|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||48.21 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||3.89 7|
- National Democratic Governance rating declined from 3.50 to 3.25, after noncompetitive parliamentary elections resulted in a de facto one-party parliament and due to the personalization of power in the hands of President Aleksandar Vučić.
- Electoral Process rating declined from 4.50 to 4.25 due to the ruling party’s instrumental modification of the electoral framework ahead of the June parliamentary elections and a lack of genuine choice for voters after most of the opposition boycotted the vote.
As a result, Serbia’s Democracy Score declined from 3.96 to 3.89.
By Miloš Damnjanović
The state of fundamental freedoms and democratic institutions in Serbia continued to deteriorate in 2020, with no sign of improvement. For most of the year, political life—and indeed all other life—unfolded in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting elections and bringing new restrictions on individual freedoms.
Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for April 26th, along with elections for the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina and most local municipalities. However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Serbia in early March led to the postponement of the elections amidst the imposition of a state of emergency. Once the first wave of the pandemic had subsided, the elections were rescheduled for June 21st.
All in all, the elections were held in a tense and unusual atmosphere. Not least, there were concerns over the advisability of conducting polls—with the inevitable mixing of large numbers of people—amidst the continuing presence of COVID-19.1 Yet from the point of view of organizing a democratic contest in which citizens could vote for their preferred political representatives, the decision of most opposition parties to boycott the elections proved a much larger problem. Indeed, the Alliance for Serbia (SzS), the main opposition bloc, had proclaimed its decision to boycott the upcoming elections in September 2019, arguing that the conditions for holding a free and fair contest simply did not exist. Despite speculation that it might change its stance at the last minute, the SzS largely held firm in its decision to boycott the elections, as did a number of other political movements.
In an apparent effort to entice smaller opposition parties to take part in the elections—and thus ensure some semblance of opposition participation amidst the threatened opposition boycott—the ruling majority, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), amended the electoral law in early February, reducing the electoral threshold for entering the parliament from 5 percent of votes cast to 3 percent. The move, which amounted to an instrumental modification of the electoral framework, was announced and implemented with almost no public discussion; indeed, participants in the dialogue organized between the ruling and opposition parties in the autumn of 2019 noted that such a move had never been discussed as part of talks on improving electoral conditions.2
The efforts by the ruling SNS to ensure a semblance of opposition participation in the elections did generate some results, with 21 party lists and coalitions deciding to take part. Of these, four represented the country’s ethnic minorities, while another 15 parties, coalitions, and movements positioned themselves as belonging to the opposition. While some of these lists genuinely represented small opposition groupings, the boycotting opposition parties accused many of the 15 participating groups of serving as the SNS’s “loyal opposition,” instrumentalized by the ruling party to provide a veneer of democratic legitimacy to the electoral process and the new parliament.3
In the run-up to the elections, the electoral playing field remained firmly skewed in favor of the ruling party. Turnout stood at a record low 48.9 percent, the lowest since the introduction of multiparty elections in 1990 and down from the 56.1 percent figure seen in 2016. While this gave the boycotting groups grounds to claim their efforts were successful, the figure was also high enough for the SNS to argue that the new parliament was both legal and legitimate.
In such an environment, the ruling SNS and its coalition partners won a record 60.7 percent of votes cast and 188 seats—three-quarters of the parliament’s 250 seats. The SNS’s junior governing partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), won 32 seats and the nominally opposition Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) won 11. The remaining 19 seats went to ethnic minority representatives.
On October 5th, President Vučić announced that a “national unity” government, including the SNS, SPS, and SPAS, would be formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. The creation of a national unity government appeared odd given that the country faced no major imminent crisis. Vučić himself suggested in August that the complex situation regarding Kosovo, the need to deal with a second COVID-19 wave in the autumn, and the accompanying global economic downturn justified the formation of a national unity government.4 Others noted that such a government conveniently helped to distract from the lack of any genuine opposition in the new parliament.5
The creation of the governing coalition that enjoyed the support of almost all Serbian legislators served to highlight the monolithic nature of the National Assembly, as a sizeable number of citizens opposed to the ruling SNS were effectively unrepresented. Moreover, the monolithic nature of the parliament seriously curtailed its ability to scrutinize the executive in practice.
Before the new government was even sworn in, Vučić announced that early parliamentary elections would be held by April 2022, so as to coincide with the next presidential and Belgrade municipal elections. Members of the boycotting opposition in Serbia saw this as tacit recognition by Vučić that the new parliament and government were illegitimate which, they claimed in turn, vindicated their own boycott.6 Independent observers echoed this point to some extent, seeing Vučić’s announcement as an effort to entice the opposition into returning to the electoral arena.7
While the year’s political events were significant, the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to it made an even greater impact. In February, the authorities initially attempted to downplay the dangers of COVID-19,8 but the government quickly changed its message, with President Vučić declaring a state of emergency on March 15th and imposing a curfew and severe restrictions a few days later. While the extent of those restrictions was controversial—particularly the blanket ban on people over the age of 65 leaving their homes—the public and the medical profession largely appeared to favor them. Ultimately, Serbian COVID-19 restrictions were not radically dissimilar from those imposed in neighboring countries or much of Europe, though they were sometimes a little blunter.
From the point of view of democracy and accountability, a number of other issues were equally controversial. Legal experts questioned whether President Vučić had the constitutional right to declare the state of emergency instead of the parliament.9 Despite the imposition of a state of emergency and numerous restrictive measures, legislators did not meet until late April, at which point they retroactively approved the state of emergency and related measures.
The sidelining of the parliament on the state-of-emergency proclamation is just one example of the personalization of power in Vučić’s hands, which contributed to the degradation of Serbia’s democratic institutions. During the first wave of the pandemic, Vučić delivered somber public addresses in which he detailed his personal efforts to procure medical protective equipment and ventilators. He also personally accompanied ventilator deliveries—with media in tow—in several cities, including Niš and Novi Pazar.10 Progovernment media outlets and other SNS officials made a point of praising Vučić’s efforts, portraying him as the savior of the nation. Prime Minister Brnabić went further than most, saying “our health system has remained on its feet thanks to Vučić.”11
Independent media came under additional pressure over their reporting. The most extreme example was the April arrest of journalist Ana Lalić over her reporting on working conditions at the Vojvodina Clinical Center; Lalić was released the following day. Media outlets also noted that the authorities had underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths. These claims were first aired by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) in late June and were initially denied by government and medical officials. However, in late September, epidemiologist Predrag Kon, a member of the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Staff, confirmed that the number of actual deaths through June was significantly higher than the officially reported tally, though he blamed technical problems for the discrepancy. A day after Kon’s disclosure, President Vučić pledged a full reassessment of the number of COVID-19 related deaths.
The position of migrants and refuges currently in Serbia—most of whom were en route to European Union (EU) member states—also became more complicated over the course of the year. During the COVID-19-related state of emergency, migrants and refugees were confined to dedicated camps, where large numbers of people were concentrated in close proximity and could not socially distance. Meanwhile, right-wing movements such as Dveri sought to boost their own popularity by adopting more stringent antimigrant platforms.
