Nations in Transit 2009 - Serbia

  • Author: Slobodan Markovich
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    30 June 2009

by Slobodan Markovich

Capital: Belgrade
Population: 7.4 million
GNI/capita: US$9,830

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process5.504.753.753.753.503.
Civil Society5.
Independent Media5.754.503.503.253.503.253.253.503.753.75
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a4.004.003.754.004.00
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a3.753.753.753.753.75
Judicial Framework and Independence5.755.504.
Democracy Score5.675.044.003.883.833.753.713.683.793.79

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTES: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

The year 2008 represented a serious test for Serbian democracy with pro-democratic parties narrowly winning the presidential and parliamentary elections. By the last quarter of the year, the opposition, consisting mostly of nationalistic parties, fragmented to a surprisingly high degree. Previous political division between pro and anti-Milosevic parties has disappeared since what had been left of Milosevic's party joined the democratic block, and the main opponent of reforms after 2000, the Serbian Radical Party, split and its splinter, the Serbian Progressive Party, has advocated a surprisingly pro-European agenda. The party of former prime minister Kostunica (DSS) refused to enter into negotiations with the new coalition at all levels and eliminated the last traces of hope for a democratic coalition. A "pro-European" coalition was formed in August and now includes a coalition partner from the Milosevic era.

Pro-western president Boris Tadic was re-elected in February with the smallest margin in recent Serbian parliamentary history. This victory triggered a series of unexpected electoral victories for the Democratic Party in spite of the fact that the explosive atmosphere created after the proclamation of Kosovo's independence threatened to completely undermine chances for a pro-European government.

The independence of Kosovo was a key political issue and Serbia remained determined to oppose it through instruments of international law. A compromise between Serbia and the EU on the EULEX mission was achieved at the end of November 2008.

The economy remained relatively stable. However, signs of decline became visible in the last quarter of 2008, amid fears that the effects of the global financial crisis might seriously affect Serbia in the first half of 2009.

National Democratic Governance. The year 2008 included the proclamation of Kosovo's independence and elections at all levels. In spite of difficult moments for pro-European parties in Serbia they succeeded in winning all elections and found a modus operandi with the European Union regarding Kosovo. The main opposition, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, split in September, and on October 10, a new party, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), was registered with a more moderate program. As the year ended with the surprising consolidation of the pro-European parties, marginalization of the DSS, split of the SRS, and a stabile political system, Serbia's rating holds steady at 4.00.

Electoral Process. Elections were held at all levels with the standards of free and fair elections. In January and February, two rounds of presidential elections were held with a narrow victory for pro-Western candidate Boris Tadic. On May 21, parliamentary and local elections were held. Because of the expected implementation of by-laws and the antiquated voter registration system, the slight progress made in the electoral process is not enough to raise Serbia's rating from 3.25.

Civil Society. The Law on Associations, which regulates the legal position of domestic and foreign associations, was not enacted as expected by the end of the year. Cooperation between NGOs and the state has advanced and the NGO community is increasingly seen as a viable partner. Due to the lack of enactment of the new Law on Associations Serbia's rating for civil society remains at 2.75.

Independent Media. The domination of TV stations over print media continued in 2008, and tabloids did not cease their coverage of sensitive issues in an irresponsible way. The election of a new editor-in-chief of Politika received media attention because of significant government involvement. No significant changes warranted a ratings change in Serbia's independent media, thus the rating remains at 3.75.

Local Democratic Governance. The regionalization of Serbia will remain a project for years to come. In 2008, the Statute of Voivodina was accepted by the regional assembly, but the Parliament of Serbia did not confirm it by the end of 2008. The government has taken steps to address the over four million citizens who have no midlevel representation between their municipalities and the central government, and the problematic voting procedure for local councilors, which requires voters to vote for political parties instead of individuals. Because important reforms were initiated or announced in 2008 to address these issues but were not implemented, Serbia's rating remains at 3.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The Judiciary remains one of the key problems in Serbia's transition. In 2008, a comprehensive set of judicial laws, which address the organization of courts, the election of judges, the formation of the High Judicial Council, the powers of the public prosecutor, and the administrative power and jurisdiction of courts, was implemented. The inability to measure the effectiveness of these laws before 2010 means Serbia's rating remains 4.50.

Corruption. Widespread corruption is a key problem in Serbia as identified by EU monitors. The Law on Confiscation of Property Originating from Criminal Act and the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency were adopted to curb widespread corruption. Because one third of state officials do not submit details on their assets, despite being legally required to so, and the access to information on government bodies meant to be accessible to all as required by the Law on Free Access to Information is hindered by improper classification and problematic access procedures, Serbia's rating remains 4.50.

Outlook for 2009. The unexpected stability of the Serbian government at the end of 2008 is likely to continue in 2009 if not affected by the insufficient pace of further association with the EU, conflict with Kosovo, or the declining economy. Association with the EU is connected to cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Kosovo issue will remain a key political concern. The division of Kosovo in the UNMIK and EULEX controlled areas is likely to bring short-term stability, but not a permanent solution. After years of very high GDP growth, Serbia will see an economic recession in 2009, and it is unlikely that the various social benefits promised by the new government will be met as a consequence of unfavorable economic trends.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.