Transitional or Hybrid Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 46.43 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.79 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
46 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Author

Nikola Burazer

header2 Score changes in 2023

  • No score changes in 2023.

header3 Executive Summary

In 2022, Serbia made an important step towards a return to political pluralism with the participation of the opposition in elections at all levels following the electoral boycott of 2020. The opposition also involved itself in the work of the National Assembly (Serbia’s parliament) for the first time since early 2019, when it began the boycott of parliamentary sessions. This development, however, did not result from improved electoral conditions or changes in the behavior of the parliamentary majority but rather as a consequence of the opposition’s change in strategy.

Apart from certain minor improvements, the 2022 elections were marred by the same problems as in previous ones. An interparty dialogue facilitated by the European Parliament, which was held in 2021 and resulted in the proposal of 16 measures, brought barely any meaningful improvements to the electoral process. In certain respects, the 2022 elections were even more controversial than previously, due primarily to a prolonged process lasting 93 days between election day and the final determination of results.

Presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in 13 cities and municipalities, most importantly in the City of Belgrade, took place on April 3, 2022. Incumbent Aleksandar Vučić comfortably won in the first round of presidential elections, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) list won the largest number of votes in both the parliamentary elections and in Belgrade. However, SNS did not win an absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly for the first time since 2014 and had to form a coalition with its longtime partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). The Belgrade city elections were much more contested, with the same SNS-SPS coalition winning only after a repeat of the elections at several polling stations, establishing the city government with a narrow majority.

Negative developments concerning media freedom continued in 2022. The Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) extended national broadcasting licenses for another eight years to four strongly progovernment television stations that, according to REM’s own reports, did not fulfill their commitments and conditions for having licenses. Even though REM should have decided on the fifth national broadcasting license by November 26, it postponed this decision indefinitely. While representing another backward step in Serbia’s problem of media pluralism and balanced representation of political actors, this development further argues for assessing REM as a captured institution.

The majority state-owned Telekom Srbija, another instrument of state control over the media sector, continued to assert its dominance as a cable provider and pushed back on the private enterprise SBB, owned by United Group. Promotional campaigns against SBB were even conducted in public institutions. The importance of the struggle between the two rival companies—Telekom and United Group—goes far beyond a commercial competition, bearing in mind that Telekom’s network does not broadcast the country’s main critical news channels, N1 and Nova S. Both the dominance of Telekom and the apparent duopoly of the two companies on the market, where there is only a thin line between commercial and political interests, represents a serious threat to media freedom in Serbia.

Civil society and independent media in Serbia continue to work in a hostile atmosphere where smear campaigns against organizations or individuals by ruling party officials and progovernment media are common. While the government adopted and attempts to implement such policies as the Strategy for Development of the Civil Society (2022) and the Media Strategy (2020), there is a high degree of distrust towards the government from civil society and journalists’ associations. Although the government attempts to include these organizations in drafting and implementing strategic documents, a large part of the civic sector and independent media finds itself under unjustified investigation for money laundering and financing terrorism in the infamous “Spisak” case from 2020, which remains unresolved.

In 2022, there was also a step backward in protecting the freedom of assembly. The Interior Ministry banned the Pride parade planned for September 17, which was to take place as part of a week-long EuroPride event in the capital Belgrade. The ban went against an established and practiced right (since 2014) but also against decisions by the Constitutional Court, which had ruled that similar bans in previous years were unconstitutional. The government eventually allowed the walk along a shorter route, not portraying it to the public as a parade. Yet the damage done by this precedent in restricting freedom of assembly and LGBT+ rights could be far-reaching. Freedom of assembly was also jeopardized through fines issued in 2022 to citizens who took part in ecological protests in late 2021, a move believed to be aimed at intimidating future protests.

Political discourse in 2022 was largely dominated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, and demands that Serbia join the European Union (EU) in levying sanctions against Russia. This topic dominated the electoral campaign, which coincided with the first weeks of the war, but also over the rest of the year with continued discussions about whether Serbia should join the sanctions. Ultimately, the government did not impose sanctions against Russia in 2022 but nevertheless voted with EU member states in the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the Russian invasion and suspend Russia’s participation in the UN Human Rights Council.

