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Decline of freedom almost stopped worldwide

2022 was the year Russia invaded Ukraine to destroy the democracy that had been laboriously built there over the past few years.

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Decline of freedom almost stopped worldwide

2022 was the year Russia invaded Ukraine to destroy the democracy that had been laboriously built there over the past few years. Because the Kremlin ruler in Moscow saw it as a danger to his authoritarian regime if the democracy experiment on his own doorstep were to succeed.

But the Ukrainians have shown the Kremlin and the world the courage with which a people can defend their own freedom and have gradually beaten back the Moscow dictator's troops. The situation is similar with freedom and democracy all over the world: they are under siege, but they are fighting back.

"The global struggle for democracy reached a possible turning point in 2022," says Freedom House's current annual report, which was available to WELT in advance. After 17 years of decline, the negative trend seems almost broken.

"The gap between the number of states that saw overall improvements in political rights and civil liberties and those that saw an overall decline was the smallest in 17 years of global decline," Freedom House experts write. “34 countries improved and the number of countries with deterioration, namely 35, was the smallest since the negative trend started.”

Which roughly means: The trend has not yet reversed, but freedom and democracy may be stabilizing at a low level. "The latest report documents a continuation of problematic trends, but also gives some hope that the recession in freedom of the past 17 years is now over," said Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz. The authoritarian expansion of recent years is not an inevitable development and authoritarian regimes remain vulnerable.

In any case, the struggle of the Ukrainians against the Russian invasion inspires many in the world and shows what fundamental values ​​freedom and democracy still represent. "They are ready to die for their freedom, the strongest weapon in this war is the heart of the Ukrainians," Jane Harman, CEO of Freedom House, told WELT. "They don't let that get to them and they are what really counts."

According to Freedom House, the ups and downs are roughly balanced in 2022. On the positive side, the report notes an increase in countries with freer elections and the rolling back of pandemic-related rules that had disproportionately restricted freedom of assembly and mobility . Two countries, Colombia and Lesotho, have been upgraded from partially free to free.

On the negative side is not only Moscow's incursion into democratic Ukraine, but also coups or attempts to undermine representative democracies, as in Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Peru and Brazil. Persistent repression has led to further suppression of fundamental rights in Guinea and further curtailment of rights in Turkey, Myanmar, Thailand and other countries. Two countries have therefore been downgraded - Peru from free to partially free and Burkina Faso from partially free to non-free.

What particularly worries Freedom House is the decline in free speech over the past 17 years, because a free press is necessary to hold governments accountable. The number of countries that received the worst grade on a scale of 0 to 4 more than doubled from 14 to 33 during this period.

In 2022, too, press freedom was under pressure in 157 countries and territories. In recent years, the freedom to express personal opinions has also declined significantly, whether through invasion of privacy, bullying and intimidation, or "incentives to self-censor, both online and offline."

The regional differences in the distribution of democracy are also striking. For example, out of the 12 countries in Eurasia, not a single one is classified as free, while Europe, where 81 percent of the countries are free, gets top marks. In between are the Middle East (8 percent free), Africa (17 percent free), the Asia-Pacific region (44 percent free) and the Americas (66 percent free).

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends in the direction of justice" is a famous phrase by the American anti-slavery campaigner Theodore Parker, which both the freedom fighter Martin Luther King and America's first black president, Barack Obama, liked to use.

This also applies to the fight for freedom and democracy in the world. Although they have been on the retreat around the globe over the past 17 years, if you widen the "arch" and look at the development of the last 50 years, in which Freedom House felt the pulse of the world, a different picture emerges.

When Freedom House began surveying the state of democracy in the world in 1973, only 44 out of 148 states were classified as free, compared to 84 out of 195 today. Of the remaining countries, 54 are now classified as partially free and 57 as not free.

"Over the past 50 years, democracies have not only emerged from extremely repressive conditions, they have also proven to be remarkably robust when faced with new challenges," says the independent non-governmental organization's positive 50-year balance sheet.

"Although democratization has slowed and faced setbacks, ordinary people around the world, including in Iran, China and Cuba, persist in defending their rights against authoritarian encroachment."

However, in recent decades it has become more difficult to fully consolidate emerging democratic institutions. "More and more countries remain in a partially free status rather than moving towards full democratization," the report states.

One thing, however, is clear, says Freedom House chairwoman Jane Harman: "Freedom lives." And there are universal values ​​that are shared by all people worldwide. "Most people want freedom and opportunity, a decent place to live and an education," she says. Measured against this, the situation on the globe has at least improved in the long term, even if there is still a lot to be done.

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