Vucic: I will ask assistance from the US for abolishment of taxes (TV Prva)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has told TV Prva that he will meet with Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, and that he will have bilateral meetings with other officials, but not with Hashim Thaci. He says he had recently seen Thaci at a gathering in Tirana, with whom he had a fierce debate and that he isn’t going to Bratislava to meet with him. He says that Serbia’s behavior is always constructive and that it wishes to discuss a compromise solution of the Kosovo problem. He says he is in a good mood, because he is freed from any guilt for what is occurring today in Kosovo and Metohija. He says he will not accept the offer for Pristina to withdraw taxes and then for Serbia to have to make some gesture. He says that Ramush Haradinaj will try to cheat Angela Merkel today by telling her that he will establish the Community of Serb Municipalities in the form of an NGO, but that he will not mention the taxes. “This is his pointless game, he knows nothing will come out of this since Serbia will not accept this,” Vucic, adding that Merkel also knows this. Vucic assesses that the UN Security Council is always important over the status issue, but that essentially it will not resolve anything. “Essentially, in the political sense, Paris is far more important, but will it occur at all? Precisely because it is far more important I am not sure it will occur,” said Vucic. He says that Merkel and Macron have similar goals for Western Balkans, but the essence is that they cannot resolve this problem. “This is why Haradinaj will try to offer something else (in Berlin) in order to take off taxes from the agenda so they can convince Serbia to accept all that and to appear in Paris,” said Vucic. Vucic notes that he advocates delineation with the Albanians, which he courageously and openly proposed, because he considered this is the healthiest thing for Serbia and the Serbs, but that the citizens opposed this and he understood this message. “How can I push for something if you need to pass the decision on delineation, you need to have a referendum, and I can receive 20 percent for this. Do I need to say, like it was the case in North Macedonia where 35 percent took part in the referendum, that it was a success? I will not do something like that and a referendum cannot pass in Serbia that way,” said Vucic. He announced that parliamentary, provincial and local elections will be held next spring, in March or April, and underlined that elections will be regular. Asked whether a referendum would be held along with the elections, Vucic said that, if he would have something to offer to citizens he would gladly do so, but said this was not the case.
Moscow launches investigation into beating of Krasnoshchekov, expects Serbia to do the same (Tanjug/RTV)
Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova has stated today in Belgrade that her country’s competent bodies have launched an investigation into the recent beating of their citizen, UNMIK member, Mikhail Krasnoshchekov, during the recent police operation in northern Kosovo. She voiced hope that the same would be done by the Serbian colleagues from whom, as she said, expects assistance in gathering evidence and establishing a criminal act by all those who are responsible for this incident. The fact that those who were beating Krasnoshchekov knew that he was a Russian citizen speaks of the fact that at issue is cynicism of the Pristina institutions. She assessed that members of the Kosovo police had acted on that occasion against all international norms. Deputy speaker of the Serbian parliament Djordje Milicevic has stated that what occurred in northern Kosovo and Metohija deserves condemnation and assessed that this was endangerment of human norms and international law. According to him, things occurring today in Kosovo and Metohija are the peak of political madness that nobody understands because representatives of Pristina authorities have lost compass and ground under their feet. “I believe their mentors and those whose child they are have some red lines and I believe that these so-called Pristina authorities will very soon cross, if they haven’t already crossed, this red line,” said Milicevic.
Kosovo Serb delegation meets Hellbach in Berlin (Beta)
Kosovo Serb political leaders met with Foreign Ministry office for south-eastern Europe chief Christian Hellbach in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the security situation in Kosovo and what they said are increasing tensions caused by decision taken by the authorities in Pristina, the Serb List said in a statement. Serb List leader Goran Rakic headed a party delegation which told Hellbach that the recent Kosovo police operation which included the ROSU special unit was dangerous because it could result in that practice continuing with the aim of intimidating the Serbs. The statement quotes the delegation as saying that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue needs to continue after the 100 percent taxes are revoked. The Serb List delegation is scheduled to meet with an advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel during the two-day visit.
SzS: Experts’ recommendations are platform for talks with government (Beta)
The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) has adopted the report of the Experts’ Team of the “One out of the Five Million” protest and that document will be the platform for their negotiations with the government about conditions for fair elections, the leader of the People’s Party Vuk Jeremic stated. The Experts’ Team wrote in the report that there were currently no conditions for fair elections in Serbia, nor media freedom, the SzS leader Janko Veselinovic told reporters. In their conclusions, the team proposed the replacement of the minister for information and changing the composition of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media and the editorial policy of state-owned television stations. Veselinovic said that the Alliance would present the report of the experts, who have no party affiliation, to the state and international institutions as a starting platform. Calling on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to sit at the negotiating table or fulfill the conditions of the experts’ team, Veselinovic stated that the SzS was ready for the talks. To the question about how the SzS would react if the authorities failed to fulfill the demands, Veselinovic replied that all mechanisms of peaceful pressure on the authorities were possible.
