Posts Tagged ‘Freedom House’


Ukrainian civil society – ineffective or does it have impact?

June 21, 2013

A few days ago I mentioned the Freedom House 2013 “Nations in Transit” report in relation to democracy consolidation and economics with the aid of Przeworski’s work, putting a US$ figure in relation to economics when democracy becomes invincible as the method of governance.

Today, despite all the prose within the “Nations in Transit” report relating to Ukraine, I am again going to pick on a number – that number relating to civil society and an awful lot of claims from within civil society of late that they have effectively prevented the rolling back of democracy in Ukraine – which is in fact self-aggrandising  piffle.

As somebody that monitors Ukrainian civil society and its achievements on an almost daily basis via theire websites, twitter, Facebook, VK and LinkedIn pages and feeds, there are few such organisations that can claim to have made a real difference when it comes to changing government policy.

After all, when civil society makes too many demands of the State at the same time – together with fighting amongst itself as to who will sit at the government table and opine in a very uncivil manner – can you expect to be heard rather than just listened to?

That said, without commenting on effectiveness, I will doff my cap to some of the good governance/democracy NGOs when it comes to actual mobilisation and monitoring of elections in Ukraine.  Their effectiveness is subjective and probably best as the subject of a different blog entry.

Some NGOs are indeed effective – UNICEF and UNDP for example – but they are UN organisations and Ukraine does generally try whenever the UN is involved – domestically or abroad – regardless of the cause.

Nevertheless, these are exceptions – to one degree or another – to the rule.

Returning to the aforementioned Freedom House report, it scores Ukrainian civil society at 2.75 for 2013.

However, that score of 2.75 in 2013 is exactly the same score as that of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

In 2004 and 2005 the civil society score was a not so promising 3.75 and 3.00 respectively.

Thus between 2004 and 2006 there was a marked improvement in the Freedom House civil society score – but then it plateaued – and to be quite frank shows absolutely no sign of scoring any better in the years ahead, and more importantly shows no sign of being any more effective at a national level when it comes to government policy.

Of the thousands of civil society organisations registered in Ukraine – 60% are dormant – as in completely inactive!

Ukrainian participation in civil society has also flat-lined in parallel to the Freedom House score.  It remains the case today that only 5% of Ukrainians are involved in civil society – the same percentage as a decade ago.

The first question is why has this state of stagnation within civil society occurred?

The answer relates to the amount of space that any government allows civil society to operate within.  The Freedom House figures would suggest that under Kuchma in 2004, that space was fairly restricted.  It opened up under the first year of Yushenko in 2005 but then had limits placed back on it in 2006.  That civil society space has hence remained constant and neither expanded or contracted thereafter.

In short, civil society is allowed to exist – but has been ignored/controlled/managed to the same degree by successive governments since 2006 – none of which have a particularly impressive track record when it comes to civil society input.

The vast majority of Ukrainian civil society that aims to influence national government and national policy making, sits in a bubble completely divorced from the society it purports to represent – more often than not with absolutely no presence outside of Kyiv.

Of note to those within civil society basing themselves in Kyiv in an attempt to influence government as representatives of the peoples causes – there is an awful lot more of the society they purport to represent living outside of Kyiv (approximately 42 million) than in it (approximately 3 million) – and a lot of that society living without considers Kyiv unrepresentative of Ukraine, just as many in the UK do not consider London as representative of the UK or those in Russia consider Moscow as representative of Russia etc.

Perhaps regional offices for regional traction?  Or at least get out more?

Thus even in the unlikely event civil society in Kyiv managed to get traction with the average resident over national issues, they are unlikely to get traction in the provinces where the rest  – and vast majority – of Ukraine live.

Quite simply, sitting in Kyiv maybe convenient – but it is not going to get you any traction within Ukrainian society – particularly when traction cannot even be gained within the residents of Kyiv by most civil society actors!

I appreciate that it doesn’t really matter if you are a foreign or foreign funded NGO.  You have your cause and plan to fight the good fight on behalf of Ukrainian society – even if society doesn’t particularly agree with your plan, or know you are fighting the good fight in order to support you.  Society is not important as long as your funding comes through and you can cite some movement in your cause – no matter how glacially – to your sponsors.  It truly seems that many foreign funded NGOs aimed at national issues have a policy of excluding the society it purports to represent – bizarre!

Grass roots, hands-on, coal-face NGOs working at a local level in the local community and with local government is a more successful story – at least compared to its national counterparts.  Having more effect, naturally local NGOs lack the funding that could make a real difference – particularly if the cause is one that requires durability and thus sustainability – local governance NGOs for example.

