From democracy to autocracy: Serbia has been sliding all lists since 2014

by Cristian Florescu

According to the latest Freedom House ‘Nations in Transit’ report, Serbia has been classified as a “transitional or hybrid regime” for the fourth consecutive year. This indicates that the country’s democratic institutions are delicate, and there are considerable obstacles in safeguarding political rights and civil liberties.

According to the Freedom House report, Serbia’s democracy score has remained consistent at 3.79 on a scale of 1 to 7, without any significant changes from last year’s biggest decline.

The US Ambassador to Belgrade, Christopher Hill, remarked that Serbia’s society is currently experiencing a positive transformation where the rule of law is being reinforced. He also acknowledged the progress made in the justice system, particularly in ensuring that those responsible for the murder of journalists are held accountable. Hill further commended the recent development in the case of Slavko Curuvija, citing it as a testament to Serbia’s advancements in recent years.

However, it appears that the data gathered by various organizations that monitor rights and freedoms globally do not align with Hill’s evaluation of the progress that Serbia has made in the rule of law.

In 2012, when the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) assumed power, Serbia was rated 4.36 on the Freedom House scale, according to the non-governmental organization’s yearly report on political rights and freedoms. This report classified Serbia as a free country.

In the interim, it should be noted that Serbia has transitioned from a free country to a partly free country, as per the findings of Freedom House. This is believed to be attributed to the deteriorating conditions surrounding elections and the concerning instances of attacks on independent journalists.

Over the past eight years, this international organization has not observed any improvement in the seven areas it monitors. However, there has been a noticeable decline in these areas since the SNS took power in Serbia. The organization has had to revise Serbia’s score in these areas ten times, unfortunately resulting in a decrease each time.

According to the ”Nations in Transit” report by Freedom House, it has been noted that Serbia is no longer a democratic state, which marks a significant change since 2003. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the governance systems in 29 countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Based on the report for 2020, it was observed that Serbia and Montenegro were categorized as “transitional or hybrid regimes.” These regimes are characterized by an authoritarian power structure resulting from incomplete democratic reforms.

Serbia’s media freedom has unfortunately declined and as a result, it has been ranked 91st in this year’s Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, which is lower than its ranking of 79th last year. It’s worth mentioning that Serbia was ranked 67th in 2014 and 54th a year before that on the same list.

The report stated that although Serbia’s legal framework is strong, there are concerns about the safety of journalists due to political pressures. Additionally, it was observed that pro-government media outlets are disseminating Russian propaganda. It is worth noting that Serbia has experienced a significant decline in its rating compared to other countries in the EU and Balkans, with a decrease of 12 points.

According to the Reporters Without Borders report, it appears that journalists are facing political pressure and that crimes committed against them are not being punished, despite the legal framework being firm.

Unfortunately, Serbia’s position on the corruption perception index (CPI), which is considered to be one of the most significant global rankings of countries, has decreased. Currently, it has a score of 36 out of 100 and is positioned at number 101.

Over the past two years, Serbia has had a CPI index of 38, and it has been ranked 94th and 96th on the list released by Transparency International. Unfortunately, this year’s score is the lowest it has been in the past 11 years.

Serbia’s index falls seven points below the world average, which places it in the second lowest position in the region. Only Bosnia and Herzegovina has a lower score with 34 points. On a positive note, Albania and Serbia share the 101st position.

According to a report titled ‘Autocratization Turns Viral’ by the Swedish V-Dem Institute, Serbia is among the group of countries that have experienced the most significant decline in democracy over the past decade.

According to the report, Serbia is categorized as a country where democracy has not advanced over the past decade and has regressed two categories from a liberal democracy to an electoral autocracy.

The Institute stated in its report that in Serbia, there has been a decline in electoral integrity, along with a deterioration of academic, civil society, and media freedoms, among other factors that have contributed to the country’s backsliding into authoritarianism by 2013. It has been observed that the quality of elections has been deteriorating since then, and it further worsened in 2020 when several opposition parties chose to boycott the parliamentary elections.

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