Tuesday, December 22, 2009

POLITICS: As West looks elsewhere, the East becomes more autocratic (dw-world.de)

The West saw much promise in the Caucasus and Central Asia after countries there threw off the yoke of the USSR. But nearly 20 years later, their democratic development has stalled, or even shifted into reverse

Those heady days in the early 1990s seemed full of possibility as countries whose leaders made no decisions without consulting their masters in Moscow could now take their destinies into their own hands.
Even in the first half of this decade, a series of non-violent revolutions – color and otherwise – in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan seemed to many to be the first in a series of transitions that would finally put Central Asia and the Caucasus on the path toward democracy.
But that is not the way it has turned out.
Central Asia today is largely seen as a collection of authoritarian states – only differing in the relative severity of the repression. The Caucasus comes off somewhat better, but only in comparison with the dire state of democratic development and human rights in countries like Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan.
"In fact, it's a pretty depressing story, the amount of decay in democratic institutions we've seen over the last four years," Bruce Pannier, who helped compile the 2009 report on Central Asia for the watchdog group Freedom House, told Deutsche Welle.
In that report, which measured progress in 2008, nearly every country in the region saw its rankings decline according to measurements the organization developed aimed to quantify democratization in different areas, including the development of civil society, independent media, elections and corruption.
Freedom House said it was the worst performance that the post-communist region had seen in the 13 years that the group has carried out the survey.
Some countries, such as Turkmenistan, have long been hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. But Kyrgyzstan, which used to be an "island of democracy" and an example for other Central Asian states, joined for the first time the group of "consolidated authoritarian regimes," a club that includes most of the other post-Soviet Central Asian states along with Russia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
Georgia, to the west, is one country that while not a bright spot, has a certain democratic glow to it. Even so, Freedom House says Georgia today is actually less democratic than in any period in the last ten years. Its rankings for governance, electoral process and civil society have all slipped since 2008 and the decline in press freedom has been a particularly worrying trend

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