Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine

Apr 28th, 2011 | By | Category: Civil Society, Human Rights, News, Ukraine, USA
Press Release 


Concentration of Power Threatens Ukrainian Democracy, According to New Report


Washington April 27, 2011

One year into Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency, Ukraine has experienced a disturbing decline in democratic practices and human rights that, if unchecked, threatens a return to the authoritarianism of the country’s pre-Orange Revolution period, according to a special report [PDF] — Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine — released today by Freedom House.

Among its findings, the report identifies a growing crackdown on news media, selective prosecution of opposition figures, deepening intrusiveness by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), an increasingly pliant parliament (Verkhovna Rada) that is unable to hold the executive to account, and local elections in October 2010 that for the first time since the Orange revolution did not meet democratic standards. The report concludes, however, that Ukraine’s leadership values its international standing, underscoring the importance of stepped up Western engagement to Ukraine’s democratic development.

The report is the culmination of a week-long assessment mission in February 2011 conducted by three respected Ukraine experts: Freedom House executive director David J. Kramer; Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President at the Atlantic Council; and Robert Nurick, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. The report authors met with and interviewed more than 50 people representing an extensive range of interests in Ukraine. The fact finding was undertaken in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Lviv with experts and professionals from the spheres of government, civil society, business, media, and education.

The assessment was undertaken on the heels of Ukraine’s fall from “Free” to “Partly Free” in Freedom of the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties. Prior to its decline in 2010, Ukraine was the only non-Baltic former Soviet state ranked “Free” by Freedom in the World.

“Ukraine is not headed in the right direction under the current government when it comes to democracy and human rights,” said David J. Kramer, executive director at Freedom House. “Left unchecked, current trends in Ukraine will lead toward greater authoritarianism, and that would be a huge setback for Ukraine and also damage hope for reform in Eurasia as a whole. Both forces inside Ukraine and countries in the West have a responsibility to engage and push aggressively against further backsliding.”

In February 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won election to be Ukraine’s president in a close race against then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, an election deemed free and fair by international observers.

A number of the problems identified in the report existed before the Yanukovych administration came to political power. But the recent trends are deeply disturbing.

Among the key findings:
  • Increased consolidation of power under the current administration with limited checks and balances that come at the expense of democratic development and, if left unchecked, put Ukraine on a trajectory toward authoritarian rule.
  • An increasingly “rubber stamp” parliament
  • Instances of increased security services meddling in and harassment of civil society, targeted investigations.
  • Selective prosecutions (especially of members of previous administrations).
  • Widespread perceptions of corruption and personal interest with corrosive effects on fair/balanced/democratic procedures.
  • Embattled and often dispirited civil society, coupled with an uninspiring opposition fraught with infighting.
  • An increasingly close relationship between media control and political power, and with it a growing degree of self censorship.
There is a glaring absence of Western attention on Ukraine these days. That needs to change if the situation in Ukraine is to improve.

Ukraine is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.

The Sounding the Alarm report was produced with support from the International Renaissance Foundation and assistance from the Open Society Foundations.

For more information on Ukraine, visit:

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.

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