Europe’s political approach to the coronavirus pandemic has divided the east-west lines, according to a Guardian analysis.
Five of the 18 Eastern European countries have recorded major violations of international democratic freedoms since March 2020, according to to research conducted by the Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem), compared to any of the 12 Western European countries.
Research also shows that countries in Eastern Europe were more likely to resort to abusive enforcement, disinformation and discrimination, with the most common violation being restrictions on the media.
The worst violations were observed in Serbia, which recorded a violation score three times higher than the European average. Under a special regime implemented in a declared state of emergency, refugees, migrants and asylum seekers were selectively targeted and placed in strict 24-hour quarantine, controlled by the military. They were prohibited from leaving the centers, while support staff were not allowed to enter.
Belgium is the only country in Western Europe where moderate mistakes have been made. The country has recorded ethnic profiling during the pandemic, according to the V-Dem Institute, with abusive police practices disproportionately affecting ethnic minority communities.
The death of a 19-year-old man of North African descent in a police chase has sparked protests against racism, with people demanding justice and accountability. Later, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued a report expressing concerns about discriminatory acts related to the police.
Experts say such actions often follow government-set Covid-19 measures and lack a clear basis in the rule of law.
Dr Joelle Grogan, Senior Lecturer in Law at Middlesex University, found that experts from 24 of the 27 EU countries reported at least some concern about restrictive measures outside the government’s legal powers .
However, even though “almost all countries struggle to balance the rule of law with intense pressure to act in emergencies,” she said, that doesn’t mean we should be concerned about the rule of law as well. all countries.
The Guardian’s analysis also revealed how some central-eastern European governments with a habit of undermining democratic principles have exploited the pandemic to further spread undemocratic practices.
In Slovenia, the government has imposed financial and legal restrictions on NGOs and changed environmental legislation as part of one of its coronavirus stimulus plans. Since June 23, 2021, the country has been added to a watch list countries with rapidly declining civil liberties.
“Since the government came to power, it has used the Covid-19 as a pretext to try to pass measures that affect basic human rights,” said Civicus, the global alliance of civil society.
The Polish parliament recently passed a media bill that deprives TVN, Poland’s main private network, of the right to vote, continuing the government’s efforts to control the media. The level of risk to democratic freedoms in Poland is more than three times the European average.
According to Grogan, there was deep concern for the “rule of law crisis with many EU states systematically undermining and dismantling democratic institutions”.
Along with Hungary and Poland, significant democratic setbacks have been observed in Serbia, Turkey and Slovenia since 2010.
While democratic regimes have remained fairly stable in most Western European countries, four Eastern European countries have moved from liberal democracies to electoral democracies, according to the V-Dem Institute. Two others – Hungary and Serbia – have moved from electoral democracy to electoral autocracy.
For Grogan, the risk lies in normalizing democratic violations in the name of emergency response. “The risk of normalizing the emergency is that ordinary expectations about the rights we can exercise without conditions are forgotten and decisions that government should only make with permission are ignored: we can say we have a democracy, but not live in one. “
There is hope, however, as she argues that authoritarianism rests fundamentally on public support. “For ordinary people – protest, objection and education [are] the best resistance against anti-democratic tendencies.
About the data
The liberal democracy index, developed by the V-Dem Institute, assesses the degree of democracy and the strength of democratic institutions in a given country, with scores from 0 to 1. It measures the quality of elections, the right to voting, freedom of speech and the media, freedom of association, constraints on the executive and the rule of law. Comprised of several minor clues, it aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the quality of a country’s democracy.