Civil society remained lively, despite the omnipresent COVID-19 epidemic. Medics critical of the government’s handling of the crisis—particularly ahead of the June elections—organized themselves into the United against COVID-19 group. Having criticized the authorities for easing pandemic-related measures too quickly, and consequently allowing COVID-19 to spread more easily, ahead of those elections, the same group called on the government to implement more energetic measures to stem the spread of the disease in the autumn. Meanwhile, environmental activists were energetic in much of the country, scoring notable victories in their efforts to stop the construction of hydroelectric plants.
No real progress was made in fighting corruption during the year. A worrying sign in this respect was the adoption of a new law in February that allows the government to exempt projects deemed to hold “strategic importance” from existing public procurement regulations.
Looking ahead to 2021, Serbia’s political system may find itself at a crossroads between continued democratic regression and the strengthening of its democratic institutions. While announcing the formation of the new government, President Vučić suggested that it would include a new ministry in charge of societal dialogue, along with human and minority rights. This, together with the announcement of early parliamentary elections, implied that the ruling SNS wished to engage in a dialogue with opposition parties and other opponents at large, with the aim of creating a more even political playing field and ending the opposition’s electoral boycott. To what extent the ruling SNS and opposition parties can engage in a constructive and fruitful dialogue and – more crucially – to what extent the SNS is actually willing to create a more free and fair political playing field ahead of the next elections, remains to be seen.
- 1“Epidemiolog Radovanović: Izlazak na izbore je veliki rizik po zdravlje” [Epidemiologist Radovanović: Turning Out in the Elections Is a Great Health Risk], Direktno, 18 June 2020, https://direktno.rs/izbori-2020/281625/epidemiolog-radovanovic-izlazak-…; “Radovanović: Zbog izbora se požurilo sa otvaranjem granica, situacija je još rovita“ [Radovanović: There Was a Rush to Open Borders Due to the Elections, The Situation Is Still Raw], Radio 021, 25 May 2020, https://www.021.rs/story/Info/Srbija/244303/Radovanovic-Zbog-izbora-se-…; “Istraživanje: Većina građana protiv izbora u vreme pandemije” [Polling: Most Citizens against Elections During the Pandemic], N1, 8 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a607841/Istrazivanje-Vecina-gradjana-protiv-….
- 2“Bilčik za N1: Pitanje cenzusa iznenadjenje, zašto se ta ideja sada pojavljuje” [Bilčik for N1: The Question of the Census Is Surprising, Why Is This Idea Appearing Now], N1, 14 January 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a560489/Bilcik-za-N1-Pitanje-cenzusa-iznenad….
- 3“Jeremić: Izbori će pokazati ko je opozicija Vučiću, a ko Vučićeva opozicija” [Jeremic: Elections Will Show Who Is the Opposition to Vučić and Who is Vučić’s Opposition], Danas, 22 February 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/jeremic-izbori-ce-pokazati-ko-je-opozicij….
- 4“Vučićeva koncentraciona Vlada: Kada, kako i u čiju korist” [Vučić’s National Unity Government: When, How and for Whose Benefit], Nova S, 14 August 2020, https://nova.rs/vesti/politika/vuciceva-koncentraciona-vlada-kad-kako-i….
- 5“Novi parlamentarni izbori već 2022,” [New Parliamentary Elections as Soon as 2022?], Danas, 20 October 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/novi-parlamentarni-izbori-vec-2022/.
- 6“Aleksić: Vanredni parlamentarni izbori nedvosmislena potvrda uspeha bojkota” [Aleksić: Early Parliamentary Elections Unambiguous Confirmation of the Success of the Boycott], Danas, 21 October 2020, https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/aleksic-vanredni-parlamentarni-izbori-nedv….
- 7“Nova Vlada i vanredni izbori: Zamka za opoziciju” [New Government and Early Elections: Trap for the Opposition], Vreme, 8 October 2020, https://www.vreme.com/cms/view.php?id=1872102.
- 8“Doktor Nestorovic se obratio javnosti I otkrio najvažnije stvari o korona virusu: Žene, požurite u Italiju u šoping sad su tamo najveći popusti” [Doctor Nestorovic Addressed the Public and Revealed the Most Important Things about the Coronavirus: Women, Hurry to Italy for Shopping, The Biggest Discounts Are Now There], Večernje Novosti, 26 February 2020, https://www.novosti.rs/vesti/naslovna/drustvo/aktuelno.290.html:849759-…; “Kratka hronologija neodgovornosti: Zašto nam ne verujete, kad vas lažemo” [Short Chronology of Irresponsibility: Why Do You Not Believe Us, When We Lie to You], Vreme, 19 March 2020, https://www.vreme.com/cms/view.php?id=1766424.
- 9“Šabić: Nema pravnih osnova za uvodjenje vanrednog stanja” [Šabić: No Legal Grounds for Introducing State of Emergency], N1, 15 March 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a578154/Sabic-S-pravnog-aspekta-uvodjenje-va…; “Pravnici i advokati: Vanredno stanje uvedeno protivustavno, neustavna i zabrana kretanja” [Legal Experts and Lawyers: State of Emergency Introduced Unconstitutionally, Ban on Movement Also Unconstitutional], Južne Vesti, 3 April 2020, https://www.juznevesti.com/Drushtvo/Pravnici-i-advokati-Vanredno-stanje….
- 10“Vučić u Novom Pazaru: Bolnici 10 kliničkih i tri transportna respiratora” [Vučić in Novi Pazar: Hospitals With 10 Clinical and Three Transport Respirators], Danas, 6 April 2020, https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/vucic-u-novom-pazaru-bolnici-10-klinickih-…; “Vučić i respiratori: Mnogo priče i nimalo podataka” [Vučić and Respirators: A Lot of Stories and No Data], Istinomer, 9 April 2020, https://www.istinomer.rs/analize/vucic-i-respiratori-mnogo-price-i-nima…; “Vučić i 2 kamiona sa medicinskom opremom stigli u Niš” [Vučić and Two Trucks with Medical Equipment Arrived in Niš], Južne Vesti, 10 April 2020, https://www.juznevesti.com/Drushtvo/Vucic-i-2-kamiona-sa-medicinskom-op…; “Vučić poručio da će sam UTOVARATI respiratore u avion, ako bude trebalo!” [Vučić Said That He Would Load the Respirators on the Plane Himself, If Necessary!], Mondo, 7 April 2020, https://mondo.rs/Info/Drustvo/a1307857/Aleksandar-Vucic-respiratori-avi…; “ Kako do respiratora: Od donacija, kupovine, preko kofera do mreža i veza…” [How to Get a Respirator: From Donations, Purchases, Through Suitcases to Networks and Connections…], Insajder, 28 March 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/tema/17577/ , http://niskiportal.rs/vest/650423110-04-202046958; “Predsednik Vučić stigao u Niš, dopremljene maske, respiratori i medicinska oprema” [President Vučić Arrives in Niš, Masks, Ventilators and Medical Equipment Delivered], Niskiportal.rs, 10 April 2020, http://niskiportal.rs/vest/650423110-04-202046958; “Vučić: Iza nas je teška noć, a biće mnogo težih” [Vučić: A Hard Night Is Behind Us, It Will Be Much Harder], RTS, 5 April 2020, https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B0….