One of the SzS leaders Nebojsa Zelenovic stressed that the opposition would not participate in any election that has been rigged in advance.
Dodik: Meeting with Lavrov will be opportunity to discuss cooperation between the RS, B&H and Russia, as well as regional and global issues (ATV)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic went to Russia where they will take part in the upcoming International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg. Dodik and Cvijanovic will hold a number of meetings in Saint Petersburg and take part in the Economic Forum. Speaking about the meetings he and Cvijanovic will have during their stay in Russia, Dodik said that Cvijanovic and he will hold the most important meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday. “Later in the day, we will meet with the Governor of Saint Petersburg and the Foreign Minister of Qatar where we will discuss cooperation and certain investment projects,” Dodik said. Dodik said that the Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg is one of the biggest world forums which is being held under the patronage of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Dodik noted that the Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg is attended by a number of statesmen and that Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend this year’s Forum in Saint Petersburg. “This gives special significance to this Forum having in mind the fact that China is the fastest-growing economy in the world that global trends and global economy depend on,” Dodik said. He added that upon his arrival to Russia, he held a number of meetings with representatives of banks and companies on Wednesday. “We used this day to see how we can cooperate with the Russian VTB bank which is the second largest bank in Russia. Dodik noted that the meeting with Lavrov will be an opportunity to discuss cooperation between the RS, i.e. B&H and Russia, as well as regional and global issues. “Of course, I will inform the Minister (Lavrov) about the deadlocks in formation of the authorities at the B&H level and about the new deadlock in functioning of B&H, joint institutions. That of course goes to the detriment of the overall rating of B&H in the world. Instead of discussing important investment and some other issues here, I have to waste time explaining why someone decided to put some issues which, in that someone’s opinion, are important on the agenda and to ignore formation of the authorities,” Dodik underlined. Dodik added that Cvijanovic and he will also meet with the management of ‘Gazprom’ “where we want to rehabilitate our earlier agreements on constructing a pipeline which goes from Bijeljina towards Banja Luka, Prijedor and all other places in the RS.” “The RS is not only ready, it has to become a part of the project of gasification,” Dodik said.
Izetbegovic holds telephone meeting with Erdogan (Dnevni avaz)
SDA leader and speaker of the House of Peoples of the B&H parliament Bakir Izetbegovic held a telephone meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday and discussed the issues of importance for the two countries after exchanging Eid greetings. Izetbegovic informed Erdogan about the process of authority formation in B&H and underlined that SDA is ready to support the Chairman-designate of the Council of Ministers of B&H who is going to respect the Constitution and the laws of B&H. Erdogan invited Izetbegovic to a meeting scheduled to take place later this month in Istanbul, during which next steps in the implementation of the Sarajevo-Belgrade highway construction will be discussed, as well as the economic relations between B&H and Turkey.
Radmanovic discusses authority formation with Wigemark (Dnevni avaz)
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives of the B&H parliament Nebojsa Radmanovic met with Head of the EU Delegation to B&H and EU Special Representative Lars-Gunnar Wigemark on Wednesday. The two officials concluded it is necessary to form the Council of Ministers of B&H as soon as possible in order to start with the implementation of the recommendations issued by the European Commission, so B&H can meet the conditions for EU candidate status as soon as possible.
Crnadak: I discussed cooperation and importance of authority formation with Palmer (Dnevni avaz)
B&H Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak is paying a visit to Washington, where he already met with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer. In a statement for the daily, Crnadak said that he had very open conversation with Palmer. “We absolutely agreed that the authorities in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) must be formed as soon as possible, and that it is necessary for Pristina to abolish the 100 customs on products from B&H and Serbia in order to resume dialogue and start improving atmosphere in the region,” said Crnadak and added that the relationship between B&H and the US is excellent. “Our partnership with Washington is very important to us, as well as their support to reforms and democratization of the society here. We are territorially and economically small country, but the US respects our contribution to the Global Coalition against ISIS.” Commenting the fact that the blockade of the parliament of B&H makes it impossible to adopt the laws already passed in the Council of Ministers of B&H, Crnadak said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of B&H continues to work in accordance with the existing laws and the Foreign Policy Strategy of B&H. Crnadak announced that Palmer is planning to pay an official visit to B&H again soon. Also, he noted that they did not discuss the issue of returnees from foreign battlefields.
