Human Rights in the 21st Century


June 2023

The Contemporary Human Rights Situation in Central and Eastern Europe


The publication “The Contemporary Human Rights Situation in Central and Eastern Europe” is a result of shared design between the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Russia and Central Asia, office in exile, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for Central Europe and the Baltic States, and the Novum Institute from Ljubljana, Slovenia.

At the time of multiple crises across Europe and the world, we believe Europe’s communication with itself is of utmost importance. At the same time, the dialogue between cultural communities should be supported by knowledgeable information sharing and respectful debate. While the political context in the selected countries differs, the editorial team’s aim has been to stimulate an exchange of opinions within a broader European framework to examine recurring patterns and identify common challenges.

The articles in this publication inform and update on certain aspects of the human rights situation in 7 European countries: Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

The authors analyse specific views of the contemporary human rights situation. Each had the freedom to focus on the problems they regard to be pressing in their country. The publication presents a capture of the human rights agenda written by experts with diverse backgrounds: academic research, cultural sphere, political analysis, human rights law, and public activism. We also asked the authors to reflect upon some practical recommendations for the international human rights community tackling the discussed issues and challenges. What unites them is their belief in the utmost value of individual rights and freedoms as a fundamental part of the modern world and the basis of individual security and welfare.

Human rights are the cornerstone of European integration and one of the world’s most important values, its democratic heritage, and its conscience. Their protection sets a high standard by which we judge the extent of our generosity, the depth of our compassion, and the breadth of our humanity. Therefore, the contemporary situation should also command us to think, again and again, since apparently every new generation has to live through hardships to experience and eventually try to understand the importance of humanity, individual dignity and solidarity among people and nations.



About the articles:

The invitation was extended to 7 authors. The result, as with all writing, must speak for itself. We can only commend the authors for their contributions and their generosity in making them available.

We are certain the publication has not exhausted all angles, arguments or data concerning the current human rights situation, nevertheless, it offers a tool for further discussion and dialogue between individuals, interested groups and communities.

Tigran Amiryan (Armenia) focuses on the issue of cultural rights that are most often infringed in Armenia and are poorly protected by the state. This includes: the rights of the LGBT+ community and women’s rights in the cultural sphere and in the context of access to culture, the issue of public space and urban transformations, with frequent violations of citizens’ rights to possess and freely use urban space, the issue of cultural heritage, which is constantly a matter of concern due to the military conflicts with Azerbaijan and, finally, the colonial attitude of Russia and challenges that came with the recent Russian migrants’ wave.

Mikalaj Packajeu (Belarus) draws attention to the importance of taking into account the local context of human rights problems in order to find most effective solutions. The author stresses violent breaches of rights targeted at persons due to their preference for using the Belarusian language, which may give rise to a major humanitarian crisis in Belarus in the context of the war unleashed by the Russian government in Ukraine. Namely, he points to the impact of the war context that created ‘legitimate’ excuses for the Belarusian political regime to completely deprive citizens of their freedoms and personal protection by introducing martial law or the ‘counter-terrorist operation regime’ in violation of the country’s constitution.

In Bosnia and Hercegovina, the government is struggling with the Dayton Peace Agreement. As Nedim Hogić notes, the human rights situation is marked by a number of ongoing issues, including discrimination against minority groups, such as Roma and LGBTQ+ people, and limited access to justice, especially for victims of war crimes and human rights abuses. Significant domestic factors also exist that produce human rights challenges, such as the lack of well-organised and independent civil society, consequences of post-war emigration, domestic organised crime and corruption. As Bosnia and Hercegovina is still facing the aftermath of the conflict in the 1990s, there are ongoing challenges with promoting reconciliation and building a stable, democratic society that respects human rights and gender equality. Hogić also puts forward some recommendations to consider, for instance, to start a countrywide dialogue to change the existing constitutional text, or stronger support for civil society.

While the Hungarian government is continuing to build an “illiberal state,” and the European Parliament has adopted a resolution that Hungary has become an “electoral autocracy”, some of the recent developments in the country are addressed by Erik Uszkiewicz. Out of many breaches and restrictions of human rights, especially on the freedom of the press, Erik highlights media concentration, and disinformation: “…disinformation is very prevalent, but it cannot be attributed to external interference… governmental disinformation is strategically used to further domestic political aims” (Bayer et al.,2021). The democratic public sphere and academic freedom are also under pressure. One example is the banning of gender studies in the late 2010s, as the government launched a campaign against gender studies, claiming they are “too liberal” and serve no purpose in society. Author also critically analyses the treatment of minorities, such as Romani community, LGBTQI+ group, refugees and migrants. Worrying is also the crackdown on NGOs and civil society organizations that promote human rights.

Michal Tęzca stresses that the changes in Poland since the right-wing populist Law and Justice (Pis) party took power in 2015, are visible to the “naked eye”. He focuses on the increasing restrictions of reproductive rights and discrimination against minority groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, by the government that has become a symbol of the political struggle for power. The author makes it clear that the ongoing devastation of human rights in Poland is only possible with the “…politicization of the courts and the Church as a source of inspiration…” which enacts mechanisms of interactions and dependence between the government, judicial reform and the clergy.

Elena Lukyanova (Russia) touches upon the very essence of human rights protection after the events of February 24, 2022. The imperialist war led by Russia has drastically changed the entire human rights discourse established over the past half a century, with the right to peace and the right to humanitarian assistance gaining highest priority. The author draws attention to the most vital questions that the human rights community faces, including the issue of assessing states’ good faith in fulfilling their international obligations linked to the breach of human rights and freedoms and the emerging need to develop dedicated criteria to identify mock democracies combining democratic governance with authoritarian rule.

Eskender Bariiev (Ukraine) has developed recommendations aimed at preventing and minimizing the negative impacts of the actions of the Russian occupying authorities in Crimea. More specifically, the author examines Crimean practices used in the Ukrainian territories occupied after the start of a full-scale aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, including war crimes and human rights violations.

by Anna Ayvazyan and Sebastjan Pikl