Macedonia was rated only “partly free” in the latest report from international watchdog Freedom House, the same almost all of the six Western Balkan countries, despite efforts by the new government to fight against corruption and other systemic abuses.
Of the Western Balkans countries, only Serbia was ranked as “free” — although Belgrade got a downward trend arrow as President Aleksandar Vucic consolidated his hold on power — in the new Freedom in the World Report published on January 16. The report commented that "events in the Western Balkans demonstrated a need for continued engagement in the region by major democracies”.
“[I]n Serbia, EU leaders’ tolerance of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s authoritarian tendencies allowed him to further sideline the opposition and undermine what remains of the country’s independent media after winning the country’s presidency in April," the report said.
It pointed to opaque party financing methods, politicisation of law enforcement, and attempts to undermine critical journalists with financial investigations and smears in government-friendly media.
It wasn’t clear why Macedonia, by contrast, is still regarded as partly free, given what Freedom House described as the country’s new “democratically elected, ethnically inclusive government” which is “seeking to root out corruption and other systemic abuses that grew worse under its scandal-plagued predecessor”.
The report also pointed out that the new government could resolve the lingering “name dispute” with Greece that has impeded the country’s path toward EU membership.
Diplomats from Greece and Macedonia will hold talks this week in New York with the aim of making further progress on the name dispute.
Greece has opposed its northern neighbour’s use of the name Macedonia since the country declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, as it has a province with the same name. However, politicians from the two countries are keen to solve the issue in the first half of this year.
If Macedonia solves the name dispute it will open up a possibility for the country to launch EU accession talks in 2019 and to be invited to join Nato.
There were no comments on the other four Western Balkan countries, all of which were rated "partly free", in the Freedom House report.
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