Dodik: Bosniak political elite cannot stand that RS exists and that there is Serb political will (TV1)
Chairman of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that the Bosniak political elite cannot stand the fact that RS exists and that there is Serb political will. When it comes to formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM), Dodik underlined that he will not accept blackmail and accused the Bosniak politicians of causing delays in formation of authorities through stories pertaining to the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). He reiterated that the RS will not change its stance on military neutrality.
Dzaferovic: Croatia should respond to B&H’s protest note regarding ‘Salafi’ affair (BHT1)
A recent report of the Croatian Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) mentions Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) a couple of times and not in a good way. Namely, a part of the report is dedicated to the alleged attempts of recruiting members of the Salafi Movement from B&H for the purpose of smuggling of weapons in the Islamic religious facilities. The reporter noted that by false and distorted news, Croatia is trying to present B&H as a country unworthy of the EU and the NATO. Although the report does not directly mention B&H, it is clear that the SOA refers to allegations of some media and B&H Minister of Security Dragan Mektic. Other parts of the report mention corruption, organized crime, deficiencies in the rule of the law area, bad economic situation, strengthened activities of foreign actors, especially countries that oppose spreading of the Euro-Atlantic integration in this area, and radical Islamist and nationalistic forces. B&H officials did not deal too much with these remarks and judging by a statement of member of B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, they do not plan to do this, as long as B&H Presidency does not receive an explanation from Croatia that they owe to B&H. According to Dzaferovic, he expects an answer to a protest note that the Presidency sent to Croatia due to numerous abuses that were committed towards citizens of B&H, who resided in Croatia, and different conditioning, including the one on cooperation with the Croatian intelligence agencies.
The Croat representative to the Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, too accused Croatia on Wednesday. He told the Sarajevo-based Patria agency that Croatian police were sending all illegal migrants to B&H, including some that had not come from B&H, and in that way “amassing” them in the country. He blamed the HDZ B&H party for the deteriorated situation with illegal migrations in the country, saying its personnel is in the most responsible positions in the border police.
HDZ B&H has absolute influence on B&H’s border police and instead of the border police protecting the B&H-Serbia border, where the majority of migrants are entering the country, the border police are energetically protecting the B&H-Croatia border and that is why we have the situation where migrants can relatively easily enter B&H but can’t get out. We are of the impression that our neighbors are deliberately concentrating migrants in B&H, Komsic said.
Montenegro has allies always willing to help (CDM)
Two years of NATO membership have confirmed that we have strengthened security and safety of our country, contributed to the overall stability of our region and created prerequisites for development and better life for our citizens. We can be proud of the fact that Montenegro is among the most powerful world democracies, said Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic on the occasion of celebrating two years of NATO membership. “For the first time we’ve got the chance to safeguard and promote the values we naturally cherish, together with 28 allies of the Alliance. Without stability, there can’t be progress and every citizen of the Balkans knows that. Citizens of Montenegro should be proud of having the role of NATO ally in global challenges that are present in every corner of the planet. That’s the best part of Montenegrin traditions – we are always there where our partners need us. Today we have allies willing to help us any time,” said Markovic. He added that NATO membership was more than just military alliance as it contributed to increase in foreign investments and greater number of tourists visiting Montenegro. “NATO membership is in direct correlation with the investments indicators and records set in tourism. I believe that even those who opposed Montenegro’s NATO membership see now that NATO membership goes with EU membership. With social progress and transformation which is taking place on a daily basis, Montenegro is getting closer to it,” said Markovic. “Montenegro is a reliable ally of the Euro-Atlantic security and, at the same time, it has benefits from strong security guarantees that NATO membership brings,” said for Pobjeda the spokesperson of the Alliance Mrs Oana Lungescu. Lungescu points out that Montenegro has been NATO ally and reliable collaborator for Euro-Atlantic security for a long time. “First, Montenegro was our partner and then, in 2017, it became full NATO Member State. Through its contribution to NATO mission in Afghan National Army Trust Fund, Montenegro assists in preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for international terrorism. Montenegro is constantly encouraging the development of stability in the WB within our KFOR mission in Kosovo and is planning to deploy its staff in our training mission in Iraq,” said Lungescu. NATO spokesperson points out that Montenegro has developed a clear plan to spend 2% of GDP for the purposes of defense. “Montenegro is, therefore, appreciated and committed NATO ally and it has many benefits form the membership. For example, Air Policing mission carried out by Italy and Greece ensures the safety of air space of Montenegro,” adds Lungescu. There’s a NATO Trust Fund in Montenegro which helps destroy more than 400 tons of surplus ammunition.
