The SAR experts contributed to the Freedom House report, Nations in Transit 2014: Eurasia’s Rupture with Democracy. The publication shows Russia as the model and inspiration for policies leading to a retreat from free institutions throughout Eurasia and bringing the region to a new, alarming level of repression during the past year. Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
Nations in Transit 2014 finds that setbacks to democratic governance remain a dominant trend across Eurasia and the Balkans, as well as in post-communist Central Europe, where the persistence of clientelism and corruption was in evidence. However, the year also brought some positive developments. Kosovo, Albania, and Georgia received better ratings due to improved elections and peaceful transfers of power. “The most encouraging trend of 2013 was the vocal civil society response to repressive or inadequate governance,” said Habdank-Kołaczkowska. “Civil society spoke up only in Ukraine but also in Central Europe, Kyrgyzstan, and, to a lesser degree, the Balkans.”
Of the 29 countries assessed in 2013, 13 were rated as democracies, 6 as transitional regimes, and 10 as authoritarian regimes. The report also found that Russia’s negative influence on the governance practices of its neighbors became more pronounced in 2013, as replicas of Russian laws restricting “homosexual propaganda” and foreign funding of NGOs appeared in several Eurasian countries. Moreover, corruption increased in Central and Eastern Europe in 2013, with half of the 10 assessed European Union (EU) member states receiving downgrades. Nevertheless, the Balkans registered some positive developments during the year, including Croatia’s EU accession and a historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, but dysfunctional governments continued to drive down democracy scores in the region overall.
Romania was the only EU country to register an overall score improvement, where conditions calmed after a presidential impeachment attempt and related political turmoil in 2012. Authors of the report noted that Romania has made impressive strides in establishing accountable political and economic institutions and a free civil society since emerging from Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989, but certain pillars of democratic governance—most notably the independence of the judiciary and the media—remain extremely weak. Governance at the national level has been highly partisan and often unstable, and political corruption is prevalent. Romania joined the European Union (EU) in 2007, and its economy depends very much on European markets and EU funds, magnifying the effects of the eurozone financial crisis.
Romania’s semi-presidential political system has led to repeated conflicts between prime ministers and presidents from different parties. The most recent clash occurred in 2012, when the parliamentary majority suspended President Traian Băsescu but failed to oust him in an impeachment referendum due to low voter turnout. The effort featured a series of attempts by the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta to override institutional checks on its authority. By 2013, the conflict between Băsescu and Ponta had simmered down, and normal government operations were largely restored, thanks in part to a new power-sharing agreement signed at the end of 2012. However, the governing coalition advanced a constitutional reform proposal that, among other changes, would make Romania a parliamentary republic, weakening the power of the presidency. It was expected to be submitted for public approval in a referendum in 2014.
For more information about the country report see: http://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2014/romania#_ftn51