The Moscow Times
Thursday, Apr. 1, 2004. Page 9
U.S. School of Democracy
By Boris Kagarlitsky
A recently published report on civil liberties in 2003 by the New York-based
Freedom House organization has recognized 89 countries as “free,” 55 as
“partially free” and 48 as “not free.” The appraisal was based on a system
of half-point gradations, where 1.0 is the best score and 7.0 the worst.
Pretty much like at school, then
It’s no surprise that the worst marks went to North Korea, Cuba, Iraq,
Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan. Russia fell into the
category of partially free countries along with Ukraine, Moldova,
Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Indonesia, Argentina, Ethiopia, Nigeria,
Turkey, Venezuela and Columbia are in the same group.
Things become more interesting when we look at the actual figures awarded.
Russia received 5.0, a very poor score. Of all of the European former Soviet
republics, only Belarus fared worse with 6 points. Even Turkey earned a
higher rating, 3.5. According to the Freedom House experts, Tajikistan (5.5)
is freer than Belarus.
But Georgia and Ukraine were rated at 4.0, Moldova 3.5 and the Baltic
republics came out near the top of the class with 1.5 each. Other results of
interest were Mongolia (3.0), Bulgaria (1.5), the Czech Republic (1.5),
Greece (1.5), Japan (1.5), France (1.0) and Germany (1.0). The United
States, of course, scored 1.0.
A real blow for Argentina. Evidently the experts didn’t think they could
classify as truly free a country where the people can kick the parliament
and the president out onto the street.
And a blow for Russia, too. You can’t call Russia a democratic state, but at
least we don’t deny a third of our citizens their rights, like Latvia.
Russian national politics holds a contradictory position, between liberal
declarations of equality and the daily discrimination practiced against the
Muslim minority. But then the Latvian government doesn’t even make these
declarations; it has nothing more important to do than destroy the schools
of national minorities.
The pressure that the authorities in Ukraine put on the opposition is no
less serious than in Russia; the only difference is that in Moscow the
authorities are better at implementing the policy than those in Kiev.
One guarantee for democracy in former Soviet countries is, apparently, an
absence of effective centralized power. Is it really true that
Shevardnadze’s Georgia was freer than Putin’s Russia?
The scores are based on 2003 data, but the “Rose Revolution” overthrew
Shevardnadze in November. Even if the new situation compelled Freedom House
to sharply increase the country’s rating, it’s still somewhat confusing.
Has the increase in freedom since Georgia’s change in leadership been so
marked? The 90 percent of votes that Mikheil Saakashvili received is
evidently considered more democratic than Putin’s official total of 71
I must confess that I am delighted for Mongolia. But all the same, a few
unpleasant thoughts still linger at the back of my mind. Why, for example,
do the Baltic republics appear in the same category of countries as others
that have a well-established history of economic development? Is it a high
mark for Latvia and Estonia, or a low mark for Greece and Japan? And what
did the Czech Republic do wrong? After all, their political institutions are
identical to those in Western Europe.
When one of my friends saw the results, he reminded me that the teacher’s
marks take account not only of progress, but also of the behavior and
enthusiasm of the students. For example, while Tajikistan has allowed the
building of a U.S. military base, Lukashenko’s Belarus has not. Neither
country has a democracy to be proud of, but now everyone should be aware:
authoritarianism with U.S. bases is not the same as authoritarianism without
If we are all students, then we are learning from the ideologies of Freedom
House, our teacher. But their approach is clear as day. It all comes down to
the principle that U.S. leadership in international affairs is essential to
the cause of human rights and freedom.
With a perfect 1.0 score, the United States is a straight-A student. There
may be irregularities in Florida’s vote count, an extravagant system of
voter registration and an 18th-century electoral system, but none of these
This noble desire of U.S. conservatives to teach the world democracy is most
laudable. Just don’t be surprised when the results are less than successful.
After all, we students are just doing as our teacher tells us.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.