“Security is the foundation of prosperity, and the stability created thanks to NATO membership has contributed to Montenegrin economy. Ever since it joined NATO, foreign investments from ally states have doubled. NATO membership has been beneficial for Montenegro, entire region and NATO,” concluded Longescu.
Zaev: Germans fear my friend Edi Rama could initiate unification with Kosovo, I do not believe in those things (Republika)
“The European Commission’s report on North Macedonia is the most positive so far and says that everyone, without exception, agrees that the country should start accession negotiations,” said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Brussels, adding that his government made significant efforts and took great political risk in the process of the adoption of the Prespa Agreement, which required a two-thirds majority. Hence, the risk of MPs, who were promised that the vote for the Prespa Agreement and constitutional changes would mean opening the EU doors, losing confidence in the government. The scenarios for the upcoming EU ministerial meetings, Zaev said, are the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania at best, not opening negotiations with none of these countries, which is the worst option, or opening negotiations with Macedonia and postponing the decision on Albania for later. The prime minister stressed that the Netherlands and France are more reserved to opening negotiations with Albania, but also that the Germans fear Albanian threats that this would lead to instability in the region, especially in Kosovo. They think that if they open negotiations with North Macedonia, a problem will be created if Albania is left and that it could have an impact on Kosovo, they fear threats from my friend Edi Rama for possible border changes or unification with Kosovo, but I do not believe in those things because it will mean a setback of at least ten years for Albania if they do such a thing, nobody wants to do such a thing, the Macedonian prime minister told reporters.
Zaev: Government may collapse if there is no date for accession talks with the EU this summer (Nezavisen vesnik)
Any possible delay of the decision for a date for start of negotiations by the EU could put the government at risk and put nationalist forces in power again, said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
He was speaking Wednesday in Brussels to a selected group of foreign journalists as regards the voting in Germany’s Bundestag, which largely impacts the setting of a date for EU negotiations.
The Bundestag should green lit any decision involving the EU’s enlargement. After Berlin approves a decision on 28 June, the EU ministers could agree on a final date by mid-July at a summit in Brussels. Any possible delay puts the government at risk, according to Zaev. “The German Bundestag must send a message – if no decision is made this week, most likely there will be a decision by late June. If there’s nothing by the end of the month, we’ll have to wait for the Council of the EU in October, which means the Bundestag will vote in September. There’s a risk that we could lose our majority in parliament, because definitively we’ve done everything we could,” the PM said. This year’s European Commission report ‘is the best the country has ever had,’ according to him. “Everyone agrees the country should start negotiations. My government has made vital efforts and took a major political risk in the process implemented for the Prespa Agreement to be adopted, which required a 2/3 majority. Hence the risk, namely the MPs who were promised that their vote in favor of the Prespa Agreement and the constitutional changes would open the doors of the EU, might lose any trust they have in the government.”
Even if Zaev manages to restore his mandate, it’s almost certain that snap elections should be called. The whole process threatens to increase political instability, putting at risk the implementation of European reforms. Asked by AFP’s correspondent if there’s a risk of pro-Russian and nationalist parties coming in power, Zaev said it wouldn’t be ruled out if the EU failed to deliver. “No decision [for date] will greatly disappoint our citizens and nationalist forces see hope in their disappointment, because there will be voters, who could support nationalist and radical forces. This is no good for North Macedonia, it’s no good for the region, as well,” Zaev stated, adding: The country has done everything it was asked to do and we’ve been waiting for the doors to open for 15 years. The upcoming EU ministerial meetings involve three scenarios – opening of negotiations with both North Macedonia and Albania, the best-case scenario; no decision for start of talks, the worst-case scenario; and opening of negotiations with North Macedonia first, and with Albania at a later date, Zaev said. According to the PM, the Netherlands and France are more skeptical regarding the opening of talks with Albania, whereas Germany is concerned that leaving Albania without a date could increase instability in the region, especially in Kosovo, and reignite speculation about land swap. “The reshuffle process is under way, less than two-thirds of the government will be changed and I also plan to dismiss people from 20-30 managerial posts in some of the largest state institutions. But, there again, perhaps I might be replaced by the Council of the EU,” Zaev noted. He said he had put the government reshuffle on hold because of the risk that the government might fall if the EU didn’t reach a decision regarding a date.