The war in Ukraine, together with EU demands regarding sanctions, led to large-scale right-wing protests in support of Russia. Growing right-wing extremism in Serbia has led to threats against journalists who report about the war, and polls have shown for the first time that more than 50 percent of Serbian citizens are against EU membership.1 Anti-LGBT+ protests over the EuroPride event, particularly in the wake of the banned Pride parade, in some ways grew out of the pro-Russian rallies and were the largest in recent years.

Constitutional reform of the justice system, confirmed in a January 16 referendum, represented an opportunity to reduce political influence over the judiciary and prosecution. Its effects, however, depend on the set of judicial and prosecutorial laws that must be adopted in order to implement the changes. The process of adopting these laws was underway at year’s end after the Venice Commission published opinions on the proposed laws.

The trial of the Veljko Belivuk gang, arrested on charges of murder, kidnapping, and rape, began in October. While the government presents the case as evidence of its fight against organized crime, the accused gang members have spoken out about their links with the ruling parties during the trial. Other major corruption and organized crime cases, such as the trial of the former state secretary in the Interior Ministry, Dijana Hrkalović, and Jovanjica plantation owner Predrag Koluvija, have led to mutual accusations between government officials and public servants of alleged links with organized crime. These cases strongly suggest that the government fight against organized crime is related to intraparty struggles in the ruling coalition.