- 11“Brnabić: Zahvaljujući Vučiću naš zdravstveni sistem ostao je na nogama” [Brnabić: Thanks to Vučić Our Health System Remained on its Feet], Danas, 29 April 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/brbanic-zahvaljujuci-vucicu-nas-zdravstve….
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||3.253 7.007|
- The extent to which power is centralized and personalized in the hands of President Aleksandar Vučić came into clearer focus during 2020. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying state of emergency allowed Vučić to claim the center stage in coordinating the Serbian state’s pandemic response. While other politicians from the ruling and opposition parties became all but invisible, Vučić, together with Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, Minister of Health Zoran Lončar, and the medical members of the COVID-19 Crisis Staff, made regular appearances at press conferences and public addresses.1 Progovernment media and other SNS officials made a point of praising Vučić’s efforts.2
- In early March, Vučić called parliamentary elections for April 26th.3 However, following the imposition of a state of emergency in mid-March, the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) suspended all election activities.4 Nevertheless, many observers and commentators believed Vučić’s handling of the pandemic was instrumentalized as part of the then suspended election campaign.5 An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report on the elections, which were held in June, described Vučić’s activities as “tacit campaigning.”6
- Having won three-quarters of the parliament’s seats, the ruling SNS faced no challenge in forming a government. However, while elections in neighboring Croatia and North Macedonia yielded functioning governments within weeks, a new government was not formed in Serbia for over four months. President Vučić cited various reasons for delaying government formation, including the need to select the right coalition partners, the need to consider ministerial appointments, and his own diplomatic schedule.7 Political observers and politicians expressed the belief that Vučić was drawing out the process to maintain control over it, all while keeping SNS subordinates and potential partners unclear as to the coalition’s final configuration.8
- On October 5th, Vučić nominated Ana Brnabić as prime minister.9 The participation of the SPS and SPAS in the coalition government10 was announced 15 days later. The Brnabić-led government was approved by legislators on October 28th.11
- Following the opposition boycott, the national legislature seems less representative of the electorate’s political preferences than ever since the introduction of multi-party elections. Serbian opposition parties will be forced to operate outside regular democratic institutions and will face a major challenge in finding ways to criticize the government and, ultimately, to remain relevant. At the end of 2020, opposition parties seemed far from agreeing on a common set of demands that would facilitate conditions for fully free and fair elections.
- 1“Vučić u Novom Pazaru: Bolnici 10 kliničkih i tri transportna respiratora” [Vučić in Novi Pazar: 10 Clinical and Three Mobile Ventilators for the Hospital], Danas, 6 April 2020, https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/vucic-u-novom-pazaru-bolnici-10-klinickih-…; “Vučić i respiratori: Mnogo priče i nimalo podataka” [Vučić and Ventilators: Lots of Talk and No Information], Istinomer, 9 April 2020, https://www.istinomer.rs/analize/vucic-i-respiratori-mnogo-price-i-nima…; “Vučić i 2 kamiona sa medicinskom opremom stigli u Niš” [Vučić and Two Truckloads with Medical Equipment Arrived in Niš], Južne Vesti, 10 April 2020, https://www.juznevesti.com/Drushtvo/Vucic-i-2-kamiona-sa-medicinskom-op…; “Vučić poručio da će sam utovariti respiratore u avion, ako bude trebalo” [Vučić Says He Will Load Ventilators onto Plane Himself if Necessary], Mondo, 7 April 2020, https://mondo.rs/Info/Drustvo/a1307857/Aleksandar-Vucic-respiratori-avi…; “Kako do respiratora: Od donacija, kupovine, preko kofera do mreža i veza…” [How to Get a Respirator: From Donations, Purchases, Through Suitcases to Networks and Connections…], Insajder, 28 March 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/tema/17577/; “Predsednik Vučić stigao u Niš, dopremljene maske, respiratori i medicinska oprema” [President Vučić Arrives in Niš, Masks, Ventilators and Medical Equipment Delivered], Niskiportal.rs, 10 April 2020, http://niskiportal.rs/vest/650423110-04-202046958; “Vučić: Iza nas je teška noć, a biće mnogo težih“ [Vučić: A Hard Night Is Behind Us, It Will Be Much Harder], RTS, 5 April 2020, https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B0….
- 2“Brnabić: Zahvaljujući Vučiću naš zdravstveni sistem ostao je na nogama“ [Brnabić: Thanks to Vučić Our Health System Remained on Its Feet], Danas, 29 April 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/brbanic-zahvaljujuci-vucicu-nas-zdravstve….
- 3“Vučić raspisao parlamentarne izbore: ‘Za pravu demokratsku utakmicu’” [Vučić Calls Parliamentary Elections: “For a Genuine Democratic Contest”], RTV, 4 March 2020, https://www.rtv.rs/sr_lat/izbori-2020/parlamentarni-izbori/vucic-raspis….
- 4Republic Election Commission, “Republička izborna komisija donela Rešenje o prekidu svih izbornih radnji u sprovodjenju izbora za narodne poslanike” [Republic Election Commission Adopts Decision on Halting All Election Activities Relating to the Conduct of Elections for People’s Representatives], 16 March 2020, https://www.rik.parlament.gov.rs/vest/2615/republicka-izborna-komisija-….
- 5“Serbian President Turned the Pandemic Into a Tacky Campaign,” Balkan Insight, 7 May 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/07/serbias-president-turned-the-pande….
- 6Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, “Republic of Serbia: Parliamentary Elections 21 June 2020,” 7 October 2020, 13, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/3/466026.pdf.
- 7“Saznajemo: Nova Vlada čekaće dok se Vučić ne vrati iz SAD” [We Report: New Government Awaits Vučić’s Return from the USA], Nova S, 21 August 2020, https://nova.rs/vesti/politika/saznajemo-nova-vlada-cekace-dok-se-vucic…; “Vučić najavljuje mogućnost koncentracione vlade i nove izbore za godinu i po” [Vučić Announces Possibility of National Unity Government and New Elections in a Year and a Half], Voice of America, 14 August 2020, https://www.glasamerike.net/a/vu%C4%8Di%C4%87-najavljuje-mogu%C4%87nost…; “Vučićevo vaganje sastava nove vlade Srbije” [Vučić Weighing the Composition of the New Serbian Government], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 14 August 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/vlada-srbije-aleksandar-vucic/30783595….
- 8“Odugovlačenje sa formiranjem Vlade – Vučićeva predstava za manipulaciju” [Drawing Out the Government Formation–Vučić’s Manipulation Performance], Danas, 24 August 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/odugovlacenje-sa-formiranjem-vlade-vucice….
- 9“Vučić predložio Anu Brnabić za mandatara za sastav nove Vlade Srbije“ [Vučić proposes Ana Brnabić to Form the new Government of Serbia], Politika, 5 October 2020, http://www.politika.rs/sr/clanak/463888/Vucic-predlozio-Anu-Brnabic-za-…
- 10“SPS i SPAS u novoj Vladi, Dačić predsednik Skupštine naredni parlamentarni izbori 2022. godine” [SPS and SPAS in the New Government, Dačić Speaker of Parliament, Next Parliamentary Elections in 2022], Nedeljnik, 20 October 2020, https://www.nedeljnik.rs/sps-i-spas-u-novoj-vladi-dacic-predsednik-skup….