However, with local success comes more faith in civil society – and more faith brings more participants.

As top-down influence is proving ineffective for Ukrainian civil society when concentrating on the RADA – how about trying bottom-up by going out into the provinces and building a solid foundation on regional projects instead?  Take on the regional governments of half a dozen oblasts simultaneously instead of the RADA and see if you get any better results.  Even if you fail, some people may actually remember the name of your NGO at the end of it – whereas the average Ukrainian probably couldn’t name 5 NGOs active in Ukraine right now.



Freedom House “Nations in Transit Report” – Amongst the words – an interesting number

June 19, 2013

Here is the latest Freedom House “Nations in Transit Report” on Ukraine.

Nothing really surprising in what is going in the right and wrong direction that you cannot read in this blog or countless others like it.

So as there is nothing really new in the report to regular readers of this blog why am I highlighting it?

Well, prior to all the prose, a number caught my eye.  That number was GNI/capita  PPP:  US $7040.

Why?  Because it has a correlation to democracy and democracy consolidation.

“And?” I know you are all thinking.  “The average Ukrainian is poor compared to the average westerner – so what – we all know the bigger the middle class/independent bourgeoisie the more stable democracy is.”

Quite true – but can you put a US$ figure on when those democratic nations or those in transition to democracy have never rolled back to authoritarian regimes when it comes to GNI/capita PPP?

Well for those who have read Lipset, Inglehart & Welzel and in particular Przeworski, this number is particularly important when it comes to democracy and the consolidation thereof.

Below is a table from Democracy and Economic Development by the aforementioned Adam Przeworski.


It shows that in 1999, those nations that were transitioning from authoritarian rule to that of democracy together with those who were consolidated democracies with a GNI/capita PPP: US$ 8000 or more, did not, and have never historically reverted back to authoritarian regimes.

That is not to say all nations with GNI capita PPP greater than $8000 in 1999 were democracies – some of the petro-states did indeed have a greater PPP than $8000 but were not in any transitional or existing democratic governance regime – think “resource curse” for want of a reason why they remained authoritarian despite the GNI/capita PPP US$ figure.

However, Ukraine whilst swinging between the academically defined transitional democratic points of “feckless” and “dominant party” nevertheless academically remains a transitional democracy – and thus it’s GNI/capita PPP:  US$7040 does matter when it comes to the chances of democracy surviving and consolidating – or not!

To crudely index link the GNI/captia PPP of 1999 to the present day, the magic US$ number rises from $8000 to approximately $10,000.  Thus, as Przeworski’s research shows, should Ukraine have a GNI/capita PPP: US$ 10,000 today, history clearly shows without exception in democratic and/or nations in a state of transition to democracy – the democratic system becomes invincible.

The table also clearly shows just how much chance – depending upon how far below the magic GNI/capia PPP US$ figure – nations have of reverting to authoritarian regimes.

Thus, whilst the Freedom House report has a few things to say about national governance, local governance, judiciary, corruption, civil society, media and electoral processes – none of which are new – and all vertical and horizontal institutions are necessarily commented upon through the democratic lens (and one has to say looking like a first semester course content introduction for A Level/college Political Science study) – it says little to nothing about the economics of democracy or where society sits in its pursuit or abandonment of democracy – both of which you would think are very necessary for inclusion in a report relating to nations in transition.


Ukraine – “Countries in transit” – Freedom House Report

June 8, 2012

Well Freedom House has just released its “Countries in Transit” report of which Ukraine is one.  Quite where Ukraine is transiting too is debatable, though there must be an assumption that Freedom House feels Ukraine should be transiting towards democracy – or if not democracy, certainly a set of basic fundamental human rights and protections thereof.

As I have previously written, whilst it is often politically expedient for politicians to compare nation A with nation B in an effort to state “At least we aren’t as bad as Country B” as some form of justification and legitimacy for their own policy failings, what really matters in comparisons is how Country A stands today in respect of how it stood historically.

That is what matters to the people who live within Country A.  Is it better or worse than before?  It is after all, possible for Country A to decline internally but still climb a Freedom House ranking because new counties have been added to the numbers, or other countries have declined faster than Country A.

So, we will leave the somewhat flawed picture that politically expedient international comparisons toss out to the populous as mitigation for their own policy failures, or the media for headlines that will sell copy, and look at how Ukraine has done in the past decade according to Freedom House vis a vis Ukraine.

It should be noted that the best possible score allocated by Freedom House is 1 and the worst is 7.

It is rather grim reading to see that Ukraine has been backsliding on almost every front, not with the current government alone, but also quite obviously under the last one as well, since 2006.