The name change was not a condition for enlargement, but only for NATO membership (Republika)
EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said last week that the EU now faces North Macedonia, which resolved the name dispute with Greece. But the Austrian “Die Presse” newspaper writes, citing a European diplomat, that that argument is weak. The name change has never been a condition for enlargement, but only for NATO membership, the European diplomat said, adding that the reform process in Macedonia and Albania does not go well. Die Presse reported Wednesday that several EU member states are against the start of membership negotiations for Macedonia and Albania. According to the paper, EU ambassadors will convey this message to EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn at the regular weekly briefing. As the decision comes with a consensus of the 28 member states, it is ruled out that the two Western Balkan countries will make a step forward towards the EU, the paper said. The paper also says that even the latest visit by Zoran Zaev to Brussels changed nothing. France and the Netherlands are the main opponents to the opening of accession talks for both countries.
Basha: Despite the crisis in the country, everything will be done to open the European path of Albania (Radio Tirana)
Chairman of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, during a visit to Berlin, had a meeting with the Vice Chancellor Angela Merkel, Joachim Bertele. During the meeting, Basha emphasized that despite the crisis in the country, everything will be done to open the European path of Albania. The opposition leader stressed that it is time to stop all politicians linked to crime, because according to him, they are a threat to Albania’s European perspective.” The future of Albania and the Western Balkans is the EU. Gratitude for Germany’s commitment and support in the process of Albania’s EU integration, but also of the intact preservation of Kosovo’s territorial integrity” said Basha. Now is the time to stop corrupt and crime-related politicians who for their own interests are threatening the European perspective and peace and stability in the Western Balkans,” Basha stated.
Balla meetings with the Bundestag MPs on Albania’s negotiations opening with EU (Radio Tirana)
Messages have been sent from Germany to the Albanian opposition for participation in the electoral process. During the meeting with the chairman of the socialist parliamentary group Taulant Balla, Mark Hauptmann, a member of the German delegation at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, praised the progress of the Justice Reform as a condition already met for the continuation of Albania’s European path to the next stage. Balla held a meeting with Mr. Josip Juratovic (SPD) Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Southeast Europe in the Bundestag. As a very good connoisseur of the Western Balkans, he underscored that the Political warfare should only take place in parliament. “I am a Christian and my respect for Parliament is as sacred as respect for the Church. Those who do these acts and violent protests do not want Albania in the EU. I have said it even for similar cases in other Balkan countries, a party may be against a party that is in the Government, but it cannot be against its own national interest.”
Meanwhile, in meetings with Mr. Nicholas Lobel and Mr. Axel Muller, Balla discussed the procedures that the German Bundestag will follow to review the decision for the opening of negotiations. Muller appreciated the tasks fulfilled by Albania and North Macedonia set since June last year by the European Council. There is also a positive assessment here in the Bundestag regarding the start of talks in 2019. The Chairman of the Socialist Parliamentary Group Taulant Balla stated that the purpose of the meetings with the Bundestag MPs and representatives of the German government is the commitment to the positive unconditional recommendation of the European Commission to kick off the membership talks between Albania and the European Union and to review this recommendation by the German Bundestag.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
Freedom House Report on Serbia
Serbia is a parliamentary democracy with competitive multiparty elections, but in recent years the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has steadily eroded political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on independent media, the political opposition, and civil society organizations. Despite these trends, the country has continued to move toward membership in the European Union (EU).
Status Change Explanation:
Serbia’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to deterioration in the conduct of elections, continued attempts by the government and allied media outlets to undermine independent journalists through legal harassment and smear campaigns, and President Aleksandar Vučić’s de facto accumulation of executive powers that conflict with his constitutional role.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN 2018:
- Local elections held in Belgrade in March were marked by media bias and allegations of pressure on voters, misuse of public resources, and intimidation of independent observers, among other irregularities.
- Opposition figures continued to face harassment and violence, including a November attack on prominent politician Borko Stefanović, who was brutally beaten by seven men before a scheduled debate in Kruševac.
- The Stefanović assault led to antigovernment protests that continued through the end of the year, with participants focusing on alleged corruption and attacks on opposition figures and the media under President Vučić and the SNS.
- The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) documented 102 incidents of pressure or violence against journalists in 2018, as independent media continued to endure smear campaigns, harassment, and physical threats.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 24 / 40 (−4)
- ELECTORAL PROCESS: 8 / 12 (−1)
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
The president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. In April 2017, Vučić won election with 55 percent of the vote in a field of 11 candidates. The campaign was characterized by media bias and allegations of misuse of public resources and vote buying. Vučić remained prime minister throughout the election period, blurring the line between official and electoral activities.