- 11“Izglasana nova Vlada Republike Srbije” [New Government of Serbia Voted In], B92, 28 October 2020, https://www.b92.net/info/vesti/index.php?yyyy=2020&mm=10&dd=28&nav_cate….
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||4.254 7.007|
- The June parliamentary elections were marred by a boycott from the opposition over the lack of free and fair electoral conditions.1 Shortly before elections were called, the ruling SNS amended the electoral law, reducing the threshold for entering the parliament from 5 percent of votes cast to 3 percent.2 OSCE election monitors noted that the manner and timing of the legal changes, which Serbian observers considered an attempt to undermine the opposition boycott, were not in line with internationally recognized best practices.3
- In early March, President Vučić called parliamentary elections for April 26th.4 However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent state of emergency, election activities were suspended in mid-March.5 In May, after the state of emergency was lifted, the RIK announced a resumption of election activities, and the polls were rescheduled for June 21st.6 Elections for the Vojvodina Provincial Assembly and 154 local governments were held the same day.
- While President Vučić was not on the ballot, his personal power within the ruling SNS was demonstrated by the decision to name the ruling party’s electoral list “Aleksandar Vučić–For Our Children” for parliamentary, provincial, and local races, without any reference to the SNS itself. While the list’s name again demonstrated the personalization of politics within the ruling party, it did not violate existing legislation.7
- According to the final results, the SNS-led list won 60.7 percent of votes cast and 188 parliamentary seats. The allied SPS won 10.4 percent of votes, securing 32 seats. The only other nonminority list to cross the 3 percent threshold was the SPAS, which won 3.8 percent of the vote and 11 seats. The remaining 19 seats were won by ethnic minority representatives, who faced a lower threshold. Some 20 percent of votes were cast for electoral lists that failed to enter the parliament. Turnout for the parliamentary contest stood at 48.9 percent, the lowest since multiparty elections were introduced in 1990.8
- The OSCE sent a limited mission to observe the elections, though no systematic election-day monitoring was carried out. In its final report, the OSCE noted that the elections “were administered efficiently,” but also noted numerous problems and irregularities, ranging from pro-SNS media bias to pressure and intimidation of voters on election day. OSCE monitors also reported that “the advantage enjoyed by the governing parties, the decision of some opposition parties to boycott the elections and limited policy debate narrowed the choice and information available to voters.”9
- The Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), an independent domestic election-observation organization, issued a critical assessment of the elections in an October report. CRTA called the elections “the worst of all election processes observed to date, and although on the whole the elections fulfilled minimal democratic standards, they will have negative consequences for the quality of democracy in Serbia.”10 In particular, CRTA concluded that events on election day were “on the edge of regularity,”11 with significant irregularities observed in at least 8 percent of polling stations, two to three times more than in past elections. The CRTA report notably concluded that irregularities did not affect the electoral outcome as much as turnout, which it estimates would have been around 4% lower in their absence.12
- 1The main opposition bloc, the Alliance for Serbia, decided to boycott the elections in September 2019 and was joined by other opposition parties and groups; a total of 21 party lists and coalitions took part in the elections, most of them at least nominally positioned as being “in opposition” to the ruling SNS.
- 2“Cenzus tri odsto, na listama 40 procenata žena” [Electoral Threshold 3 Percent, Women 40 Percent of Lists], RTS, 8 February 2020, https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/3844903/cenzus-tri-…; “Smanjen census na tri odsto, na listama najmanje 40 odsto žena” [Electoral Threshold Reduced to 3 Percent, Women 40 Percent of Lists ], Danas, 8 February 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/smanjen-cenzus-na-tri-odsto-na-listama-na….
- 3Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, “Republic of Serbia: Parliamentary Elections 21 June 2020,” 7 October 2020, 1, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/3/466026.pdf.
- 4“Srbija izlazi na birališta: Vučić raspisao izbore za 26. April” [Serbia Going to the Polls: Vučić Calls Elections for 26 April], Blic, 4 March 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/srbija-izlazi-na-biralista-vucic-ras…
- 5Republic Election Commission, “123. sednica Republičke izborne komisije” [123. Session of the Republic Election Commission], 16 March 2020, https://www.rik.parlament.gov.rs/vest/2624/123-sednica-republicke-izbor….
- 6Republic Election Commission, “124. sednica Republičke izborne komisije” [124. Session of the Republic Election Commission], 11 May 2020, https://www.rik.parlament.gov.rs/vest/2645/124-sednica-republicke-izbor….
- 7“SNS predala izbornu list ‘Aleksandar Vučić – za našu decu’” [SNS Submits Electoral List “Aleksandar Vučić–For our Children”], N1, 5 March 2020, https://rs.n1info.com/izbori-2020/a575178-sns-predala-izbornu-listu-ale…; “Vučićevo ime biće na svim izbornim listićima” [Vučić’s Name Will Be on All Ballot Papers], Danas, 22 February 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/vucicevo-ime-bice-na-svim-izbornim-listic….
- 8Republic Election Commission, “Saopštenje za javnost” [Public Statement], 5 July 2020, https://www.rik.parlament.gov.rs/vest/9434/saopstenje-za-javnost-.php.
- 9Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, “Republic of Serbia: Parliamentary Elections 21 June 2020,” 7 October 2020, 1, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/3/466026.pdf.
- 10Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability, “CRTA: Parlamentarni izbori 2020 Završni izveštaj sa preporukama” [CRTA: Parliamentary Elections 2020 Concluding Report with Recommendations, October 2020, 7, https://crta.rs/parlamentarni-izbori-2020-zavrsni-izvestaj-sa-preporuka… .
- 11Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability, “CRTA: Parlamentarni izbori 2020 Završni izveštaj sa preporukama” [CRTA: Parliamentary Elections 2020 Concluding Report with Recommendations, October 2020, 11, https://crta.rs/parlamentarni-izbori-2020-zavrsni-izvestaj-sa-preporuka….
- 12Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability, “CRTA: Parlamentarni izbori 2020 Završni izveštaj sa preporukama” [CRTA: Parliamentary Elections 2020 Concluding Report with Recommendations], October 2020, 11, https://crta.rs/parlamentarni-izbori-2020-zavrsni-izvestaj-sa-preporuka….
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||5.506 7.007|
- The Serbian Business Registers Agency counted 34,450 registered civil society organizations (CSOs) in October, an increase of just over a thousand compared to 2019.1 Although this represents a sizeable number relative to Serbia’s population, it likely includes many organizations with little or no activity.
