European Democracies ‘Under Strain’ Due to COVID-19: Report

The New York-based Freedom House watchdog organisation says in its latest annual report, published on Wednesday, that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed European democracies of all political types under "severe strain".

During the pandemic, governments "repeatedly resorted to excessive surveillance, discriminatory restrictions on freedoms like movement and assembly, and arbitrary or violent enforcement of such restrictions by police and non-state actors", says the 'Freedom in the World 2021' report.

"Leaders confronted hard choices, postponing elections and locking down cities, and their decisions were implemented imperfectly: enforcement of restrictions on movement, for example, often discriminated against marginalised groups, including immigrants in France and Roma in Bulgaria," the report adds.

The 2021 report rates all the countries in the Western Balkans as 'partly free', as Freedom House did in its assessment last year.

Noah Bouyon, a research analysist at Freedom House, told BIRN that freedoms declined slightly in some Western Balkan countries, but that the picture was mixed.

In Serbia, freedoms declined specifically because of the pandemic, Bouyon said.

"We were concerned about the instrumentalisation of restrictions ahead of parliamentary elections and then when the public protested the reintroduction of some very harsh measures, there was a great deal of police violence, which we were concerned about," he explained.

Slight declines were observed in Kosovo, Albania and Bulgaria as well as Serbia, while slight improvements were seen in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Moldova. No change was registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Romania.

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic, Polish PM...

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