Nations in Transit 2009 - Croatia

  • Author: Petar Doric
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    30 June 2009

by Petar Doric

Capital: Zagreb
Population: 4.4 million
GNI/capita: US$15,540

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

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process4.
Civil Society3.502.752.753.
Independent Media5.003.503.503.753.753.753.754.003.754.00
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a3.503.503.503.253.50
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a3.753.753.753.753.75
Judicial Framework and Independence4.753.753.754.254.504.504.
Democracy Score4.463.543.543.793.833.753.713.753.643.71

* 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.

NOTE: 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 first year of the second mandate for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) did not go as smoothly as Prime Minister Ivo Sanader might have hoped. Throughout 2008, the government continued the country's pro-European agenda with the same slow results and excuses that have surrounded the Croatian reform process during the past decade. Strategic reform in the areas of the judiciary and corruption was overshadowed by several high-profile murders in the autumn, which illustrated the government's limitations in taming the complicated web of organized crime, government actors, and business interests. Countervailing influences – either by civil society or by the media – did not manage to substantially influence the overall reform process.

European Union (EU) integration negotiations continued during 2008 but lacked major results. The country remains poised as a former Yugoslav regional leader in its integration prospects (as well as in its level of skepticism toward EU integration) but maintains this position owing more to the lack of marked improvement by others than to its own efforts.

The one bright spot of 2008 in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration was a much-worked-for and -anticipated NATO invitation to the Bucharest Summit in April 2008. The invitation validated the efforts of security sector reform and, despite continued concern over intelligence sector oversights, represents a step forward in Croatia's democratization efforts.

National Democratic Governance. Croatia has continued to build a functioning democracy with a foreign policy centered on gaining EU and NATO membership. After half a decade of relatively progressive ruling, the moderate HDZ appears finally to have met its own limitations in fighting corruption and reforming the judicial system. The Croatian EU integration process has been slowed owing to EU concerns in these areas, despite the hyperproduction of accession-related parliamentary laws. Domestic concern over public safety in the wake of two high-profile murders further exposed the level of widespread corruption in the system and the weakness of state institutions to take appropriate measures. Accordingly, the rating for national democratic governance worsens from 3.25 to 3.50.

Electoral Process. Preparations of regulations and campaigning continued in a nontransparent manner in the lead-up to the first direct election of city mayors and county prefects, slated for April 2009. Political party financing regulations adopted during 2007 have been only partially implemented, and voter registries remain problematic in some areas of the country. Thus the electoral process rating remains at 3.25, with some concerns.

Civil Society. Civil society continues to evolve in its abilities to encourage both democratic values and values of a more nationalistic and extremist bent. Engagement in the policy process and influence in monitoring and advocating government performance continued to increase even as the power and involvement of the Catholic Church and veterans' groups remained strong. Mounting concern over youth violence was partially tempered by news of increased university enrollment. The rating for civil society remains at 2.75.

Independent Media. The public beating of one journalist and assassination of another sent a clear signal that investigative reporting on organized crime-related issues in Croatia is becoming increasingly dangerous. The closure of Feral Tribune illustrated the continued concentration of media interests on sensationalism and advertising revenues rather than on journalistic standards. While the Internet provided new outlets for media diversity, mainstream television stations, both state and commercial, did little to suggest a more diversified and quality offering of news and programming. The independent media rating worsens from 3.75 to 4.00.

Local Democratic Governance. Decentralization has made little progress in 2008. The redistribution of county-level powers to Zagreb and municipalities is ineffective in empowering local government. The first direct mayoral elections in 2009 will provide a good opportunity for stronger local government, but candidate selection and campaigns appear concentrated in centrally located decision-making bodies. The rating for local democratic governance stagnates at 3.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. Some progress has been made in judicial reform in 2008, but many of these more administrative steps were overshadowed by larger structural problems. War crimes trials continued, with some cases (such as the Ademi-Norac case) receiving international scrutiny and following international standards of professional conduct. Other cases struggled against procedural difficulties, delays, and retrials. The judicial system continues to present one of the biggest challenges for Croatia's acceptance to the EU. Croatia's judicial framework and independence rating remains at 4.25.

Corruption. Widespread corruption has hindered Croatia's transition. In 2008, violent attacks and the murders of several public figures brought to the forefront of public discussions the government's inability to successfully resolve problems related to corruption and its murky links to organized crime. Institutional efforts to push forward anticorruption strategies have made small strides, but the lack of considerable progress demonstrates the larger challenges of a deficient political will and capacity. The rating for corruption remains unchanged at 4.50.

Outlook for 2009. The first direct mayoral elections will take place in 2009. While EU negotiations are expected to be complete by 2010, Croatia's slow progress in the fight against corruption and organized crime, and in developing its judicial system, coupled with EU anxieties over Croatia's progress and its own general enlargement could mean integration timelines remain a moving target.

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.