The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a “new normal” of Covid-19 restrictions. For the fifth consecutive year, the number of countries moving in an authoritarian direction exceeds the number of countries moving in a democratic direction. In fact, the number moving in the direction of authoritarianism is three times the number moving towards democracy. This is the finding of the newest report of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Support (IDEA).
The absolute number of democracies is decreasing, and from 2020, Serbia, Mali and the Ivory Coast are no longer democracies, according to the report „State of Democracy in the World 2021“.
„This report emphasises the democratic collapse in Serbia because, after serious problems with the 2020 elections, it can no longer be considered a democracy. That calls into question the future of Serbia’s membership in the European Union,“ Adam Bodnar, dean of the Faculty of Law at the Polish University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said in the preface to the report on Europe.
The report recalls that for the first time in 20 years, Serbia is no longer in the category of democracies but of hybrid regimes.
„Serbia, which has been falling behind since 2013, has finally become a hybrid regime in 2020. During that period, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party restricted and discredited civil society and imposed restrictions on media freedom,“ the report states.
In a document on democracy in Europe, IDEA states that the quality of democracies has stagnated or declined over the past two years, not least due to the pandemic crisis.
„In the Western Balkans and other Eastern European countries, long-standing weaknesses in these new democracies have been further exacerbated by the pandemic,“ the report said.
It added that the legitimacy of many ruling elites in the region was undermined by their efforts to gain an unequal electoral advantage during the pandemic over the political opposition and efforts to weaken the media’s integrity further.
The report has added that the pandemic in the countries of the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus has destroyed the foundations of democracy, including fair elections, freedom of association and expression, and government control.
Freedom of expression and the media were threatened even before the pandemic, and during the pandemic, it further declined, not only in authoritarian regimes.
‘Dangerous practices’ ranged from the non-cooperative attitude of state officials towards journalists to harassment and threats to the media.
Several countries, including Serbia, have used the alleged danger of misinformation about the pandemic to stifle freedom of speech further.
Authorities in Serbia have also tried to limit access to information and journalists’ contacts with health workers, silence critics, and prevent pandemic reporting.