Freedom erosion in Europe is reaching new highs

Over the past month, democracy in Southeastern Europe has been bleeding. The most severe haemorrhage happened in Serbia. The country’s daily Danas, quoting a story from the Serbian news agency Beta, highlighted Freedom House’s recent Freedom in the World 2024 report showing that in 2023 Serbia’s political rights and civil liberties score went downhill by 3 points. The same decline happened in Russia, Israel, and some developing countries, like Ecuador and Mali. In the last decade, the only European countries that saw larger declines than Serbia were Hungary and Turkey. Some of the reasons behind Serbia’s downfall were the “stolen elections” and “the possibility that they influenced the results in key election races such as Belgrade,” as Freedom House’s Balkans expert Aleksandra Karpi told a host of US international broadcaster Voice of America (VoA).

Following the Serbian parliamentary elections held on 17 December and won by SNS (President Aleksandar Vučić’s nationalist party), the opposing coalition made fraud allegations, invoking irregularities like vote buying and the falsifying of ballots and signatures. Besides the lack of freedom, some of Serbia is still nostalgic after communist Yugoslavia. As proof, a LEGO product design resembling the Yugoslav K67 kiosk went viral following the interview Danas journalist Aleksandra Ćuk did with architect Nikola Opačić.

Democracy took a hit in Moldova as well. Moldova’s former prime minister Vasile Tarlev is set to take command of a new party called Viitorul Moldovei (Moldova’s Future), as reported by Moldovan investigative newspaper Ziarul de Gardă. “Vasile Tarlev held two mandates as prime minister, when the communists were in power, in the period 2001-2008,” ZDG noted.

Democracy dies in corruption

It’s not surprising that democracies suffer when their leaders abuse power. Anca Simina and David Muntean from the Romanian investigative platform Recorder found out that an “emperor’s palace” being built from €7 million coming from public money in Bucharest is likely to be President Klaus Iohannis’ future residence once his mandate expires later this year. In the November 2023 edition of our Southeastern Beacon, Recorder pointed out that Iohannis is the only EU president who flies with private planes and “keeps the costs secret.”

Let’s move back to Serbia, and to another president that endangers democracy: Aleksandar Vučić. Policewoman Katarina Petrović was arrested last year because she denounced that Vučić’s godfather, Nikola Petrović (no familiar links to her), injured two women in a traffic accident while being intoxicated with drugs and alcohol behind the wheel of his McLaren €300,000+ supercar. Almost a year later, on 22 February 2024, Danas quoted Serbian TV station Nova’s announcement that Nikola Petrović was released by the High Court in Valjevo.

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In Croatia, 11 parliamentary parties organised a large liberal protest against Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s decision to appoint Ivan Turudić, a judge by profession, as chief state attorney. Reporting from the streets, the Croatian daily Jutarnji List noted that the protestors claimed Turudić is a liar, that he is in cahoots with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and that he “hangs out with the criminal milieu.”

In the name of democracy

Since Russia and extremist parties continue to pose a threat to Southeast Europe, some parties have started fighting with bold decisions. For example, the two biggest parties in Romania, the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Social-Democrat Party (PSD) decided to join forces in the euro-parliamentary elections taking place on 9 June. Despite the parties’ historic rivalry, PNL president Nicolae Ciucă said they took this decision for “the stability of the country, the coherence of the governing act” and “the interest of Romanian citizens and the security context,” as quoted by Libertatea newspaper’s journalists Sebastian Pricop, Cristian Andrei, and Cristian Otopeanu. “Security” and “stability” are the top words, especially when the Russia-linked Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) is gaining traction in the country.

Moreover, rumours have spiked about a Russian invasion of Moldova, after the congress of deputies of the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, asked Moscow to protect them against pressures coming from Chișinău. “Protecting the interests of Transnistrian residents, our compatriots, is one of the priorities. All requests are always carefully examined by specialised agencies in Russia,” the Russian Foreign Ministry told TASS, as quoted by Ziarul de Gardă.

On the same topic

Răzvan Filip | PressOne | 30 January | RO

This exclusive investigation by PressOne reveals that the company that developed the mobile application used by the Romanian nationalist party AUR to attract new members also collaborated with the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE). The article also raises concerns about a potential security vulnerability in the app.

George Schinas | iMedD | 22 February | EN

The article discusses a group of Russian nationalists fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the ongoing war. This group, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), is led by Denis Kapustin, a figure with connections to a far-right network involved in organising mixed martial arts events internationally. “He initiated the RVC with the intention of overthrowing Putin and creating a Russian nation-state focused on the well-being of so-called ethnic Russians,” investigative journalist Karim Zidan told iMedD. The article also highlights an instance where the RVC claimed responsibility for a raid on Russian soil.

Nia Radenkova | Capital | 8 February | BG

Turkish drone manufacturer Baykar has begun building a factory near Kyiv, Ukraine, aiming to produce 120 TB2 or TB3 drones annually and employ 500 people, Capital reported quoting a Reuters interview. CEO Haluk Bayraktar says construction will take a year, and the war in Ukraine won’t deter them. This follows a record-breaking deal to sell Bayraktar Akinci drones to Saudi Arabia.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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