over 100 in order to classify the nations into three categories: free, partially free and not free.
According to this report, 71 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, marking the twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom. 25% of the countries of the world are classified in the “non-free” range, and among them Syria is placed in the last position, with a score of -1 out of 100. The difference with previous years is that until recently Only the countries of the South had difficulties with the fulfillment of fundamental rights; today, however, it is the “rich” countries, from the US to Europe, passing through Australia, which are falling steeply. Even the United States ceased to be the traditional champion and example of democracy that gives this organization. According to Freedom House,
The “hatred promoted by the State,” as Amnesty International identifies it in its report , threatens to normalize the discrimination of certain groups. The xenophobic slogans of the nationalist march in Warsaw, the widespread repression of LGBTI communities, the plummeting of women’s rights in the US and Russia, and the skepticism and anti-immigration discourses that emerged in the West following the wave of refugees, they are only examples that show the decline.
In this generalized trend, the states that a decade ago seemed promising success stories, such as Turkey and Hungary, for example, now fall under authoritarian regimes. Added to this, the ethical cleansing carried out by the Myanmar army – a state that had started a democratic opening in 2010 – dispels old hopes.
In addition, also the main autocracies of the world, Russia and China, have continued advancing. Both powers identify democracy as a threat to their regimes and work relentlessly, with increasing sophistication, to undermine their institutions and paralyze their main defenders. They are clear examples of revisionist states of the status quo, according to Freedom House.
In almost all countries with negative inclinations there are high levels of corruption, censorship and persecution of opponents and activists. Freedom House proposes a list of countries – Countries to watch in 2018 – that deserve a special follow-up during this year. Among the countries that may be approaching turning points for democracy include Angola, South Africa, Macedonia, Uzbekistan and the US itself, in the face of the trend of its leaders; o Iraq and Mexico, due to the turbulent elections they face throughout this year.
Faced with these negative lines, five countries have shown positive signs: Gambia, Uganda and Timor-Leste have experienced the most significant change, going from not free to partially free the first two and from partially free to free the third. Gambia improved its status since the election as president of Adama Barrow,that allowed to return to exiled journalists and activists and to free political prisoners, and Uganda also managed to recover the media sector and give journalists freedom to express their opinions. Timor-Leste, on the other hand, held democratic elections that led to a transfer of power and allowed new parties and candidates to enter the political system. On the other hand, Ecuador and Nepal have also seen their political systems improve – albeit less significantly – thanks to reduced pressures in the media, anti-corruption efforts and national elections held in the case of Nepal with a significant increase of participation.
However, despite these glimmers of hope, more and more attacks against civil society and independent media. All this is normalized throughout central Europe, for example, and begins to threaten the future of democracy in the region, historical bastion of it. In fact, in the last five years there has been an explosion of anti-liberal campaigns with politicians who carry out attacks against civil society and the media, among other democratic strongholds.
Nations in transition
Freedom House’s Nations in Transit project , which tracks democratic transitions in post-communist Europe and Asia since 1995, recorded the largest decline in its 23-year history: 19 of the 29 countries had declines in their overall democracy ratings. For the second year in a row, there are more consolidated authoritarian regimes than democracies.
In Central Europe, this has taken the form of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The refugee crisis of 2015 opened a new kind of opportunity for this tactic, and Viktor Orbán’s Hungary has been the main innovator. After the resounding victory of Fidesz, Orban’s party, on April 8, relations with the European Union become even more complicated. In addition, its success swells the already nationalist positions of the so-called Visegrad group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia).
The xenophobic and Eurosceptic campaign of Fidesz has had unquestionable success in the country, and has been a source of euphoria for the Dutch xenophobic leader Geert Wilders , who celebrated the victory of his Hungarian ally through Twitter. Also Marine Le Pen , leader of the extreme right-wing National Front (FN), has stressed that the triumph of Orban is a start for future elections to the European Parliament.
On the other hand, Poland registered the greatest declines in category and the second largest decrease in the rating of democracy in the history of the report. The accumulation of power by the government, the politicization of the public media, the smear campaigns against NGOs and the violations of parliamentary procedure, have caused a dramatic decline in the quality of Polish democracy. Serbia is also placed in a dangerous position in the hands of President Aleksandar Vučić and continues to drop positions.
Obviously, all this leaves the EU in a position of weakness. As Michael Abramowitz and Nate Schenkkandeclare , the opening of the procedures of Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland – the first step towards sanctions for violations of the values and principles of the Union – by the cracking of the independence of the judiciary, It’s a start, but you should not stop there. Hungary should also confront the Article 7 procedure because of its own systematic weakening of checks and balances, and perhaps the European Parliament should expel Fidesz.
With all these data on the table – and always taking into account the limitation of the figures when explaining such complex realities, together with the biases that such analyzes can have – it does not seem that the coming years will be able to reverse the situation . Democracy remains bankrupt.
-ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ VALDÉS