According to V-Dem data, here’s why global democracy is facing one of its biggest challenges in at least half a century.
Curbs On Freedom
Is Trending Again
But Poland isn’t the only country to “backslide” significantly. Have a look at Russia, Turkey, China, Hungary, and the United States.
Fast-forward to 1991. The Soviet Union is no more, leaving 15 newly independent republics in its wake. It is democracy’s moment to shine. Now there are 14 more democracies and 12 fewer autocracies.
Then something changed, and democracy’s sails began to flutter. For the first time in 38 years, the number of declining democracies around the world matched that of advancing ones.
“There can be no democratic legitimacy without the rule of law,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a June 2018 session of the European Commission in Strasbourg. His comments came in the context of possible disciplinary proceedings against Warsaw for allegedly threatening the independence of Poland’s judiciary. The purported push for greater control over Poland’s Supreme Court is one in a string of controversial decisions concerning Polish justice, and Poland has seen notable declines in V-Dem indicators on the rule of law.
This trend continued through the 1990s and into the early 21st century. By 2003, a decade had passed since Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” and the number of democracies had increased to 94 and autocracies decreased to 82.
Increasing government influence on media frequently emerges gradually through relatively obscure means including inducement, intimidation, and co-opting. Such tactics can lead to increasing self-censorship and fewer explicit criticisms of the government in the media.
Such a trend has arguably been the case in Russia, where the government approved laws specifically targeting media independence.
The United States has also been described as suffering a decline in media freedom: In 2016, the notion of “fake news” gained prominence during the U.S. presidential election -- specifically in efforts to discredit the media and specific news organizations as biased against certain individuals or broadly unreliable.
A number of countries stand out in the area of government censorship of the media and harassment of journalists, but Turkey was seen as having taken some of the harshest measures against journalists. In 2017 alone, 72 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
In 1967, with the Cold War simmering and conflicts raging from Guatemala to the Sinai, 34 of the world’s governments were democracies and 120 were autocracies*. It was the year the Soviet Union marked 50 years since the Bolshevik Revolution, the Apollo and Soyuz space programs suffered deadly setbacks, and the United States announced the Vietnam War was finally turning in its favor.
Number of Countries with Significant Changes on Liberal Democracy Index
The number of countries registering significant change towards autocracy has increased since roughly around the turn of the century.
The Waning Of
The Rule Of Law
Declines in the Rule of Law
Government censorship effort targeting media
262 Journalists imprisoned worldwide in 2017
Saudi Arabia 7
Rest of the world 73
* Source: Freedom House via V-Dem Institute’s Regimes of the World index.
The Waning Of The Rule Of Law
Curbs On Freedom Of Expression
Source: V-Dem Institute
BY Wojtek Grojec
AND Carlos Coelho
AUGUST 23, 2018
Story: Wojtek Grojec and Carlos Coelho
Production: Carlos Coelho
Editing: Andy Heil
Research: Wojtek Grojec
Illustration: Carlos Coelho