The outright dismissal of human rights, the forcible takeover of independent media, the intimidation, even liquidation of “unfriendly” journalists, the public intimidation of opposition politicians, indeed the elimination of the opposing political parties from election ballots, the fostering of an ultra-nationalistic, internationally aggressive state, the cultivation of a powerful, authoritarian national leader – these are the hallmarks of an evolving neo-Stalinist regime in Russia. Russia looms menacingly on the eastern border of 100-times smaller Estonia.
Do some of these Russian political attributes move across the state boundary? No, according to Freedom House, a US-based independent non-government organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.
According to the most recent Freedom House study, “Nations in Transit 2007”, which each year assesses democratic development in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia, Estonia’s democracy score remains at 1.96.
This rating is based on a scale of 1 to 7, with one representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of democratic progress.
The study said: “The Estonian government places few restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations. // Indeed, measured by that yardstick, Estonia is already on of the freest countries in the world. // …international media rated Estonian media as among the freest in the world.”
Forbes, Moody’s and the US Department of State all rated Estonia as one of the least corrupt countries, not only among those making the transition from communism but among all states around the world.
How does Estonia stack up against its eastern neighbour? The study found that unlike Estonia, Russia continues to slump in international ratings. “2006 saw Russia continue on its path towards authoritarian governance as demonstrated with the deterioration of ratings for electoral process, independent media and civil society, and an overall democracy score downgrade from 5.75 to 5.86.”
Estonia received relatively good ratings in the sub-categories that make up the overall democracy score: electoral process – 1.50; civil society – 2.00; independent media – 1.50; national democratic governance – 2.25; local democratic governance – 2.50; judicial framework and independence – 1.50; corruption – 2.50.
In a brief analysis of Freedom House’s study Paul Goble added some glowing remarks about Estonia’s progress. Some negative comments were also to be expected: (Estonia’s) economy continues to grow vigorously, keeping for it the epithet “the little country that could”, but the benefits of this growth have not touched many groups. Moreover there are serious problems about providing transfer payments to the increasing number of elderly people, particularly given the flat tax structure.
Estonia’s economic success may be limited by Russia’s plans to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would bypass Estonia. Real success has been made in developing a civil society, but the process of integrating non-citizens is a problem yet to be solved. It faces challenges from being a very small country. Although it has established progressive democratic institutions, its political parties have not been effective, generating public mistrust and limiting participation in the electoral process.
Overall, a good report card with some room for improvement.
Freedom House declares Estonia to be a stable, parliamentary republic