Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Freedom House Farce

Freedom House decided that Russia can no longer be called a ‘partly free’ country. In 2005 with the rating of 5.5 it became ‘not free’. That actually means that: “People in countries and territories with a rating of 6 experience severely restricted rights of expression and association, and there are almost always political prisoners and other manifestations of political terror. These countries may be characterized by a few partial rights, such as some religious and social freedoms, some highly restricted private business activity, and relatively free private discussion.” What a surprise! How comes that living in Russia I didn’t notice it! Actually I personally feel that Russia is freer today than it ever was in the last 15 years. Let’s take only 2004. Since the last year in courts there are jurors, not a judge with two side-kicks, who decide if a person is guilty or not. A search and arrest warrant is issued only by a judge but not by an attorney as it was before. More diversity comes to TV: ORT and RTR are not so pro-Kremlin biased on one hand and RenTV political shows can be compared to ‘The Nation’ magazine editorials. Access to Internet is encouraged and it becomes less and less expensive. How comes Russia is compared to Iran where even rock music is forbidden (with an exception of the ‘Queen’ because Freddy Mercury was a Persian).
At the site of ‘Freedom House’ I found the methodology of its freedom rating calculations. I tried to calculate the Russia’s rating as if I was a radical Russophobe and right-wing pro-Bush freedom monger. Even then I couldn’t calculate the rating lower than 4.5. “Unfortunately” for lower ranking Russia should forbid its citizens to leave the country or travel outside, close down EuroNews Channel or ‘Newsweek Russia’ magazines shut all opposition parties, etc. One really has to be deaf and blind to come to 5.5 rating. By the way, “Freedom House” never notices any problems with freedom in the US.
More surprises come when you look at Russia freedom rating retrospectively. According to ‘Freedom House’ the peak of Russian freedoms comes on 1992. Since then Russia is slowly sliding towards totalitarianism. 1992! My God! I couldn’t believe it! I don’t suffer from amnesia and remember very well that “freedom” in 1992. Even if we stick to the FH methodology this couldn’t be so.
1. In 1992 leaving the country was strictly limited by the authorities. In May 1992 I got German visa but still I had to apply for a Russian exit visa that was given by a special security unit at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
2. In 1992 the governors of all Russian regions were appointed by the president that didn’t need even a formal approval from any elective body. The FH stated that Putin’s decision to appoint governors was the major move from democracy. Why then in 1992 it was democratic?
3. In 1992 television and major Russian newspapers and magazines belonged to the state. Opposition newspapers like ‘Pravda’ were simply closed down. TV journalists who were critical of Yeltsin were fired.
4. In 1992 business was totally controlled by organized crime. By ‘totally’ I mean you couldn’t even start a garage sale without paying protection money to a local gangster.
5. In 1992 the country was mostly ruled not by laws but by direct Yeltsin’s decrees.
I can go on and on. If you follow FH methodology in 1992 the most optimistic freedom rating for Russia could not 5.5 or 5. Today the most pessimistic Russia freedom rating could not be lower than 4.

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