The Washington Post | July 6, 2010
By Fred Hiatt

As America this weekend celebrates the birth of its liberty, in much of the rest of the world freedom and democracy are in retreat.

Over the past decade, authoritarian rulers have refined their techniques to stay in power, learning from each other and thinking two steps ahead of democratic forces. Unprepared for this systematic reply to the advance of democracy from the 1970s through the 1990s, democratic governments have yet to formulate a coherent response.

“A global political recession” is how Tom Melia describes the current state of affairs. Melia is deputy director of Freedom House, a nonprofit that annually measures the state of liberty in every nation — and that has found “more countries seeing declines in overall freedom than gains” in recent years, Melia said last week.

The world has transitioned from a “position of going from one breakthrough to another” into a “sustained period in which we are looking at regressions and setback,” he said.

Melia was speaking at an event co-sponsored by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Washington that brought the decline into particularly poignant view: an analysis of the state of freedom in the part of the world that inspired the greatest hopes 20 years ago, the former Soviet empire.

There, Freedom House’s Christopher Walker reported, the news is “very grim.” Freedom eroded over the past year in 14 of 29 countries that were once part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. Eleven of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics are worse off than a decade ago. “No country in the region has undergone a sharper decline than Russia,” he said — and in the 12th, Ukraine, a newly elected government has been relentlessly pushing in the wrong direction the past few months.

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