- However, the Civil Society Sustainability Index for 2019, published in October, noted a deterioration in CSO sustainability in five of seven criteria, primarily due to “the hostile environment in which civil society activists operated.”2
- Meanwhile, the European Commission’s (EC) Serbia report, also published in October, stated that “an enabling environment for the development and financing of civil society still needs to be established,” while noting that CSOs operate in a polarized environment that is “not open to criticism.”3 The EC report also noted the prevalence of negative statements made against CSOs by the authorities, particularly over funding, in the context of “smear campaigns.” Notably, the EC report concluded that “organizations and individuals that criticize the authorities in developments related to the rule of law are under particular pressure.”4
- Environmental protests, which are relatively new phenomena in Serbia, continued during the year. Most visible were the protests against the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the Stara Planina nature park. The “Let’s Defend the Stara Planina Rivers” movement organized protests in the area,5 as well as in Belgrade.6 The movement won a notable victory when plans to construct hydroelectric plants in the park were removed from the planning documents of the local Pirot municipality in April.7 Citizens also protested over a range of other environmental problems; in Bor and Smederevo, protests were organized against air pollution generated by local industrial complexes owned by Chinese companies.8
- In July, an informal group of medics known as United Against COVID-19 issued a public letter—initially signed by more than 350 doctors—in which they criticized the government’s COVID-19 response. United Against COVID-19 called for the dismissal of the government’s COVID-19 Crisis Staff, and stated that “the complete easing of anti-epidemic measures in the pre-election period (rallies, matches, tournaments, celebrations, etc.) led to a loss of control over the epidemiological situation.”9 Subsequently, media outlets reported that several signatories faced pressure and sanctions in state workplaces.10
- Serbia was also swept by a short but intense wave of protests in July. The protests were originally prompted by an apparent announcement of a weekend-long COVID-19-related curfew, attributed to President Vučić.11 Left-wing and right-wing protesters gathered in front of the parliament building with little or no active coordination. During that protest, a group of right-wing demonstrators, apparently led by former Dveri official Srđan Nogo, briefly broke into the parliament building before they were removed.12 Over the next few days, protesters continued to gather in front of the parliament, motivated by issues ranging from government policy on COVID-19 to Kosovo.13 Protests were held in several other cities including Kruševac, Niš, and Novi Sad.14 Police used force against demonstrators, who were often peaceful, in scenes not witnessed since the 1990s.15
- 1See: https://www.apr.gov.rs/%D0%BF%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B0.3.html.
- 2United States Agency for International Development, “2019 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index: Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia,” October 2020, 196, https://www.fhi360.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/resource-cso….
- 3European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 12–13, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 4European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 13, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 5“Probijena prva cev na MHE u Rakitskoj reci” [First Pipe Broken in the Mini-hydroelectric Plant in the Rakita River], Danas, 15 August 2020, https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/probijena-prva-cev-na-mhe-u-rakitskoj-reci/.
- 6“Protest pokreta Odbranimo reke Stare planine: Bez odlaganja izvaditi cevi iz Rakitske reke” [Protest of the “Let’s Defend the Stara Planina Rivers” Movement: Pipes Should Be Removed from the Rakita River Without Delay], Insajder, 21 February 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/vazno/17000/; “Na protestu ispred Vlade Srbije zatražena hitna zabrana izgradnje MHE” [At the Protests in Front of the Serbian Government Demand for Urgent Banning of Construction of Mini-hydroelectric Plants], Beta, 13 June 2020, https://beta.rs/vesti/politika-vesti-srbija/128784-na-protestu-ispred-v…; “Ekološki aktivisti opet protestovali i ponovo zatražili zabranu gradnje MHE I zdravu životnu sredinu” [Ecological Activists Again Protested and Again Demanded Ban on Construction of Mini-Hydroelectric Plants and a Healthy Living Environment], Južne Vesti, 14 June 2020, https://www.juznevesti.com/Drushtvo/Ekoloski-aktivisti-opet-protestoval….
- 7“Pobeda meštana Stare planine – neće se graditi mini-hidroelektrane” [Victory of the Residents of Stara Planina–Mini-hydroelectric Plants Will Not Be Built], RTS, 20 July 2020, https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/125/drustvo/4023257/hidroelekt….
- 8Odbranimo reke Stare planine, “Za svu decu – protest u Smederevu” [For all Children–Protest in Smederevo], 23 August 2020, https://novastaraplanina.com/za-svu-decu-protest-u-smederevu/; “Protest u Smederevu protiv zagadjenja iz železare” [Protest in Smederevo against Pollution from the Steel Plant], Politika, 20 August 2020, http://www.politika.rs/sr/clanak/460784/Protest-u-Smederevu-protiv-zaga…; “Protest gradjana Smedereva zbog zagadjenja” [Protest of Citizens of Smederevo Due to Pollution], Insajder, 22 August 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/vazno/20060/; “U Boru održan masovni protest protiv zagadjenja” [A Mass Protest Held in Bor over Pollution], Bor030.net, 19 September 2020, https://www.bor030.net/u-boru-odrzan-masovni-protest-protiv-zagadjenja-…; “U Boru protest protiv zagadjenja” [Protest in Bor against pollution], Blic, 19 September 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/drustvo/u-boru-protest-protiv-zagadenja/l1en7….
- 9“Serbian Doctors Demand Action over COVID-19 ‘Public Health Disaster,’” Balkan Insight, 21 July 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/21/serbian-doctors-demand-action-over….
- 10“For Criticising Serbia’s COVID-19 Response, Doctors Come Under Fire,” Balkan Insight, 14 October 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/10/14/for-criticising-serbias-covid-19-r….
- 11“Uvodimo nove mere Vučić: Od petka do ponedeljka policijski čas u Beogradu” [We Are Imposing New Measures–Vučić: From Friday to Monday, Police Curfew in Belgrade], Blic, 7 July 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/drustvo/policijski-cas-za-vikend/8cb777f.
- 12“Kako su eskalirali protesti ispred Skupštine Srbije” [How Protests Outside the Serbian Parliament Escalated], Blic, 7 July 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/protesti-incident-skupstina-srbije-a….
- 13“Protest prošao mirno” [Protest Passes Peacefully], Blic, 9 July 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/protest-prosao-mirno-okupljeni-uspel…; “Huligani isprovocirali nerede” [Hooligans Provoked Disorder], Blic, 10 July 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/huligani-isprovocirali-nerede-posle-…; “Protest ispred Skupštine Srbije, šesti dan zaredom, bez incidenata” [Protests in Front of Serbian Parliament, Sixth Day in a Row, Without Incidents], N1, 12 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a619071/Protest-ispred-Skupstine-Srbije-sest….
- 14“Protesti u Zrenjaninu, Nišu, Novom Sadu, Kruševcu i Čačku” [Protests in Zrenjanin, Niš, Novi Sad, Kruševac and Čačak], N1, 12 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a619085/Protestna-setnja-u-Nisu-Zrenjaninu-i….
