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Islamophobia Jeopardizes Democracy in Europe, Report Says | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) and anti-LEGIDA protestors (top R) during a demonstration in Leipzig, January 21, 2015.
REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Freedom House, a Washington-based human rights advocacy organization, which publishes a global freedom index every year, put out a report on the health of democracy in the post-Soviet world. In its report, the organization portrayed a bleak picture of the state of liberal values in parts of Europe, highlighting a number of worrying trends in 29 countries in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as former Soviet states in Central Asia.

One of the most worrying trends was the strengthening of authoritarian politics in a number of countries as well as the rise of “illiberal nationalism” in others, particularly European Union democracies like Poland and Hungary.

Freedom House explains that this democratic malaise is mainly a result of the European struggle to cope with the migrant crisis on its borders, as well as ongoing economic turmoil.

The new assessments were published this week in Freedom House’s annual Nations In Transit report, focusing on the countries that started transitioning toward democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. The report uses the organization’s specific ratings that assess nations across a range of criteria, from corruption to the strength of electoral institutions to the independence of the media. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in the 29 countries profiled by Freedom House has dropped for 12 years in a row.

“The biggest challenge to democracy in Europe is the spread of deeply illiberal politics,” details Freedom House’s press release. This has been very much on display in the response to an inflow of refugees and migrants from the war-torn Syria and other countries. Right-wing politicians, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, fanned populist flames by grandstanding over the threat of Muslim migration.

Their rhetoric, dressed up in threatening declarations of a clash of civilizations, played to domestic audiences and, in a few cases, contributed to enhancing the political prospects of some ruling parties. Governments from Poland to Slovakia to Hungary rejected E.U. proposals to accommodate tiny numbers of refugees.

Leaders in these countries, the report states, “exploited the crisis to strengthen their populist appeal, disregarding fundamental humanitarian principles and the ideals of democratic pluralism for short-term partisan gain.”

The mood exacerbated wider tensions within the European Union, which faces an existential moment in June as Britain votes in a referendum on its membership in Europe.

“Claiming that Europe faces a Muslim invasion has become standard fare for a range of politicians and political parties in Europe,” Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations in Transit, said in a statement. “This kind of speech undermines democracy by rejecting one of its fundamental principles-equality

before the law. There is a danger that this kind of hateful, paranoid speech will lead to violence against minorities and refugees.”

The report also digs into various social and political crises in Eurasia triggered by the drop in global oil prices, the scourge of corruption in Ukraine and the deepening dictatorships of Central Asia.

The Washington Press