header4 At-A-Glance

In Serbia, there was an improvement in political pluralism in 2022 due to the opposition’s participation in the elections after several years of electoral and parliamentary boycott. Yet the elections remained marred by irregularities despite interparty dialogues in 2021 aimed at improving electoral conditions. Civil society remained a target of smear campaigns, while freedom of assembly was jeopardized by the government ban on the 2022 Pride parade. A system of media capture remained in place, mostly exercised through institutions and government funding. Local democracy is overshadowed by national-level politics, but the 2022 Belgrade city elections were competitive and represented one of the key political events of the year. Reform aimed at increasing the independence of the judiciary and prosecution, enacted through a constitutional change, was underway during the year, but concerns continued about political influence over the justice system. There have been significant delays in reforms in the fight against corruption, while major corruption cases point to links between government officials and organized crime.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.253 7.007
  • In April 2022, incumbent Aleksandar Vučić comfortably won in the first round of the presidential election,1 and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) list won the largest number of votes in elections on both the national level and in the City of Belgrade. However, the SNS did not manage to gain an absolute majority of seats on the national level for the first time since 2014, winning only 44.3 percent of the vote and 120 out of 250 seats.2 The party needed a coalition in order to form a government on both levels, joining with its 10-year coalition partner Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in Belgrade in June3 and on the national level in October.4
  • Opposition parties managed to win nearly a third of seats, 86 out of 250, in the National Assembly (Serbia’s parliament), with two pro-EU and three right-wing coalitions managing to pass the 3-percent threshold.5 At the Belgrade city level, opposition parties were just two seats short of having a majority in the city assembly, winning 54 out of 110 seats.6 This competitive dynamic represents an important step towards political pluralism compared to 2021 since, due to the electoral boycott in 2020, the term of the previous Serbian parliament was practically without opposition and the government had the support of 243 out of 250 members.7 8
  • The electoral participation of the opposition represented an important move towards the normalization of Serbia’s political life. Most of the opposition had also boycotted parliamentary sessions since the beginning of 2019, meaning that in 2022 there was both a formal and a substantive return of the opposition.9
  • There were significant delays in forming the new national government after the April elections. First, it took 93 days for final election results to be determined.10 Then, the new National Assembly was constituted in August, 28 days after the elections results were determined.11 Finally, it took 87 days after the constitution of the parliament to form the new government.12 This practice of prolonging the formation of the government has become all too common. Yet this time, it took a record 207 days to get from elections to the formation of a new government, despite no major obstacles to forming a coalition.
  • The National Assembly was also largely inactive in 2022 since it was dissolved for 175 days between February 15, when the parliamentary elections were initially scheduled, and August 1 when the new parliament was finally established. Prolonged periods of parliamentary inactivity have also become a usual practice—as in 2020, when the parliament was dissolved for 241 days due to elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the parliament was dissolved for almost 40 percent of total days between 2020 and 2022.13
  • Opposition members were appointed to 3 out of the 7 deputy speaker seats in the National Assembly, and as presidents of 5 out of the 20 parliamentary committees, which represented positive signs for Serbian democratic governance.14 However, in the first months of work, the ruling majority returned to its policy of obstructing parliamentary debate15 and insulting opposition members, leading to several fraught incidents verging on physical altercations.16
  • Despite steps towards pluralism, political power remained firmly in the hands of President Vučić. Thus, the delays in forming the parliament and the government did not affect his authority, and when presenting the composition of the new government, Vučić even announced that it would have a shortened mandate.17 Meanwhile, the opposition remained fragmented due to ideological and personal differences, as well as its stance on cooperation with the government.
  • One of the main political issues in Serbia in 2022 was the country’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The main question was whether Serbia would join EU sanctions against Russia, with Serbia’s leadership under significant pressure from EU officials while public opinion polls showed strong opposition to such a move.18 Serbia balanced the issue by voting against Russia in the UN General Assembly on several occasions19 and supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but at the same time rejecting the imposition of sanctions. This decision essentially put a halt to Serbia’s EU accession progress,20 with the European Parliament recommending not to advance accession talks with Serbia unless it joins sanctions on Russia.21
  • The year was marked by heightened tensions in Kosovo between the government in Pristina and Kosovo Serbs, with such issues as license plates, personal IDs, and arrests of Serb policemen leading to several crises on the verge of conflict and backward steps in normalizing relations.22 The turbulence in Kosovo led to inflammatory speech from Serbian officials not only against the Kosovo government but also Kosovo Serb political opponents.23
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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
  • A number of important elections took place in 2022. While regular presidential and City of Belgrade elections were due to take place in the spring, they were also joined by snap parliamentary polls as a result of President Vučić’s decision in 2020 that there would be new National Assembly elections in 2022.1 On all three levels, the elections took place on April 3, with a somewhat higher turnout of voters on all levels compared to previous elections.2
  • Local elections in the capital Belgrade and 13 other cities and municipalities took place on the same day as the presidential and parliamentary elections (see “Local Democratic Governance”).3 The Belgrade city elections were perhaps the most important of all, as polls suggested that the opposition had a chance of defeating the ruling SNS-SPS coalition.4 Preliminary results showed that SNS and SPS managed to win 56 out of 110 seats in the city assembly, giving them the slightest of majorities.5 After the elections were repeated at six polling stations due to irregularities on April 16 and 21, the SNS and SPS managed to indeed win the necessary 56 seats6 and form the Belgrade city government.7
  • The elections took place after two parallel interparty dialogues were held in 2021 aimed at improving electoral conditions. The main track of the dialogue, facilitated by European Parliament representatives, led to a platform of 16 points being implemented ahead of the 2022 elections.8 The platform’s implementation went ahead despite a majority of the opposition rejecting the co-facilitators’ proposals.9 In the end, 14 out of 16 points were implemented ahead of the elections, but with significant delays. Yet analysis of the 2022 elections does not show clear improvements in electoral conditions as a result of these measures.10
