Eesti Elu
Political freedom in decline. Estonia holds steady course
Arvamus 21 Jan 2011  Eesti Elu
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Freedom House, in its ‘Freedom in the World 2011’ report placed Estonia once again in the free country category. An international, non-governmental organization based in Washington, Freedom House also indicated that fully 25 countries showed significant declines, while 11 countries displayed notable gains.

The organization’s annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties around the world has been issued for 40 years and Freedom House not only conducts research but also advocates political freedom and human rights. The number of countries (out of 194 and 14 territories evaluated) designated as Free dropped from 89 to 87 and the number of electoral democracies fell to 115, much lower than the 2005 high of 123. Each country is assigned a freedom status – Free, Partly Free, Not Free - depending on a scoring of performance on key democracy indicators.

Freedom House noted that Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Egypt and China increased their application of repressive measures while the democratic world offered litttle or no resistance. Both Ukraine and Mexico received status declines falling from Free to Partly Free.

Freedom House commented that the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes were increasingly defiant in exercising their power in 2010. China pressured foreign governments into boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring imprisoned Liu Xiaobo; Venezuelan prsident Hugo Chavez forced through legislation allowing him to rule by decree and to restrict non-governmental organizations and the media; Russia blatantly dismissed judicial inependence in the sentencing, amongst others, of Mihkail Kohordokovsky in proceedings that were widely deemed fraudulent; in both Egypt and Belarus elections were simulated with little transparency; elections in Belarus were followed by massive violence by security forces against demonstrators opposed to the deceitful outcome.

Globally, 87 countries were deisgnated Free, representing 45% of the countries and 43% of the world’s population. The Partly Free designation was received by 60 countries or 31% of the countries assessed, comprising 22% of global population. Remaining Not Free were were 47 countries or 24% of of the total, where 2.5 bilion of the world’s population lives, with China accounting for half of this number. Freedom House notes that, in their estimation, three European Union members, Latvia, France and Hungary suffererd setbacks in democracy in 2010.

One can legitimately ask how credible and objective can Washington-based Freedom House be with nearly 80% of its budget filled by the U.S. government? It’s very difficult to apply empirical measurements when evaluating levels of freedom. While Freedom House’s assessments depend largely on subjective observations and analysis, it does not whitewash regimes with which Washington has close ties: (example: Saudia Arabia’s rating was extremely poor).

Freedom House chastizes Westernn governments for generally remaining silent when the world’s most powerful authoritarians have acted with aggression and impunity. It has seemed that attacks against democracy have not drawn justified rebuke from the democratic world. Freedom House’s efforts are not self-indulgent academic exercises. They remind us that our failure to defend our own values gives despotic regimes a free hand to suppress their own domestic critics.
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