The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, Freedom House says in its “Freedom in the World 2016” report.
In its notes on the Balkans, Freedom House says that Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo all suffered from crippling government dysfunction in 2015.
Macedonia’s ruling party was implicated in electoral fraud and an expansive wiretapping scandal, exacerbating a bitter political standoff with the opposition that ultimately required the EU to step in and broker snap elections for 2016, the report says.
In Kosovo, lawmakers opposed to a deal on normalizing relations with Serbia repeatedly halted parliamentary debate by releasing tear gas within the chamber and pelting ruling party members with eggs.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government, hampered by a complex, ineffective framework established under the 1995 peace accords, remained incapable of addressing the relentless obstructionism and endemic corruption that have plagued it ever since.
Tensions were further aggravated when officials in the Republika Srpska, one of the country’s two constituent entities, rejected the authority of the national police, courts, and prosecutors, and began planning a referendum on the legitimacy of the national judiciary. Such disputes precluded democratic gains in all three countries, and ensured that EU accession remained a distant prospect, Freedom House says.
Conversely, Montenegro’s progress toward EU membership, even as the entrenched government of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović sanctioned the harassment of independent media, tarnished the bloc’s image as a purveyor of good governance and democratic norms.
In its commentary on Europe, Freedom House says that the migration crisis in Europe put unprecedented pressure on the EU’s fundamental principles of liberty, solidarity, and respect for human rights.
The massive influx of people not only exposed areas of weak institutional capacity across the region, but also cast doubt on the EU’s ability to maintain high democratic standards among current and aspiring member states in a time of rising populism.
The year 2015 began with the January election victory of the left-populist Syriza party in Greece, whose anti-EU rhetoric struck a chord with voters after years of externally imposed austerity.
Although the new government was eventually forced to comply with its creditors’ demands, important underlying problems—including governance deficiencies and a debt load that many view as unsustainable—have yet to be addressed. Nevertheless, the attention of Brussels had shifted to the migrants by the second half of 2015.
The EU’s attempts to distribute responsibility for the settlement of refugees across the union met with resistance throughout the bloc, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe.
These countries’ blatant rejection of solidarity with asylum seekers and fellow member states, despite their own 20th-century histories of repression, foreign domination, and mass dislocation on the one hand, and the benefits they received from the EU on the other, represented a stinging blow to the European project, Freedom House says.
The bloc’s broader retreat from the goal of bolstering democratic values was underscored by its renewed interest in Turkey’s membership bid, which had stalled for years as Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan exhibited increasingly authoritarian behavior.
EU negotiators, seeking Turkey’s assistance in stemming the migrant flow to Europe, apparently turned a blind eye to Erdoğan’s repressive actions during 2015, including assaults on critical media and indiscriminate military operations in urban areas in the southeast in advance of the November elections, the report says.