On Wednesday June 19, the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States co-hosted the release of the findings from Nations in Transit 2013 with Freedom House, the independent watchdog organization that published the annual paper.
Dr. Ian Lesser, executive director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Brussels office, and David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, welcomed the speakers and the audience, which consisted of a variety of academics and policymakers.
Sylvana Habdank-Kołaczkowska, project director at Freedom House, Khadija Ismailova, a journalist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Azerbaijan and Pirkka Tapiola, senior advisor of the Strategic Planning Division at the European External Action Service, and Mr. Tapiola, head of the EU Delegation to Moldova discussed the findings of the report.
The report pointed out that only four of the twelve countries surveyed registered signs of improvement in civil liberties since 2012. This is in line with a Freedom House report published in March 2013 on freedom of expression showing that for the first time in history all of the countries participating in the study recorded a decrease in this fundamental human right.
However, it is not only freedom of speech that is at stake. According to the report, Eurasian autocratic regimes have been showcasing a more assertive stance toward perceived adversaries, be it members of civil society, NGOs, opposition parties or journalists. It is believed that this is partly due to the events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa where autocratic regimes are being confronted with their own limitations. It is clear that public frustration is not absent in Europe as austerity measures and corruption scandals have led to changes in governments in some of the new EU countries after relentless public pressure.
The audience raised several issues, focusing on the double standards the EU is exhibiting in the region. Discussion arose with regards to the cause of these double standards toward various countries. Are they a result of the presence or absence of economic interests or are they a result of the geographical proximity or remoteness to the European Union?
Russia and Azerbaijan were the two countries that were discussed most extensively. Though other countries, such as Hungary where restrictive legislations increasingly affecting private and public life have been passed, should not be forgotten, the audience focused on these two nations during the Q+A session that concluded the event.