In terms of democratization, most of the post-Soviet states in the Caucasus and Central Asia remain stuck in the mud, according to an annual survey issued by US-based advocacy organization Freedom House. The exception to the rule in 2010 was Kyrgyzstan, which was deemed to have registered modest democratization gains.
Freedom House marked the publication of its annual Freedom in the World report at a January 13 event in Washington, DC. The report's chief author, Arch Puddington, said that the former Soviet Union saw “modest signs of hope” in 2010. But Puddington stressed that the overall progress of the region was still poor, which he blamed on “the Putinization of Russia.”
“When the leading power in the region is moving aggressively in the authoritarian category, projecting its influence beyond its borders and providing diplomatic cover for the authoritarian countries in its periphery, and which is aggressive in various ways with the democratic countries on its periphery, then that has an influence,” Puddington said.
Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said that Russia did not deserve all the blame, noting that even before Vladimir Putin arrived on to the scene in Russia, the regions featured a generally poor record on political and civil rights. “It's not like most of these countries had democratic revolutions in 1989 or 1991. With respect to Central Asia, I always thought that what happened in 1991 was that the Soviet Union retreated to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, etc.,” he said.
The Freedom in the World report lauded Kyrgyzstan for attempting to introduce a parliamentary democracy in the country following the collapse of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s administration in April. It also praised Georgia for “a more relaxed security environment and increased media diversity.”
Freedom House promoted Kyrgyzstan from the “not free” category to “partly free.” The independence-minded Nagorno-Karabakh territory, the focal point of a long-standing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fell from “partly free” to “not free,” because of “the complete absence of opposition candidates in the May 2010 parliamentary elections,” the report said.
None of the other countries or entities in the two regions saw their Freedom House rankings change over the past year. Mongolia is the only country rated as “free.” Abkhazia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey were rated as “partly free,” and Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan all were deemed “not free.”
In spite of all the turmoil that roiled Kyrgyzstan in 2010, including interethnic rioting in southern Kyrgyzstan, Freedom House saw progress in the outcome. “The politicians who replaced [Bakiyev] presided over the adoption of a revised constitution and national elections that were regarded as credible and competitive,” the report said. “Among other improvements, the new charter moves away from the kind of super-presidential system that has undergirded autocratic rule in other Central Asian countries.”
Georgia saw an improvement in its score on civil liberties, though it was not enough to move the country above the “partly free” category. Freedom House cited “a reduction in the political instability the country confronted in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian invasion, as well as greater media diversity, including the launch of satellite broadcasts by the opposition television station Maestro.”
Meanwhile, an presidential aide in Nagorno-Karabakh Davit Babayan, dismissed Freedom House’s findings concerning the territory as “imperfect, and not deeply studied.”
“It is necessary to hold a deep examination for making such a conclusion, something which has not been done in Karabakh; and I believe this estimation is given for some geopolitical purposes,” the ArmeniaNow news service quoted Babayan as saying, referring to the Freedom House report.
Joshua Kucera is a freelance writer focusing on security issues. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.