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How Freedom is Won: From Civic Struggle to Durable Democracy
Adrian Karatnycky and Peter Ackerman, Freedom House
May 24, 2005

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In recent months, the worldwide struggle for democracy has gained increased prominence in international affairs
In late March 2005, mass demonstrations helped topple Kyrgyzstan's authoritarian president. On March 14th, approximately one million Lebanese took to the streets in a remarkable display of nonviolent civic power to press for democracy and demand an end to Syria's military presence in their country.

In November-December 2004, the international community was surprised by the scale and perseverance of nonviolent civic resistance in Ukraine, as millions of citizens successfully pressed for free and fair elections in what became known as the Orange Revolution. But Ukraine's Orange Revolution was only the latest in a series of successful "people power" revolutions that include the Philippines in 1986; Chile and Poland, in 1988; Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia in 1989; the Baltic States in 1991; South Africa in 1994; Serbia and Peru in 2000; and Georgia in 2003. The proliferation and success of such civic resistance movements in effecting political transitions is spawning increased international discussion of the mechanisms by which democracy replaces tyranny.

World leaders are taking notice. In his January 2005 inaugural address, U.S. President George W. Bush focused on global trends that are contributing to the spread of freedom and democracy. That speech and statements by other leaders, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the European Union's Foreign Affairs Commissioner Javier Solana, have helped place on the front burner the question of how best to promote democratic change and to build the infrastructure of stable democratic life.

Growing international discourse about democratization is not a theoretical exercise. In the last three decades, dozens of corrupt, authoritarian, autocratic, one-party, and military regimes have fallen. As empires, multinational states, and colonial systems have receded, new states have emerged. Dictatorships collapse and new states and new democracies arise by a variety of means.

In other cases, transitions are generated by a combination of domestic civic pressure and reformers within the powerholding elite. Sometimes powerholders switch sides and lend their support to an increasingly powerful civic movement. Political liberalization is also initiated from the top down, by formerly authoritarian powerholders who seek to avert a social explosion, promote growth, or avoid international sanctions. At times, political rights and civil liberties advance through the actions of outside forces, including military and peacekeeping interventions by other states, regional organizations, and the broader international community. In a world in which tyranny is facing increased resistance, these factors and the long-term outcomes they produce deserve increased analysis and understanding.

Data for this study is based in part on original research and in part on narratives and political rights and civil liberties ratings taken from Freedom in the World, which has been produced annually for 33 years by Freedom House. The Freedom in the World data set reflects numerous political transitions and dozens of new democracies and "Free" polities that have come into existence since the survey was launched. According to more than three decades of survey data, the number of Free states, which ensure a broad array of political rights and civil liberties, has expanded from 43 to 88-an average of nearly 1.5 per year-while the number of Not Free states, where repression is widespread, has declined from 69 to 49, or by nearly 2 every 3 years.

In addition, statistical testing of the data for the effect of time on the scores did not produce any dramatic improvements for freedom. This suggests that in a preponderance of successful transitions, the most dramatic improvements in freedom tend to come quickly-in the first years of a transition, rather than slowly and incrementally over a long period of time, underscoring the importance of the nature of the civic and political forces that emerge as important actors in the pre-transition period.

This study examines a large array of long-term data about political openings, transitions from authoritarianism, political rights, and civil liberties in order to better understand how key characteristics of the period prior to a transition correlate with the eventual outcome for freedom and democratic practice. The report looks at the pre-transition environment in 67 countries where transitions from authoritarianism occurred, and assesses and codes them according to three key characteristics: a) the sources of violence that were present prior to the political opening; b) the degree of civic (bottom-up) versus powerholder (top-down) influence on the process; and c) the strength and cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition.

The study then correlates these three transition characteristics with the degree of freedom that exists today, some years after the transition. It does so by employing the ratings used in the Freedom in the World survey according to its broad categories of Free (countries where there is compliance with a wide array of political rights and civil liberties), Partly Free (countries with some significant limitations on these rights and liberties), and Not Free (countries where basic political rights and civil liberties are widely and systematically denied). It also correlates them to the post-transition state of freedom as reflected in the survey's nuanced numerical ratings for political rights and civil liberties. The numerical ratings used in the Freedom House survey are assigned on a 1-to-7 scale, with 1 representing a high level of democratic political practices and effective adherence to fundamental civil liberties, and 7 representing the absence of all political rights and massive and systematic human rights violations. For the purposes of this study, we have taken each country's scores for political rights and civil liberties and generated a combined average, again with 1 representing best practices and 7 the worst and most repressive setting for basic rights and liberties.

Each country in which a transition has occurred over the last 3 decades is evaluated in each of the three categories and accompanied by a short narrative that describes the salient events in the period leading up to the transition. A detailed methodology is included as an appendix to the report.

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