Transparency International (TI) says that as corruption levels remain “at a standstill” across the world, nearly 75 percent of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia declined or made little to no progress in the past decade, demonstrating the “vicious cycle” of increasing authoritarianism, human rights abuses, and corruption.
The year 2021 was “devastating for civil rights” across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where corrupt political leaders “repress all dissent -- from opposition parties to activists and the press,” TI Central Asia regional adviser Altynai Myrzabekova said in a statement on January 25 as the Berlin-based corruption watchdog published its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
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“While doing little to combat the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the population, governments have utilized it to further curb rights and freedoms, further entrenching authoritarianism,” Myrzabekova added.
The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption using data from 13 external sources, including the World Bank, World Economic Forum, consulting companies, and think tanks. The lower the number on its 0-100 scale, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be.
The CPI global average remained unchanged at 43 for the 10th year in a row, and two-thirds of countries scored below 50.
According to TI, countries that violate civil liberties consistently score lower on the index, and “complacency in fighting corruption exacerbates human rights abuses and undermines democracy, setting off a vicious spiral” that leads to even higher levels of corruption.
Somalia (13), Syria (13), and South Sudan (11) remain at the bottom of the index. The top countries are Denmark (88), Finland (88), and New Zealand (88), followed by Singapore and seven Western and Northern European countries.
Turkmenistan (19), Tajikistan (25), and Kyrgyzstan (27) are the lowest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a region where the average score holds at a “very low” 36.
Georgia (55), Armenia (49), and Montenegro (46) lead in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and are the only three countries in the region that score above the global average.
Several countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia “illustrate the deadly effects of corruption and authoritarianism,” with their leaders using “undemocratic practices to protect themselves from prosecution and further concentrate their wealth and power,” TI said.
For instance, Belarus (41), where strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka violently repressed nationwide protests over the presidential election in August 2020 and has clamped down on free speech and peaceful assembly, saw its CPI score drop by six points since last year.
Russia’s score remains at a low 29, while “corruption and human rights abuses remain the norm across the country,” TI said.
The government of Azerbaijan (30) also “cracked down on dissenting voices and inhibited the free press.”
Kazakhstan (37) lost one point since last year, amid allegations of corruption by former President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s family.
The protests that rocked the Central Asian country earlier this month show that it is “imperative” to address corruption in the oil and gas sector, law enforcement, and the judiciary, as well as “opening up civil society space.”
Serbia (38), where the government “maintains control by influencing the media, harassing independent critics, and holding unfair elections,” remains at its lowest score since 2012.
Elsewhere in the Western Balkans, Kosovo and North Macedonia each had a score of 39, with Bosnia-Herzegovina at 35.
As 14 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have either declined or made no significant progress over the past 10 years, five countries have significantly improved their scores: Armenia (49), Belarus (41), Moldova (36), Ukraine (32), and Uzbekistan (28).
TI called on governments to act on their anti-corruption and human rights commitments and for people across the world to join together in demanding change.
“In authoritarian contexts where control over government, business, and the media rests with a few, social movements remain the last check on power,” Daniel Eriksson, TI’s chief executive officer, said.
“It is the power held by teachers, shopkeepers, students, and ordinary people from all walks of life that will ultimately deliver accountability,” he added.
In IT’s Western Europe region, which includes all the EU’s 27 member states, 26 countries have either declined or made little to no significant progress in the last decade.
Hungary (43) has backslid as the government used the COVID-19 pandemic to “further consolidate political control and restrict rights,” the watchdog said, adding that “freedom of expression has been severely limited and the media is under threat, contributing to decreased accountability and a historic low score of 43 this year,” it said.
The country and fellow EU nations Romania (45) and Bulgaria (42) remain the worst performers in the region.