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Human Freedom Index 2016: level of freedom decreased in Eastern Europe. Ukraine drops in the ranking by record 27 positions

According to this year’s Human Freedom Index 2016 survey measuring widely understood personal and economic liberty, Eastern Europe is departing faster and faster from the western part of the continent. Amongst 17 regions covered by the survey, West European and Baltic states ranked second best in terms of the widening of freedoms compared to previous years. Eastern Europe was on the other extreme, ranking second in terms of the greatest drop in the level of freedom. The infamous record in the region is held by Ukraine whose position in the ranking dropped by 27 places.

Freedom Human Index (HDI), designed by the prestigious US research institute Cato in cooperation with the German Liberales Institut and the Canadian Fraser Institute, is the most comprehensive measure of freedoms available. The report’s authors added up a total of 79 factors (including 42 economic and 37 ones measuring personal liberty) in 159 countries. The Freedom Human Index 2016 report published this week comprises data for between 2008 and 2014. Hence, we will find out in a year’s time about how the position of particular countries changed in 2015.

The global results show that despite the hopes placed in the Arab Spring, the so-called third wave of democratisation has been halted. According to the author of democratic periodization scheme, Samuel Huntington, the third wave started in 1974 – comprising returns to democracy in countries of Latin America and then later within the Communist bloc – and has continued until the present day. It follows from the report which has been published that in recent years we have dropped in terms of personal liberties which has been compensated by a higher level of economic freedoms – hence the global average for 2008 and 2014 has remained unchanged and is 7.01 out of 10 points.

A fuller picture of the changes in recent years is provided by the fact that in 2008, 69 countries scored more than 7 points – the result which, over 6 years, shrank to 64 countries. What is more, it seems that the last two years will bring major changes in the history of liberties and provide new information. Considering the developments in Turkey (suppression of the media, mass-scale arrests after the anti-government putsch) or Russia (new law imposing more restrictions on the media, the killing of Boris Niemcov, annexation of the Crimea, war in Donbas or supporting the Assad regime in Syria) it appears that the data from 2014 will demonstrate more drops in the level of freedoms.


Ranking the 115th in terms of individual and economic liberties (6.39 points out of 10) amongst 159 countries covered by the survey, Russia was outclassed by, amongst others, most of the former Soviet Republics such as Ukraine (111.) Kirgizia (98.), Kazakhstan (96.), Tadzhikistan (83.), Moldova (69.) or Armenia (55.) 

In terms of individual liberties, where the level of the rule of law, level of protection and security as well as the freedom to gather, freedom of religion or the freedom of speech were measured, Russia ranked on the 110th place (6.13 out of 10 points). According to the ranking results, the situation is the worst in categories such as: freedom of movement within a country (0.00), political pressure and control of the media (1.5), law and regulations influencing the media (1.67), freedom to gather and demonstrate (2.50), ease to set up organisations (3.33) or criminal justice (3.6). 

Russia did a little better, ranking the 102nd (6.66 out of 10 points), in terms of economic freedoms where the variables taken into account were the ones measuring the level of market regulation, the judiciary system or the degree of freedom to trade. According to the ranking results, the Russians cannot count on independent administration of justice (3.17), impartial courts (3.42) or reliable police services (3.66). Their economic freedom is restricted also by a high level of government expenditure (3.92) and limited freedom of the flow of people and capital (3.78).


Ukraine ranked the 111th (6.61 out of 10 points) in the general compilation of individual and economic freedoms, noting a drop by 27 places.

In terms of personal freedoms, Ukraine was on the 89th place (6.81 out of 10 points), scoring the worst results in categories such as: homicides of journalists (0.00), kidnapping, conflict and terrorism (2.93), political pressure and control of the media (3.5), law and regulations influencing the media (5.33 out of 10 points) or criminal justice (4.19). 

Ukraine ranked much worse, being on the 135th position (6 out of 10 points), in terms of economic freedoms. It was preceded not only by aforementioned Russia (102nd place), but also by countries such as: Egypt (129.) or Bangladesh (121.).


Kazakhstan again found itself at the end of the ranking measuring widely understood personal liberty, occupying the 120th place. It was much better in terms of economic freedoms though. Being on the 52nd place, it was ahead of, amongst others, France (57th place), Italy (69th) or Greece (86th). The mean figure from the ranking of personal and economic freedoms ultimately allowed Kazakhstan to occupy the 96th place in the general ranking with 6.64 out of 10 points.

According to the survey, in terms of personal liberties, the grossest limitations are the laws regulating the media (0.33 out of 10 points) and the political pressure and control over mass media (1.75). Restrictions are also imposed on the freedom of association (2.5), freedom to gather and demonstrate (2.5) and the possibility to establish religious organisations (2.50). 

In terms of economic freedoms, the situation is the worst in categories such as: independent administration of justice (4.61), reliable police services (4.69) or impartial courts (4.81). 


In the global ranking of individual and economic liberties, Moldova ranked 69th with the result of 6.99 out of 10 points, getting promoted in the ranking by 8 positions. According to survey results, the Moldovans enjoy more personal than economic freedom, ranking 67th and 99th respectively (with the results 7.27 and 6.72 out of 10 points).

As regards persona liberties, the authors of the report have not managed to date to measure spheres such as freedom of association, gathering or manifestations and autonomy awarded to religious organisations. The results which are available indicate freedom of media restricted by the law and regulations (4.33) and a low level of respect for the rule of law (4.05) which is understood in the survey as the enforcement of criminal, civil and procedural justice.

Moldova also noted a low level of independence of the administration of justice (1.77), impartiality of courts (2.29), reliability and credibility of the police (3.48) and weak protection of the right of ownership (3.72) 


The survey indicates that Poles enjoy greater personal liberty than the French or the Americans. In terms of widely understood personal liberty, Poland ranks 16. (9.18 out of 10 points) amongst 159 countries included in the survey, ahead of France (27.) or the US (28.) 

We are doing much worse ranking only the 40th (7.42 out of 10 points), in terms of economic freedom. Amongst countries of our geographic latitude, we are outclassed by Georgia (5.), Ireland (also 5.), Lithuania (15.) or Estonia (19.). Interestingly, amongst the 24 indicators of the government size, legal system, level of regulation or freedom of trade, Poland is the worst in categories such as: level of government expenditure (4.88 out of 10 points) or impartiality of courts of law (3.93).

The 16th place in terms of personal liberties and the 40th in economic freedoms ranked Poland on the 21st place (8.30 out of 10 points) in the complex index measuring the level of liberty.

Ranking leaders and other major countries

The first ten in the compilation of individual and economic liberties included: Hong Kong, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Canada (6. place), UK (6.), Australia (6.), Finland (9.) and The Netherlands (10.). Worth distinguishing are also: USA (23.), China (141.), Libya (the last, 159th place).

Full report is available to download from:


Cato Institute – US research organisation established in 1947, with its seat in Washington, devoted to the promotion of principles such as free market, limited government or individual liberty.

Fraser Institute – Canadian independent research and analytical centre established in 1974, with its offices in Canada and 90 other countries and territories.

Liberales Institute – German think-tank functioning at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation headquartered in Potsdam. The Institute’s mission is to promote the ideas of liberalism and free market.