Now one could put the perceived improvements recorded in 2006 down to great expectations of the 2005, rather than an accurate reflection of reality, following the Orange Revolution.  That is the problem with opinion based surveys.  They tend to be emotional rather than reality based and therefore bias unintentionally or deliberately either through the slant of the surveyor, the surveyed, or both.

One can ponder if there has ever really been very much improvement whatsoever during the past decade, and whether the perceived improvement immediately following the Orange Revolution was nothing more than great expectations.  The relative slide backwards thereafter across most of the board was the slow dawning of the realisation that, in fact, nothing has changed since ex-President Kuchma.

Thus today’s overall score of 4.82 compared to a Kuchma score in 2003 of 4.71 maybe interpreted to be the reality that all illusionary bubbles and Orange Revolution hangovers have now, eventually, evaporated.  The population polled for this survey now realise there was actually no improvement between 2003, as shown by the consistent ebbing of hope during the tenure of the past, and present government as displayed in the above table.

If interpreted that way, it is certainly time for the new political faces of Yatseniuk, Tigipko and Koloevska to step forward and replace the old guard if there is to be another positive bump in perception across the above categories.

The question is, should that actually happen (and Ukraine not sentence itself to more years of Yanukovych or Tymoshenko), can they actually change anything? – Or would there still simply be another 2006 spike followed by yet another decline as reality set in?


Latest Freedom House Report – Ukraine, UK and league tables

May 7, 2012

Well the latest Freedom House Report has been out a week or so and to be honest I was not in any particular rush to mention it, not because it isn’t worth mentioning, many people and governments give it credence and in a time where league tables and benchmarks have become the main foundation for conversation amongst the politicians globally, a mention is thus due.

This though is mostly due to the fact there is a serious lack of creativity and imagination amongst the global political leaders, and the league tables and benchmarks give them something to talk about by making comparisons rather than imaginative policy and meaningful public engagement.   Quite why we as societies have allowed the this to happen I am not sure, but when we allow the politicians to control the political debate the entire time,  we should expect nothing but political grey noise.

Yes, comparisons are interesting, but do I really care if the French or Italians are doing worse than we are going by  some league table if things still aren’t good enough where I am?  Of course I don’t.  I care about what and how the leadership are going to improve the environment in which I live every day.  Even if Ukraine was top of every league (on the positive side) would I still expect the leadership to continue to be creative and imaginative to make that environment even better?  Yes, I would.  I would expect the same if I was in the UK from the British government.

Waffling on about where Ukraine is in comparison to nations X and Y in a league table is simply noise to fill the void of severely lacking imagination and creativity when dealing with the issues of State, agency and society.  The continued political striving for Utopia for all a nations citizens remains the goal whether you are top or bottom of the league as improvements can always be found.

And thus, turning to the latest Freedom House Report, I don’t care that Ukraine is better than Belarus or Iran but worse than the UK.  What I care about is whether it is deemed there have been improvements rather than retrograde steps during the reporting period in any national comparison from the previous reporting period.

I care if Ukraine or the UK is seen to have improved or worsened comparatively to where each nation was the previous year.  Whether it has gone up or down in any league table is an irrelevance  as like I have already said, even topping any such table does not mean there is not work to do.

So reading this report, it states Ukraine’s score has worsened by 3 point over the past 12 months.  I am therefore concerned, not by whether Ukraine has been overtaken by another nation in the league table but simply by the fact it has worsened and I want to know why.

According to Freedom House, the reasoning is “Ukraine’s score fell from 56 to 59 points as a result of  growing government control over the media.  Many national media council members are loyal to the government official and media tycoon Valery Khoroshkovsky and media owners increasingly face political pressure regarding content.”  

Not good, whether that is down to overt threats through licensing, self-censorship, or any other reason.  Ukraine remains, according to Freedom House “partly free” and going in the wrong direction.  That said, even the Ukrainian opposition stated the Freedom House assessment was unfair, and they had political mileage in maximising the report’s statements: “Оцінка свободи слова в Україні на рівні Пд Судану – несправедлива. Але це чітко показує, куди ми рухаємося” – Andrey Shevchenko BYuT

So how is the UK doing?  The UK rating also dropped by 3 points during the reporting period.  The same point reduction as Ukraine.

The reason for this given by Freedom House, “The United Kingdom’s score fell from 19 to 21 point due to the use of super injunctions – which prevent the media from reporting both the targeted information and and the very existence of an injunction – by celebrities and wealthy individuals, as well as attacks on journalists covering riots.  In addition the police and government used the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act to force a number of media organisations to hand over unedited footage of rioting in London and Northern Ireland.”