The prime minister is elected by the parliament. Vučić named Ana Brnabić, then the minister for local government and public administration, to succeed him as prime minister following the 2017 presidential election, and she was subsequently confirmed in office by lawmakers.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4 (−1)
The Serbian National Assembly is a unicameral, 250-seat legislature, with deputies elected to four-year terms under a system of proportional representation with closed party lists.
In the wake of the snap parliamentary elections held in 2016, leaders of several opposition parties accused the SNS of rigging the polls, including by tampering with ballot boxes. Election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted pressure on public-sector workers to vote for the ruling party. Private television outlets largely favored the SNS in their coverage.
While the SNS and its coalition partners won the largest portion of the vote, enabling Vučić to remain prime minister, they lost 27 seats, falling from 158 to 131. Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić’s Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and its allies, running separately from the SNS-led list, took 29 seats. The far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) placed third with 22 seats, returning to the parliament after a four-year absence. The progressive Enough Is Enough movement and a coalition led by the Democratic Party (DS) each won 16 seats. The pro-EU Alliance for a Better Serbia bloc won 13 seats, as did the conservative and Euroskeptic Dveri–Democratic Party of Serbia. The remaining seats went to smaller parties representing ethnic minorities. The SNS also performed will
City council elections held in March 2018 in Belgrade were, according to domestic observers, marred by procedural errors and numerous irregularities. Some voters were pressured to vote for the SNS, while others were allegedly provided with completed ballots. Media coverage was largely biased in favor of the ruling party, and there were multiple reports of the misuse of administrative resources for campaigning. Some independent observers from the Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability (CRTA) were threatened and expelled from polling stations before vote counting commenced.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to reports of numerous irregularities during the 2018 local elections in Belgrade, including voters being pressured to vote for the SNS and provided with premarked ballots, misuse of administrative resources for campaigning, and intimidation of domestic observers.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
Electoral laws largely correspond to international standards, but aspects of the electoral process are poorly regulated, and implementation of existing rules is flawed in some respects. The Republic Electoral Commission’s composition before the 2017 presidential election raised concerns about partisan influence. A parliamentary oversight committee meant to monitor the campaign was never established, and the media regulator did not proactively track and punish biased media coverage.
- POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 10 / 16 (−2)
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3 / 4
Political parties may be established freely and can typically operate without encountering formal restrictions. However, campaign finance regulations are weakly enforced and place no overall cap on the private funds raised and spent by parties and candidates. Following the 2017 presidential election, the OSCE reported that the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) had decreased the resources dedicated to proactively monitoring campaign funds and did not thoroughly investigate dubious donations. The SNS campaign enjoyed a considerable financial advantage over its rivals and reportedly benefited from the misuse of public resources, including support from state media and use of public buses to transport loyalists to rallies. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) found that the SNS had orchestrated the use of thousands of proxy donors to bypass legal limits on individual donations and disguise the true source of funding.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4 (−1)
There have been peaceful transfers of power between rival parties over the past two decades, and the political system remains competitive. However, the ruling party has used various tactics to unfairly reduce the opposition’s electoral prospects. These include manipulating the timing of snap elections, exerting pressure on independent state institutions, and mobilizing public resources to support the SNS’s campaigns.
The SNS has expanded its influence over the media through both state-owned enterprises and an array of private outlets that are dependent on government funding, and it has harnessed this influence to strengthen its political position and discredit its rivals, further reducing opposition parties’ competitiveness. Opposition figures have also faced escalating harassment and violence in recent years. In November 2018, prominent politician Borko Stefanović of the Serbian Left party was severely beaten by seven men before a scheduled debate in the city of Kruševac. The attack on Stefanović, as well as the intimidation of other opposition leaders, was symptomatic of a broader campaign carried out by the ruling party to dehumanize the opposition.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because increased harassment of and attacks on opposition figures, and the ruling party’s use of state-owned and state-funded media to discredit the opposition, have significantly reduced the competitiveness of opposition parties.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4 (−1)
Voters enjoy a significant degree of freedom to make political decisions without undue interference, though the ruling party and allied private businesses allegedly use patronage networks to influence political outcomes. Various incentives have also been used in recent years to convince hundreds of local elected officials to form alliances with the SNS or change their party affiliation after elections. Separately, Russia has been accused of attempting to influence Serbian politics through its state-owned media and an array of small pro-Russian parties, media outlets, and civil society groups in Serbia.
