The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

26 MAY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL In a decade of backsliding on democracy around the world, the countries of Europe and Eurasia feature prominently. BY DAV I D J . KRAMER I n its most recent annual survey, “Freedom in the World 2018: Democracy in Crisis,” Freedom Hous e documents 12 straight years of decline in politi- cal rights and civil liberties around the world. The countries in the Europe and Eurasia region play a significant role in this overall decline. Indeed, the region is beset with four major challenges to democracy, all interrelated: the authoritarian challenge posed especially by Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the backsliding from democracy in countries such as Hungary, Poland and Turkey; a general lack of confidence in the democratic system among countries on the continent; and corruption, which opens the door for nefarious forces to undermine democratic, market forces. The confluence of these four factors has put Europe in a dangerous position. The State of Democracy in Europe and Eurasia FOUR CHALLENGES ON DEMOCRACY FOCUS David J. Kramer is senior fellow in the Vaclav Havel Program on Human Rights and Diplomacy at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, part of Florida International University. He previously served as president of Freedom House and as assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor and deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia in the George W. Bush administration. The Authoritarian Challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime leads the campaign to undermine the very concept of democracy in Europe, the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. We saw this with Russia’s interference in the U.S. election in 2016 and elections in France, Germany, Austria and the referendum in the Netherlands; we are seeing it with Russian inter- ference inMexico’s presidential election scheduled for this July. The Kremlin uses bots and trolls in an online effort to tap into divisive, sensitive topics such as immigration and to spike debate with phony tweets and messages. For example, in January 2016 they spread a false story in Germany about a Russian-German girl who was allegedly raped by illegal immigrants. For nearly a decade, RT and Sputnik, the Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets, have been used not to promote and elevate the image of Russia, but instead to denigrate democracies in Europe and the United States, claiming that these countries are corrupt and unrespon- sive to voters’ concerns on issues such as immigration. Putin views democracies on the continent, especially those that border Russia, as a threat to the system he has in place. He especially regards popular movements by Ukrainians, Georgians and others pressing for integration with the Euro-Atlantic com- munity, greater democracy and an end to corruption as a serious challenge to the political model he has established in Russia, which depends on perpetuating the myth that the West and the