Neither statements read well, however I am not sure which reads worse, and in the case of the UK, that is before we even consider the on-going, perversely interesting and simultaneously extremely worrying,  Leveson inquiry in the UK over phone tapping, email hacking, bribery, and generally an exceptionally unhealthy and ugly menage a trois between the politicians, police and media  which led to Lord Puttnam stating “Leveson has uncovered a “banana republic”: corrupt press, corrupt police, corrupt politicians.”

Thus, even if Ukraine climbed the league table to equal the “free” position occupied by the UK, it would still have a very long way to go to reach the standards that society expects when we consider the Freedom House and Lord Puttnam’s comments.

Both nations stand at -3 from the previous Freedom House reporting period, both nations are chastised for governmental and legal interference/control over the media and both are therefore seen as heading at an equally rapid pace in the wrong direction.

As far as the citizenry of both nations are concerned, it is that backsliding that is important and not where they sit in the league table, despite the political classes trying to fill the public debating  space with noises of comparisons to others.

I see little benefit in politicians pointing the finger and stating look at them, their cancer is worse than our cancer.  If both know they have cancer, it is a matter of an individual fight to beat it rather than die from it.  It is the self improvement that matters (or the internal backsliding).

The politicians should note that I do not pay taxes in the nation they offer up as comparison.  I am not a stake-holder in those nations.  I am a stake-holder in the nations I pay taxes, whether I can vote in them or not (UK I can, Ukraine I can’t), but because I pay taxes in these nations I have a right to expect the political classes to do their jobs that I pay them for through my taxes.  In short I expect continued gradual improvements as a share-holder in either the UK or Ukraine.

Both nations managing the same rate of decline in the Freedom House report, leave me  equally short-changed on my inverstments in 2011.


PACE and Ukraine – Another resolution on the way.

January 22, 2012

The Council of Europe (PACE) is due to adopt yet another resolution over the democratic institutions of Ukraine on 26th January.  For anybody counting, that will be the third such resolution within the past five years.

Maybe they would have made even more resolutions than that if Ukraine had not held the presidency of PACE for six months of last year.  (After all it doesn’t do to criticise the nation holding the presidency over its internal democratic institutions.  It would seem duplicitous when PACE is criticising others for similar failing at the same time as being under a Ukrainian presidency.)

I know what you are all thinking.  Since when has duplicity ever stopped a sovereign state or supra-structure criticising another when one look in the mirror would display similar failings.  Double standards is a regular cry.  The question that should be asked in such circumstances is whether it is better to have and orate some standards rather than allow matters to dissolve to the point of no standards.  Even if you have to be seen to be duplicitous to try and uphold standards you yourself are struggling to achieve, should you say nothing?

Anyway, this resolution will come hot on the heels of the latest Freedom House global assessment which deemed Ukraine to have regressed more than any other nation on the planet in 2011. It didn’t change Ukraine’s overall “partially free” status however.

It should also be pointed out that Ukraine was one of twenty six nations that were deemed to have gone backwards, with only twelve countries deemed to have made any progress at all.  Every other nation was in effect marking time with no movement whatsoever.

Quite what those statistics infer about the world and democracy in general, I will leave to you to make your own conclusions.  Prima facie, the world is far less democratic than it was in 2010 according to the Freedom House figures.  Is part of the problem the need to reform current systems and therefore technocrats or autocrats actively stifle debate to accomplish what they deem necessary with the minimum of descent?

Will Italy plummet in the rankings next year due to the entire government being unelected and no democratic elections anticipated in 2012?

As always though, it is necessary to get behind the figures to discover who, what, where, when and how they are achieved.

The question therefore will be whether the Council of Europe assess Ukraine in a better light than those at Freedom House (and those who contributed to generating the statistics at Freedom House), or not.  If Ukraine emerges in a better light than that cast by Freedom House, why does it?

The answer to that comes back to the who, what, where, when, why and how of compiling statistics, the personal perceptions, objectivity and bias of those who take part in submitting responses for the collation and  methodology of any reporting organisation.

As you dear readers can probably tell, due to the amount of research I do and have historically done, to understand statistics, taking them at face value is never a good idea.  It is always necessary to get behind the numbers.

Anyway, let us see where the Council of Europe and Freedom House meet and where they diverge on their Ukrainian democratic institutional assessments.  It would have been far better if the CoE ruminations had been issued at the same time as those of Freedom House as this would have removed any influence of one entity over another, but you can’t have it all and even if you could, do such reports really make any difference to those who run Ukraine?

Of late, they seem to be standing firm to external pressures from both East and West.

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