During the 2017 election, there were widespread reports of employees at state or state-affiliated entities facing pressure to support the SNS and to compel their friends and families to do the same. Allegations of bribery, usually with money or food, in exchange for SNS votes, were extensive during the 2018 local elections. Citizens were also reportedly intimidated by SNS operatives who knocked on doors and pressured them to vote.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to credible allegations that forces associated with the ruling party engaged in widespread vote buying and voter intimidation during local elections.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
The country’s 5 percent electoral threshold for parliamentary representation does not apply to parties representing ethnic minorities. Groups centered on the ethnic Albanian, Bosniak, Slovak, and Hungarian communities won a total of 10 seats in the 2016 legislative elections. Nevertheless, ethnic minorities have a relatively muted voice in Serbian politics in practice. No party representing the interests of the Romany minority ran in the 2016 elections.
Women enjoy equal political rights. According to electoral regulations, women must account for at least 33 percent of a party’s candidate list, and women currently hold 34 percent of seats in the parliament. Ana Brnabić became Serbia’s first woman and first gay prime minister in 2017, but critics argued that her appointment was a superficial bid to showcase the government’s claims of openness toward the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community without systematic engagement on policy issues important to LGBT people.
- FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 6 / 12 (−1)
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4 (−1)
Vučić’s move to the presidency in 2017 raised new concerns about the personalization of governance and politicization of state institutions. Vučić has remained the dominant figure in government despite the presidency’s limited executive powers under the constitution.
Moreover, the executive largely controls the legislative process, and opposition lawmakers are sidelined through the disproportionate use of disciplinary measures, frequent use of accelerated legislative procedures, and late changes to the legislative agenda, among other tactics. The budget for 2019, among the most important pieces of legislation passed in 2018, was adopted in December without meaningful parliamentary debate, largely because the ruling party filled the allotted time by filing scores of insignificant amendments. The dominance of the executive branch over the legislature was also reflected in the findings of a CRTA report showing that between November 2017 and July 2018, 95 percent of the laws adopted were proposed by the government.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to the continued concentration of power in the hands of the president as well as the manipulation of legislative procedures to stifle debate and sideline opposition lawmakers.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4
Although the number of arrests and prosecutions for corruption has risen in recent years, high-profile convictions are very rare. In October 2018, Finance Minister Siniša Mali, who has been accused of money laundering and other financial crimes, was ordered to pay a small fine, while the investigation against him was dropped by prosecutors, raising concerns about impunity for senior officials. The work of the ACA is undermined in part by the ambiguous division of responsibilities among other entities tasked with combating corruption.
Critics have credibly accused President Vučić and the SNS government of having ties to organized crime, and cronyism—in the form of jobs provided to allies of the president and the ruling party—is reportedly common.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
The government has received sustained criticism for a lack of transparency in large-scale infrastructure projects and for secrecy surrounding public tenders. Details about the state-funded Belgrade Waterfront project, for example, which includes the construction of hotels and luxury apartments and has been beset by controversy since its announcement in 2012, have not been made available to the public.
Members of parliament do not have adequate opportunities to ask questions about government activities and legislation, and the vast majority of parliamentary questions go unanswered by the government.
Public officials are subject to asset disclosure rules overseen by the ACA, but penalties for violations are uncommon. While a 2004 freedom of information law empowers citizens and journalists to obtain information of public importance, authorities frequently obstruct requests in practice.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 43 / 60 (−2)
- FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 12 / 16 (−1)
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
Despite a constitution that guarantees freedom of the press and a penal code that does not treat libel as a criminal offense, media freedom is undermined by the threat of lawsuits or criminal charges against journalists for other offenses, lack of transparency in media ownership, editorial pressure from politicians and politically connected media owners, and high rates of self-censorship. The state and ruling party exercise influence over private media in part through advertising contracts and other indirect subsidies. While many outlets take a progovernment line or avoid criticism of the leadership, some continue to produce independent coverage.