- 15“Policija u Pionirskom parku tulka muškarce koji su sedeli na klupi” [Police in Pionirski Park Beat Men Who Were Sitting on a Bench], N1, 8 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a617514/Policija-u-Pionirskom-parku-tukla-mu…; “Svedočenje Stefana Miletića kog je policija pretukla na Terazijama 8. jula” [Testimony of Stefan Miletić Who Was Beaten on Terazije on 8 July], N1, 13 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a619131/Svedocenje-Stefana-Miletica-kog-je-p…; “Hapšenja na protestima: U zatvor i bez dokaza o nasilju, presude ekspresne…” [Arrests at Protests: In Prison With No Evidence of Violence, Express Sentences…], N1, 13 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a619406/Hapsenja-na-protestima-U-zatvor-i-be…; “Posle više sati sukoba, policija rasterala demonstrante u Beogradu” [After Several Hours of Clashes, Police Disperse Demonstrators in Belgrade], Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, 8 July 2020, https://www.krik.rs/poceo-jedan-od-dva-najavljena-protesta-u-beogradu/; “‘Pustite me bre aaaaaa’ Policija brutalno pendrekom nasrnula na demonstranta” [‘Let Me Go:’ Police Brutally Assault Demonstrator with Truncheon], Blic, 8 July 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/novi-sad-protesti/0s7lert.
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||3.253 7.007|
- The number of independent media outlets remained broadly stable, but these outlets remained limited in their ability to reach the wider Serbian population. In late January, the government adopted the Media Strategy to 2025 plan, which was largely well-received by the two main journalists’ associations.1 However, both associations, as well as independent journalists, voiced caution over the ultimate fate of the plan’s envisioned legal changes.2 While a related action plan was originally due for adoption in May, the Brnabić government only pledged to adopt the document during its first 100 days in late October3 and announced the formation of a working group to monitor its execution by December.4
- Independent outlets faced headwinds while reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and related state of emergency, with Serbian authorities proving themselves unwilling to accept critical coverage. The most drastic example was the case of journalist Ana Lalić, who reported on a lack of protective equipment and on chaotic working conditions at the Vojvodina Clinical Center in an April article published by news site NovaS.rs.5 The day the article was published, police arrested Lalić for “spreading panic and disturbance.”6 Lalić was released a day later, after her arrest stirred public outcry,7 and the charges against her were eventually dropped.8
- At the end of July, Serbian media revealed that the Finance Ministry’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering had requested the banking information of 20 journalists, activists and other individuals, as well as 37 organizations—primarily media outlets and CSOs—as part of its investigations into terrorism financing and money laundering.9 Organizations targeted by the ministry included Serbia’s two main journalists’ associations, BIRN, the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia, the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, CRTA, and the European Movement in Serbia.10 Journalists, media outlets, and CSOs reacted angrily, seeing the move as a deliberate attempt to silence and intimidate critics. The EC, the US Embassy in Belgrade, and Amnesty International also voiced concern over the move.11
- The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) reported a sharp increase in the total number of registered attacks against journalists. NUNS counted 151 such attacks in 2020, up from 119 in 2019—the 2020 figures were the highest since the database was created in 2008.12 NUNS also recorded a notable increase in physical assaults. Particularly worrying were a string of attacks on journalists by riot police—and some protesters—during the July protests in Belgrade.13
- 1“Vlada usvojila medijsku strategiju” [Government Adopts Media Strategy], RTS, 30 January 2020, https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/125/drustvo/3833069/brnabic-us….
- 2“Dug put do medijske strategije” [Long Road to Media Strategy], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 31 January 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/medijska-strategija-srbija/30410604.ht….
- 3“Ana Brnabić: Akcioni plan za Medijsku strategiju u prvih 100 dana rada nove Vlade Srbije” [Ana Brnabić: Action Plan for Media Strategy in the First 100 Days of the Work of the Government of Serbia], Cenzolovka, 21 October 2020, https://www.cenzolovka.rs/drzava-i-mediji/ana-brnabic-akcioni-plan-za-m….
- 4Government of the Republic of Serbia, “Serbia Continues to Work on Implementation of Comprehensive Reforms,” 21 December 2020, https://www.srbija.gov.rs/vest/en/165400/serbia-continues-to-work-on-im….
- 5“KC Vojvodine pred pucanjem: Bez zaštite za medicinske sestre” [Clinical Center of Vojvodina at Breaking Point: Without Protection for Nurses], Nova S, 1 April 2020, https://nova.rs/vesti/drustvo/kc-vojvodine-pred-pucanjem-bez-zastite-za….
- 6“Novinarki Ani Lalić odredjeno zadržavanje od 48 sati” [Journalist Ana Lalić to Be Detained for 48 Hours], Blic, 2 April 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/drustvo/novinarki-ani-lalic-odredeno-zadrzava….
- 7“Novinarka Ana Lalić puštena iz pritvora” [Journalist Ana Lalić Released from Detention], Blic, 2 April 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/drustvo/novinarka-ana-lalic-pustena-iz-pritvo….
- 8“Povučena tužba protiv Ane Lalić, novinarke Nova.rs” [Charges Withdrawn against Ana Lalić, Journalist of Nova.rs], Nova S, 27 April 2020, https://nova.rs/vesti/hronika/povucena-tuzba-protiv-ane-lalic-novinarke….
- 9“Spisak pojedinaca I organizacija Uprave za sprečavanje pranja novca – zloupotreba zakona ili samo kontrola” [List of Individuals and Organizations of Anti-Money Laundering Authority–Abuse of the Law or Just Control], Insajder, 28 July 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/vazno/19774/.
- 10“Serbian Authorities Seek Bank Data of Rights Groups, Investigative Media,” Balkan Insight, 28 July 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/28/serbian-authorities-seek-bank-data….
- 11“EU, SAD i Amnesty traže detalje o proveri finansija novinara i NVO u Srbiji” [EU, USA, and Amnesty Seeking Details of Financial Checks against Journalists and NGOs in Serbia], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 29 July 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/uprava-finansije-nvo-mediji/30755081.h…; “Amnesty Urges Serbia to Drop Probe Into Critical NGOs,” Balkan Insight, 29 July 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/29/amnesty-urges-serbia-to-drop-probe….
- 12See: https://www.bazenuns.rs/srpski/napadi-na-novinare.
- 13“Serbian Police Attack Journalists in Second Night of Clashes,” Balkan Insight, 9 July 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/09/serbian-police-attack-journalists-…; “UNS: Za pet dana napadnuto i ometano 28 jousrnalists and media workers” [UNS: in Five Days, 28 Journalists Attacked or Prevented from Doing Their Work], N1, 15 July 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a619872/UNS-Za-pet-dana-napadnuto-i-ometano-….
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||4.004 7.007|
- Local elections were held in 154 of Serbia’s 170 local municipalities, taking place concurrently with national elections. Electors in the autonomous province of Vojvodina also cast their votes for the Vojvodina Provincial Assembly. The same parties that boycotted national parliamentary elections largely boycotted the local contests. As a result of the boycott and the weak organization of the opposition groups that did participate, voters benefited from even fewer choices in local races than in the national elections.
- The ruling SNS secured overwhelming majorities in nearly all the municipalities that held local elections. While the political representatives of ethnic minorities prevailed in municipalities with sizeable minority populations such as Novi Pazar, the SNS lost in only seven municipalities outside such areas—Beočin, Čajetina, Novi Beograd, Ražanj, Surdulica, Svilajnac, and Topola.1 Even then, parties such as the SPS, a coalition partner, won power in some of these municipalities.
