28-04-2011

Freedom House: Under Yanukovych, Ukraine sliding towards ‘authoritarianism’

Mark RACHKEVYCH

28 April 2011 KyivPost

Ukraine is backsliding on democracy and on a path towards authoritarianism under President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a U.S. democracy watchdog report released on April 27.

Titled “Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine,” the Freedom House report warns that Ukraine has one year under Yanukovych’s rule already become less democratic.

“Indeed, if left unchecked, the trends set by Ukraine’s current leadership will move the country toward greater centralization and consolidation of power—that is, toward authoritarianism,” the report stated.

The report comes months after Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from a “free” to “partly free” country in its annual assessment of the global state of democracy, which was released on Jan. 13. It also follows recent downgrading on the state of democracy, media and economic freedoms by other organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedoms and Transparency International.

According to the most recent Freedom House report, citizens and intelligentsia alike are increasingly “disillusioned…about their country’s and their own personal futures.”

The report stated that the nation is not on a path to achieve Yanukovych’s repeated goal of having a democratic Ukraine within Europe and that the nation’s gravest threat comes from within.

It cited the following concerns as the most disturbing democratic shortcomings in the past year: Concentration of power, selective prosecutions of political opponents, a more intrusive state security apparatus, the absence of checks and balances, and politicization of the judicial process.

The report also stated the need for the U.S. and the European Union to deepen engagement with Ukraine “both with the Yanukovych government and with Ukrainian society by encouraging and rewarding good performance and pushing aggressively against backsliding democracy.”

“The EU and the United States seem to have disengaged from Ukraine or narrowed the bilateral agenda to a few issues of strategic importance, such as nonproliferation. This is the wrong approach,” the Freedom House report said.

The assessment did, however, praise Yanukovych for streamlining government and for taking up 21 different reform initiatives and for launching anti-corruption investigations. It welcomed Ukraine’s progress in the past year in holding negotiations with the EU and for “resolving more long-standing bilateral issues with the U.S. than it did during several years under the Orange leaders.”

But it urged the U.S. not to give Ukraine a “free pass” on democratic issues despite these achievements.

And it reiterated that “regardless of the government’s motivations, the process under way in Ukraine today is eroding its democracy.”

The three main conclusions made by Freedom House are:

1) Ukraine under Yanukovych has become less democratic and, if current trends are left unchecked, may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy;
2) Yanukovych and his government value their domestic standing and international reputation, and remain responsive to outside pressure. Therefore, domestic actors as well as the West retain a capability (and have a responsibility) to check antidemocratic tendencies and support constructive initiatives both inside and outside the government; and

3) Ukraine’s political and cultural diversity is a bulwark against any one force dominating political space throughout the country.


FACTBOX

- Freedom House downgrading Ukraine from “free” to “partly free” in January.

- Ukraine’s ranking sunk to 164 out of 183 countries in The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal’s 2011 of Economic Freedom Index released in Januay. The report says “Corruption pervades all levels of society and government and all spheres of economic activity and is a major obstacle to foreign investment.”

- The January report by financial watchdog ‘Global Financial Integrity’ lists Ukraine as the 3rd worst in Europe and 17th worst in the world for illegal international money transfers

- Ukraine dropped a dramatic 42 places in the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index released in October 2010.

- In 2010 Ukraine ranked 134 among 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Transparency International said Ukraine has the most corruption judiciary in the world

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