A number of critical journalists and outlets faced smear campaigns, punitive tax inspections, and other forms of pressure in 2018. According to NUNS, there were 102 media freedom violations against journalists during the year. They included physical assaults, though most incidents involved aggressive rhetoric and other forms of pressure or intimidation. In December 2018, investigative reporter Milan Jovanović, who has reported extensively on corruption, was the victim of an arson attack in which unknown assailants threw a Molotov cocktail into his home.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is generally respected in practice.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
Academic freedom has largely been upheld, though recent legal changes have raised concerns about political influence. The Law on Higher Education, adopted by the National Assembly in 2017, increased the presence of state-appointed members on the National Council for Higher Education and a national accreditation body; another education law, also adopted in 2017, gave the education minister centralized control over the appointment of school principals.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4 (−1)
Private discussion is generally free and vibrant, but a pattern of retribution against high-profile critics of the government has contributed to an increasingly hostile environment for free expression and open debate. Throughout 2018, perceived government opponents including journalists, civil society leaders, and celebrities were targeted with sophisticated smear campaigns in progovernment media outlets as well as investigations and other retaliatory measures. In October, authorities began an investigation of a health charity run by actor Sergej Trifunović, who has openly criticized the government on social media and in public appearances. Analysts viewed the investigation, as well as the removal of Trifunović’s play from a local theater festival in November, apparently at the request of an SNS official, as acts of retaliation.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because open debate has been discouraged by retaliatory measures, including media smears and official investigations, against high-profile critics of government policies.
- ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 10 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Citizens generally enjoy freedom of assembly. However, in October 2018, the director of a symphony hall in the city of Niš denied the opposition Alliance for Serbia access to the venue for a political rally, allegedly at the direction of local officials, despite the alliance’s claim that it reserved the space in advance; the rally was ultimately held on the street.
The assault on Stefanović in November prompted massive demonstrations against the SNS and President Vučić, which continued through the end of 2018. Demonstrators called on the government to cease attacks on the press and opposition figures, and voiced objections to corruption within the government and the SNS.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4
Foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGO) generally operate freely, but those that have taken openly critical stances toward the government or address sensitive or controversial topics have faced threats and harassment in recent years. Throughout 2018, Jelena Milić, director of the NGO the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, was the subject of a sustained smear campaign in the media in response to her support for war-crimes prosecutions and Serbian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4
Workers may legally join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike, but the International Trade Union Confederation has reported that organizing efforts and strikes are often restricted in practice.
- RULE OF LAW: 9 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4
The independence of the judiciary is compromised by political influence over judicial appointments, and many judges have reported facing external pressure regarding their rulings. Politicians regularly comment on judicial matters, including by discussing ongoing cases or investigations with the media.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4
Due process guarantees are upheld in some cases, but corruption, lack of capacity, and political influence often undermine these protections. Among other problems, rules on the random assignment of cases to judges and prosecutors are not consistently observed, and mechanisms for obtaining restitution in civil matters are ineffective. High-profile, politically sensitive cases are especially vulnerable to interference. The failure of police and prosecutors to make any visible progress on the investigation of illegal 2016 demolitions in the Savamala district on Belgrade’s waterfront was widely seen as an effort to protect politically powerful perpetrators.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4
The population is generally free from major threats to physical security, though some prison facilities suffer from overcrowding, abuse, and inadequate health care. Radical right-wing organizations and violent sports fans who target ethnic minorities and others also remain a concern.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4
Legal safeguards for socially vulnerable groups are poorly enforced. For example, women are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but this rule is not widely respected. The Romany minority is especially vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, and education. LGBT people continue to face hate speech, threats, and even physical violence, and perpetrators are rarely punished despite laws addressing hate crimes and discrimination. However, the government has made some gestures of support for the rights of LGBT people; Brnabić attended the annual pride parade in Belgrade in September 2018.
- PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 12 / 16 (−1)
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
There are no formal restrictions on freedom of movement. Serbians are free to change their place of employment and education, and have the right to travel. Citizens have been able to enter the Schengen area of the EU without a visa since 2010.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3 / 4
In general, property rights are respected, but adjudication of disputes is slow, and problems such as illegal construction and fraud persist. Approximately 1.5 million buildings in Serbia are not registered. Romany residents are often subject to forced evictions, and those evicted are generally not offered alternative housing or access to legal remedies to challenge eviction notices.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4
A new law aimed at preventing domestic violence took effect in 2017, but such violence remains a problem; Serbia has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe. Early and forced marriage is reportedly more common among the Romany minority, with more than half of Romany girls marrying before the legal age of 18.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4 (−1)
Residents generally have access to economic opportunity, but factors such as weak macroeconomic growth and a relatively high rate of unemployment contribute to labor exploitation in some industries. Several reports in recent years have described worsening conditions in factories, particularly those that produce shoes and garments, including low wages, unpaid overtime, and hazardous work environments. Legal protections designed to prevent such abuses are not well enforced. According to the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans Affairs, and Social Affairs, 24 people died in workplace accidents in the first seven months of 2018.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because working conditions in factories have deteriorated in recent years, and legal protections designed to prevent exploitation are not well enforced.