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How the Covid-19 pandemic led to a large-scale restriction of democratic rights and freedoms in Ukraine and in the world

How the Covid-19 pandemic led to a large-scale restriction of democratic rights and freedoms in Ukraine and in the world

The Economist's research department concluded that in the past 2020, all regions of the world took a bigger or smaller step back in democracy. The hysteria surrounding Covid-19 has led to large-scale restrictions on democratic rights and freedoms, as well as increased tendencies to censor opinions and intolerance.

The main conclusions of the Democracy Index 2020 showed that the situation has worsened in 70% of the world's countries, that is, in 116 of the 167 countries studied. Overall figures are worse than in the pre-coronavirus year and significantly worse than in 2006, when The Economist began compiling the Democracy Index.

Democracy Index editor Joan Howie was stunned by how easily freedom and democracy become optional in a state of emergency in the global health system. Including the most developed democracies in the world. It seems that humanity has decided that the possibility of catastrophic loss of life due to a new disease is reason enough to temporarily restrict rights and freedoms.

Of course, there were critics of the restriction of freedoms, but even they recognized that social distancing can prevent the spread of the disease. In addition, they were unable to offer any convincing alternatives to quarantines, nor to answer the question of how many lives freedom can be valued. And the leaders of authoritarian countries have taken advantage of the pandemic to put pressure and limit their political opponents.

The report "Nations in Transit 2021" of the international human rights organization Freedom House also records similar trends. They note that in 2020, the overall level of democracy in the Eurasian countries declined for the seventeenth consecutive year.

The document notes that during 2020, the weakening of democracy indicators was demonstrated by 18 countries in Europe and Eurasia, including Ukraine, and the decline in the overall level of democracy in the region has not stopped since 2005. Five countries did not change, and only six countries showed improvements in democracy: Moldova, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Armenia and Uzbekistan. In particular, the report notes the increase in repression over the past year in Belarus and Russia.

Human rights activists also outlined the deterioration of democracy over the past decade in Poland and Hungary, due to the increased frequency of attacks on ethnic, sexual and religious minority groups. There are also attempts to weaken the rule of law and pressure the independence of the judiciary.

As for Ukraine, Western organizations also record the weakness of the judicial branch of government and insist on its further reform. However, human rights activists recorded a decrease in the level of democracy for the period from 2017 to 2021 by 0.4% — the lowest level of decline among the 29 countries in the rating.

Freedom House named Ukraine and three other countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Armenia – as the states with the most active civil society. Which can certainly be considered a certain achievement, but there is something to work on. The authors of the report stressed that indicators of civil society activity make an important contribution to the sustainability of democracy in the region.

However, the main deficit of Ukrainian democracy remains ignoring laws and the Constitution. "Law-abiding" is neither about the political elite nor about the political lower classes. The poor quality of politics in the state is inversely related to the poor quality of the so-called political elites – a lack of professionalism, decency and culture. All this was especially aggravated by the lack of total restrictions during numerous quarantines, which weakened the economy.

The vulnerable point of democracy in Ukraine is the lack of the rule of law and equality of all citizens before the law, the lack of real levers of influence on the authorities, as well as corruption.

The deficit of democracy is observed in the violation of the balance of the power system. There is no de facto distribution of branches of government, there is a concentration of power in the hands of the president and, as a result, "manual" management of the country.

The authors of the annual report of the human rights organization Freedom House are most concerned about the fact that in Ukraine Zelensky's "super majority" in parliament, according to them, "seems to ignore both parliamentary procedures and proposals of opposition lawmakers."

Observers found procedural violations during the adoption of two-thirds of the draft laws that the presidential servant of the people Party held in Parliament from August to November 2019, the document says.

We would also like to draw your attention to the expert survey "Political quarter: spring 2021" conducted by the ilk Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation during April-May 2021. A total of 52 experts were interviewed.

The assessment of President Zelensky's activities remains quite low. Traditionally, the president is the least successful in personnel policy: its assessment is the lowest of all areas of activity of the head of state for 5 consecutive quarters. The situation with foreign policy is somewhat better: it is estimated at an average level and it has improved compared to previous surveys.

The situation in the fight against the epidemic is different. So, at the beginning of the pandemic, the efforts of President Zelensky were evaluated relatively well. At the same time, with each subsequent quarter, estimates worsened and are now at the lowest level in the entire time of the epidemic. The availability of Covid-19 vaccination for everyone who wants to be vaccinated is estimated at only 26%.

According to another study conducted by the rating group on April 23-27, 2021, "The attitude of Ukrainians to the introduction of the land market" was intended to show the attitude to the constitutional right of Ukrainians, namely land ownership rights.

The absolute majority – 64% of those who have decided, against 36% – are against the introduction of a land market, and even in the most neutral wording (buying and selling land). Even more Ukrainians – 79% against 15% – are against selling land to foreigners. Although the new laws remove all restrictions on the ownership of land by foreigners, and foreign banks are directly allowed to receive land through the collateral mechanism.

Interestingly, even Zelensky's voters and servants of the people (71% vs. 23%) are opposed to buying and selling land to foreigners, let alone voters from other parties. And only a little more than half of his voters are in favor of the land market (in all other parties, the advantage is on the side of opponents of the market). In fact, the country has formed a national consensus on this issue.

Another interesting detail concerns the electoral rights of Ukrainians. Recently, the sixth Administrative Court of Appeal decided to cancel the decision of the Central Election Commission on the impossibility of holding the first elections of Deputies of certain village, settlement, city councils of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the corresponding village, settlement, city heads on October 25, 2020. Because the previous decision of the CEC did not allow half a million Ukrainians in the Donbas to elect their representatives to local self-government bodies. Which was a gross violation of their democratic rights and freedoms.

Such distortions occur in countries where the political culture, difficulties with the rule of law, and corruption are still weak. The regression in Ukraine has shown the vulnerability of democracy in times of crisis, when the authorities do not miss the opportunity to use unlimited power in extraordinary circumstances.