- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Freedom House released its 2010 Freedom in the World survey, which sadly, shows overall freedom declining around the world for the fourth straight year. The report designates a total of 89 countries as free, 58 as partly free, and 47 as not free. Last week, I asked Freedom House Director of Research Arch Puddington about some of the more surprising developments from this year in freedom:
We’re concerned about the self-assurance, even arrogance of some of the big authoritarian countries. China, most notably, but also Russia, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They have their own systems they’re going to go their own way. With China what we’ve seen is that there’s a new effort to influence how the rest of the world talks about China and sees China. The Chinese bullied a book fair in Germany and a film festival in Australia, as well as events in Taiwan, Korea and Bangladesh, because the Uighur question or other controversial events might come up at these events. This sort of thing is a concern.
I was surprised to see a slight improvement in Zimbabwe’s score, though it’s still designated as one of the world’s least free countries:
It was principally because of the agreement that was reached that brought the [Movement for Democratic Change into the government. This gave Morgan Tsvangirai the prime minstership and led to the swearing in of a parliament dominated by the MDC. These are modest improvements but we felt they merited a small increase.
Honduras lost its status as an electoral democracy because of this year’s coup. I asked Puddington how Freedom House dealth with the controversy surrounding the coup, which some felt was a legitimate response to President Manuel Zelaya’s own abuses of power:
We are very sensitive to the nuances of Honduras. We recognize that this was not the equivalent of what happened in Argentina under the generals or Chile under Pinochet and we don’t call it a military coup. It was a coup of the courts and the military elites. Removing [Zelaya] from office and was done willy-nilly consitutionally. Exiling Zelaya crossed the line in our view, especially in a region like Latin America with its history of coups.
I asked Puddington if he thought the Obama adminstration’s democracy promotion efforts were adequate.
This is the fourth consecutive year we’ve seen decline, so we’re not going to blame Obama for what’s happened. I would say that we’re not satisfied with his policies. He still seems to be unclear about what those policies will be, but he’s now coming around to something a little more concrete and coherent. There was a period in the last year where the adminstiation wanted to do the opposite of everything the Bush administration did and that attitude infected the Obama administration’s development of a pro-democracy policy. I think that they’re now getting over that mindset but we’ll still have to see.