- Fierce contests took place in the towns of Paraćin and Šabac, which were among the last municipalities with large urban centers under opposition control. Paraćin mayor Saša Paunović defied the Democratic Party’s (DS) decision to boycott the elections, leaving the DS in order to seek a new term.2 Paunović publicly described his choice as that between letting down his party and letting down his supporters in Paraćin.3 Paunović and his electoral list were defeated, with the SNS taking 45.1 percent of the vote to Paunović’s 24.2 percent.4 In a subsequent interview, Paunović argued the elections were neither free nor fair, but that voters were free of intimidation, and accepted the results.5
- The elections in Šabac—where incumbent mayor Nebojša Zelenović and his “Together for Serbia” group faced off with the SNS—were marred by procedural chaos. Following the local elections in June, the SNS proclaimed that it won more than half the votes cast.6 However, the City Election Commission (GIK) decided to annul the voting process on procedural grounds at all 100 polling stations;7 an administrative court later quashed the decision, ordering a rerun at 27 polling stations.8 Amidst an outbreak of COVID-19 infections, the rerun elections were held in early September, but the GIK ordered the vote to be repeated once again at five polling stations.9 The third round of voting took place in early October, after which the GIK annulled the results at one of the five polling stations.10
- In the aftermath of this, 10 GIK members close to Zelenović resigned, while a group of GIK members close to the SNS organized a hunger strike. Eventually, a rump GIK cancelled a fourth round of voting11 and proclaimed the final election results on October 17th—almost four months after the elections were first held—confirming that the SNS had won an absolute majority of seats in the local assembly.12
- The government did not adopt a law on funding for Vojvodina, despite a constitutional requirement to do so. While the constitution stipulates that at least 7 percent of the national budget should be devoted to Vojvodina, disagreements over how that commitment is calculated persisted.
- 1“Preliminarni rezultati lokalnh izbora: SNS bez većine za sad jedino u Čajetini, još bez rezultata iz Paraćina i Šapca” [Preliminary Results of Local Elections: SNS Without Majority for Now Only in Čajetina, Still No Results from Paraćin and Šabac], Insajder, 22 June 2020, https://insajder.net/sr/sajt/vazno/19048/; “Lokalni izbori: Opštine u kojima nije pobedio SNS” [Local Elections: Municipalities in Which the SNS Did Not Win], N1, 22 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a612544/Lokalni-izbori-Opstine-u-kojim….
- 2“Paunović izlazi iz DS, na lokalne izbore ide s ljudima iz dosadašnje koalicije” [Paunović Leaving DS, Going into Local Elections with People for Current Coalition], 3 March 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a574534/Paunovic-izlazi-iz-DS-na-lokalne-izb….
- 3“Paunović: Nekog ću morati da izdam, bilo koju odluku da donesem” [Paunović: I Will Have to Betray Someone, Whichever Decision I Reach] N1, 26 February 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a572675/Paunovic-Nekog-cu-morati-da-izdam-bi….
- 4“SNS osvojio i Paraćin, 13 mandata više od Paunovića“ [SNS Wins Paraćin too, 13 Mandates More than Paunović], N1, 22 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a612412/SNS-osvojio-i-Paracin.html.
- 5“Saša Paunović: Opozicija i dalje čeka da se ‘iskrcaju saveznici’ na Balkanu” [Saša Paunović: Opposition Still Waiting for an “Allied Landing” in the Balkans], Danas, 9 August 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/sasa-paunovic-opozicija-i-dalje-ceka-da-s….
- 6“SNS proglasio pobedu u Šapcu, još bez zvaničnih rezultata” [SNS Proclaims Victory in Šabac, Still Without Official Results], N1, 22 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a612400/SNS-objavio-na-Tviteru-pobedu-….
- 7“Poništeni lokalni izbori u Šapcu” [Local Elections in Šabac Annulled], N1, 25 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a613346/Ponisteni-lokalni-izbori-u-Sap….
- 8“Sud delimično usvojio žalbu SNS, izbori u Šapcu ponavljaju se na 27 mesta” [Court Partially Adopts SNS Appeal, Elections in Šabac Being Repeated in 27 Places], N1, 29 June 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a614588/Sud-delimicno-usvojio-zalbu-SN….
- 9“Izbori u Šapcu ponavljaju se na pet mesta 3. oktobra” [Elections in Šabac Are Being Repeated in Five Places on 3 October], N1, 24 September 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a653319/Izbori-u-Sapcu-ponavljaju-se-n….
- 10“Zašto Šabac obara rekorde u ponavljanju izbora” [Why is Šabac Breaking Records in Repeating Elections], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9 October 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/za%C5%A1to-%C5%A1abac-obara-rekorde-u-….
- 11“SNS Šabac: GIK poništila odluke o ponavljanju glasanja” [SNS Šabac: Town Election Commission Annuls Decisions on Repeating Elections], Blic, 8 October 2020, https://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/sns-sabac-gik-ponistila-odluke-o-pon….
- 12“GIK proglasio konačne rezultate lokalnih izbora u Šapcu” [Town Election Commission Announces Final Results of Local Elections in Šabac], N1, 17 October 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Izbori-2020/a661841/Konacni-rezultati-izbora-u-Sap….
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||3.504 7.007|
- The EC’s October report on Serbia noted a lack of progress on judicial reform during the year,1 concluding that “the current constitutional and legislative framework continues to leave room for undue political influence over the judiciary” and that “pressure on the judiciary remains high.”2 The EC also noted the willingness of government officials to publicly comment on court proceedings, sentences, and investigations, even though existing codes of conduct for government officials prohibit such behavior. Individual judges and prosecutors often found themselves subjected to personal attacks, including by parliamentarians, which were also carried in tabloid newspapers.3 In September, the Judges’ Association of Serbia called on the parliament to establish an ethics committee to investigate code-of-conduct breaches.4
- In January, Justice Ministry official Radomir Ilić issued new proposals that would institute more “external control” over the judiciary, after claiming that it was becoming “an unaccountable branch of government.” Ilić cited the French model when discussing his proposal, highlighting the French president’s apparent power to appoint judges and prosecutors.5 While the proposals caused a storm in judicial and legal circles, they appear to have only amounted to a trial balloon.6 The proposals were put forward despite the Vučić government’s 2018 move to offer constitutional amendments on judicial independence.
