Three countries in the Western Balkans - Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo - suffer from “crippling government dysfunction”, according to Freedom House’s latest Freedom in the World report.
This held back democratic progress in a region where most states are rated only partly free, unlike the rest of Europe where almost all countries are considered to be free.
The annual report released on January 27 by the NGO assesses the rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, using a variety of indicators to measure political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries and 15 territories. Countries are assigned a score out of 100, with 0 being the least free and 100 the most.
Macedonia was one of three countries, the other two being Honduras and Maldives, that lost their designation as electoral democracies. “Macedonia’s ruling party was implicated in electoral fraud and an expansive wiretapping scandal, exacerbating a bitter political standoff with the opposition that ultimately required the EU to step in and broker snap elections for 2016,” the organisation commented.
Bosnia also remained on the list of countries labelled as partly free in this year’s report. According to Freedom House, Bosnia’s government was “incapable of addressing the relentless obstructionism and endemic corruption”.
It noted that the decisions of the government of Republika Srpska – the smaller of the two entities making up Bosnia – to call a referendum on state-level judiciary and to end cooperation with state police and courts further increased the tensions in the country.
In July, Republika Srpska’s president Milorad Dodik announced plans for a referendum on the authority of the state-level judicial institutions. The referendum would challenge the authority of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Dayton agreement. This provoked a strong negative reaction from western diplomats and international institutions since it would breach the Dayton agreement with potentially serious consequences for stability in the country.
Bosnia “could face even worse government dysfunction” if the referendum goes ahead, warned Freedom House, which put Bosnia on its 2016 watchlist for countries potentially approaching important turning points on their democratic trajectory.
Kosovo’s political rights rating improved due to the comparatively successful conduct of the June 2014 elections, and the subsequent agreement by rival parties to form a coalition government, the report said. It also achieved electoral democracy status, following its first democratic handover of power.
However, Kosovo is still only partly free, and its overall score of 52 points is the lowest in the region. The report also highlights recent disruptions in the parliament where opposition MPs let off tear gas and pelted ruling party members with eggs in protest against a deal on normalising relations with Serbia.
While not among the states with dysfunctional governments, Montenegro’s status declined from free to partly free, and it received a downward trend arrow following clashes between the police and demonstrators from the opposition Democratic Front (DF) during several demonstrations in autumn 2015. Following the clashes, the police arrested two DF leaders, Andrija Mandic and Slaven Radunovic, and in November prosecutors accused them of a coup attempt.
Freedom House also noted that Montenegro’s freedom evaluation has worsened due to the repeated postponement of an LGBT pride parade, in the context of years of harassment and discrimination against LGBT people.
Elsewhere in the region, Albania was also rated only partly free, but three former Yugoslavian countries - Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia - were all considered to be free.
Globally, 2015 was the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Freedom declined in 72 countries, the largest number in the last decade, while just 43 countries made gains.
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