- In July, the government adopted a national judicial development strategy for the 2020–25 period; the previous strategy had expired in December 2018.7 The EC report on Serbia warned, however, that no impact assessment had been carried out, nor was a financial analysis of the proposed reforms’ costs conducted.8 A revised action plan for EU negotiating Chapter 23 pertaining to judicial and other fundamental rights was adopted that same month.9
- The EC’s report on Serbia noted a smaller, though still large, number of backlogged cases in 2019 over the previous year. The EC counted 685,456 cases that were at least two years old in 2019, as opposed to 781,137 in 2018. The same report counted just over 250,000 cases that were at least 10 years old in 2019.10
- Judicial authorities increasingly relied on so-called “Skype trials” during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and related state of emergency. Following the imposition of the state of emergency in mid-March, the work of the courts was essentially suspended, with only urgent cases—primarily related to state-of-emergency violations—being processed. Given the social distancing measures in place, some of these urgent trials were held via Skype, the sole legal basis for which was an instruction from the Ministry of Justice.11 One month into the state of emergency, media reported that dozens of trials were conducted via videoconference, noting that seemingly similar offenses were often punished with very different sentences. Thus, while a Niš resident received a three-year prison sentence for breaching a self-isolation order from the Basic Court in Dimitrovgrad, the Basic Court in Zrenjanin issued a €680 ($880) fine for a similar offense one week later.12
- 1European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 5, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 2European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 20, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 3European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 20, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 4“Društvo sudija Srbije: Narodna skupština da oformi etičke odbore, poslanici se neprimereno ponašaju” [Association of Judges of Serbia: Parliament to Form Ethical committees, MPs Are Behaving Inappropriately], Radio 021, 10 September 2020, https://www.021.rs/story/Info/Srbija/252941/Drustvo-sudija-Srbije-Narod….
- 5“Ilić: Pravosuđe mora da dobije eksternu kontrolu, promenićemo Ustav” [Ilić: Judiciary Has to Get External Control, We Will Change Constitution], RTV, 19 January 2020, https://www.rtv.rs/sr_lat/drustvo/ilic-pravosudje-mora-da-dobije-ekster…; Serbian legal experts pointed out that in fact the French system of appointing judges and prosecutors is much more structured and complex than presented by Ilić and does not give the French president a free hand in making appointments.
- 6“Predsednik testira srpsko pravosudje” [President Testing Serbian Judicial System], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 20 January 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/vucic-sudije-tuzioci-izbor/30387739.ht….
- 7“Vlada usvojila Strategiju za razvoj pravosudja do 2025” [Government Adopts Strategy for Development of Judiciary to 2025], RTV, 10 July 2020, https://www.rtv.rs/sr_lat/politika/vlada-usvojila-strategiju-za-razvoj-….
- 8European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 19, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 9“Usvojena strategija za razvoj pravosudja i revidiran plan za Poglavlje 23” [Strategy for Development of Judiciary and Revised Plan for Chapter 23 Adopted], Danas, 10 July 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/usvojena-strategija-za-razvoj-pravosudja-….
- 10European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 23–24, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 11European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 19, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 12“‘Skajp sudjenja’ u Srbiji” [“Skype Trials” in Serbia], Radio Slobodna Evropa, 15 April 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/on-line-sudjenja-srbija/30555873.html.
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||3.504 7.007|
- While the SNS took power on a pledge to fight corruption in 2012, the party has lessened its public rhetoric on the issue. Indeed, while outlining the priorities of her new government in late October, Prime Minister Brnabić put a strong focus on fighting organized crime but only mentioned anticorruption efforts in passing. While laying out her government’s program, Brnabić made a reference to implementing an action plan for the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, even though both the strategy and action plan expired at the end of 2018. No new strategic framework has been adopted since.1
- The EC noted only “limited progress” in the fight against corruption in its report on Serbia.2 While the report noted positive steps taken to “strengthen the mandate and to ensure the independence of the Anti-Corruption Agency,” it also stated that the “number of finalized high-level corruption cases has decreased compared with the previous years.”3
- In early February, the parliament adopted a law that effectively allows the government to exempt selected infrastructure projects of “strategic importance” from public procurement rules.4 The new law was criticized by numerous anticorruption campaigners, including the local chapter of Transparency International, which called for the law to be withdrawn because it would undermine the public procurement system.5 The EC’s report on Serbia also criticized the legislation, warning that the new law “raises serious concerns regarding its potential for corruption.”6
- In late February, the parliament adopted the Law on the Origin of Assets, which expands the ability of tax administrators to compare the assets of natural persons to their declared income, with a view to taxing or confiscating assets in case of major discrepancies.7 The law will come into effect in 2021, though many anticorruption experts have reservations over how it will be implemented.8
- In an unusual move, President Vučić told Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung that there had been a significant amount of corruption in the Serbian government.9 The statement was carried by some Serbian media outlets, with observers noting that Vučić only made those admissions to foreign—rather than local—media.10
- The Anti-Corruption Council, an independent government body, continued to be understaffed and underresourced: currently, only 7 of the body’s 13 seats are filled. More worryingly, the Council faced sharp attacks from government officials in September. After the Council issued a report on the operation of the state railway, Transport Minister Zorana Mihajlović threatened to initiate procedures to “reexamine the Council’s work” in order to “reform” the body. Members of the Council saw this as a veiled threat to end its work.11
Author: Miloš Damnjanović is a political analyst working and living in Belgrade. He holds a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Oxford, where he worked on post-1989 democratization in Serbia and Croatia.
- 1The new government’s program can be accessed here in full: https://media.srbija.gov.rs/medsrp/dokumenti/brnabic_ekspoze281020_cyr….
- 2European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 26, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 3European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 26, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 4“Skupština usvojila zakone iz oblasti infrastrukture i dva finansijska zakona” [Parliament Adopts Laws in Realm of Infrastructure and to Financial Laws], N1, 3 March 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a566114/Skupstina-usvojila-zakone-iz-oblasti….
- 5Transparency Serbia, “Zakon o posebnim postupcima podriva sistem javnih nabavki” [Law on Special Procedures Undermines System of Public Procurements], https://transparentnost.org.rs/index.php/sr/aktivnosti-2/naslovna/11190…; “With ‘Special’ Legislation, Serbia Sidesteps Corruption Safeguards,” Balkan Insight, 17 September 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/09/17/with-special-legislation-serbia-si….
- 6European Commission, “Serbia 2020 Report,” October 2020, 28, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/serbia_….
- 7“Usvojen Zakon o utvrdjivanju porekla imovine” [Law on Origins of Assets Adopted], Danas, 29 February 2020, https://www.danas.rs/politika/usvojen-zakon-o-utvrdjivanju-porekla-imov….
- 8“Poreklo imovine pod lupom u Srbiji od marta 2021. godine” [Origin of Assets Under the Magnifying Glass in Serbia from March 2021], Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 26 August 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/poreklo-imovine-pod-lupom-od-marta-202….
- 9“Außer Erniedrigung hat uns niemand im Westen etwas für den Kosovo angeboten” [Apart from Humiliation, Nobody in the West Has Offered Us Anything for Kosovo], Kleine Zeitung, 4 October 2020, https://www.kleinezeitung.at/politik/5876834/Interview-mit-Aleksandar-V….
- 10“Vučić priznaje da je bilo ‘mnogo korupcije’, ali stranim medijima” [Vučić Admits There Was ‘a Lot of Corruption,’ but to Foreign Media], N1, 12 October 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a659904/Vucic-priznaje-da-je-u-Vladi-bilo-mn….
- 11“Oštar napad iz Vlade u Savetu za borbu protiv korupcije vide kao najavu gašenja” [Fierce Attack from Government Seen in Anti-Corruption Council as Sign of Abolition], N1, 11 September 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Vesti/a638926/Savet-za-borbu-protiv-korupcije-stra….
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Global Freedom Score60 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score71 100 free