  • Independent observers assessed that there was significant disorganization and an atmosphere of tension on election day due to degradation of the integrity of the electoral process through the “strengthening and sophistication of mechanisms of electoral corruption, and endangerment of citizens’ voting rights,” according to the Belgrade-based Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA). There were numerous breaches of vote secrecy (at 14 percent of polling stations), parallel lists of voters (11 percent), voting outside polling stations (12 percent), and vehicles cruising around polling stations in a possible effort to intimidate voters (8 percent).11
  • Electoral authorities, especially the state electoral commission (RIK) and the Belgrade electoral commission (GIK), were involved in several controversies. RIK did not declare preliminary parliamentary results until the day after the election,12 while GIK rejected at least 116 complaints submitted by the opposition.13 There were also allegations that GIK did not publish the preliminary results based on 99.5 percent of the vote, at which point the ruling parties and the opposition were tied with 55 seats each, thus leaving voters unaware of the stakes before the repeated elections.14
  • The most controversial aspect of the 2022 elections was the prolonged process for determining the final parliamentary results. Repeated elections at one polling station were held five times, with the final determination of results left unknown until July 5—a record-breaking 93 days after the initial election day.15 This contributed significantly to the delays in forming the parliament and the government.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 5.255 7.007
  • According to the Serbian Business Registers Agency, there were 36,491 registered civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country as of December 31, 2022, showing a slight growth in numbers since 2021.1
  • Smear campaigns against CSOs and their representatives remain commonplace. SNS officials have, on several occasions, questioned the financing of CSOs. National Assembly member Đorđe Todorović attempted to discredit an opposition member for being board president of the A11 Initiative, a CSO focused on social rights, citing its financing by Western donors.2 Newly appointed Minister for Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Aleksandar Martinović,3 again attempted to discredit CSOs who criticize the government, pointing to their organizational and personal finances and equating them with the opposition.4
  • The network Solidarity for the Rights of All recorded 43 cases of attacks on CSOs and activists from January to November 2022.5 This is a much lower number than the 73 cases in 20216 and more than 100 cases in 20207 recorded by the same network, which the authors claim is a consequence of a change in methodology.
  • In February, the government adopted the Strategy for Development of the Civil Society (2022–28) to improve the participation of civil society in public decision-making.8 However, many distinguished CSOs declined to take part in drafting the document, unsatisfied with the government’s treatment of civil society, as evidenced by its failure to resolve the 2020 “Spisak” affair9 and attacks on civil society actors ever since.10
  • Court cases proceeded during the year against citizens who had participated in environmental protests at the end of 2021.11 Even some opposition politicians were sentenced to jail time for not paying fines.12 These moves were described by civil society representatives as systemic attempts to discourage citizens from taking part in future protests.13
  • Environmental protesters opposing the construction of a bridge through the island parkland of Šodroš, near Novi Sad,14 were violently suppressed by the police and private security in October, with several protesters beaten up and arrested.15 This represents a trend from 2021, where environmental protests attract the most public attention and prompt a harsh reaction from authorities.
  • The right to freedom of assembly was seriously undermined by an Interior Ministry ban of the Pride parade on September 17 to be held during a week-long EuroPride celebration.16 Based ostensibly on a public-safety rationale, the ban was issued despite the parade’s established occurrence in Belgrade since 2014 as well as past Constitutional Court rulings that similar bans were unconstitutional.17 Under outcry, the Pride event ultimately took place with ministry approval, though authorities claimed that the activity was not actually a parade but an escorted walk to a nearby concert venue.18 Participation by government representatives, including openly gay Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, in various EuroPride events in parallel with the ban exposed the controversy as a political miscalculation,19 possibly pandering to right-wing extremism, that jeopardized constitutional and personal rights.
  • The EuroPride manifestation triggered large right-wing protests, which brought together LGBT+ opponents and pro-Russian nationalists.20 A bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) encouraged violence against the participants of EuroPride,21 while the Patriarch held a prayer in support of “family values” ahead of the event.22
  • After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, several pro-Russian and far-right rallies occurred in Belgrade in support of the military action. Both extremist organizations and representatives of right-wing opposition parties and movements—all of which appeared to be on the rise—took part in the events.23 Meanwhile, pro-Ukrainian and joint antiwar rallies of Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarussians also took place in Belgrade on several occasions during the year.24
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 3.003 7.007
  • Attacks on journalists in Serbia remained an issue of concern in 2022. According to data from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS), there were 132 cases of attacks on journalists during the year. While this represents a decrease in attacks in comparison to 2020 and 2021, it is still the third-highest number in the last 10 years.1
  • In November, Danas newspaper received an anonymous letter with a credible threat of violence against its journalists.2 There were also physical attacks and threats against OK Radio in Vranje, which had a construction dispute with a local businessman. Even Veran Matić, a member of the government’s Standing Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, found himself targeted through fake arrest warrants while he was visiting Vranje. The abovementioned businessman was arrested for threating the journalists, but the court’s decisions regarding the construction issue have not been enforced, and OK Radio’s survival is jeopardized.3
  • KRIK, an independent investigative outlet, lost a case against the current Interior Minister and former head of the Security Information Agency (BIA), Bratislav Gašić, who sued KRIK for defamation for reporting from a trial on organized crime in which his name was mentioned. The November verdict was understood as a dangerous precedent that could discourage media from reporting on such trials, prompting widespread criticism at home and internationally.4
  • The use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) also remains an issue of concern. KRIK alone had 11 SLAPPs brought against it over the year. Problems with SLAPPs prompted Reporters Without Borders to call on the state to implement preventive measures.5 Serbia was also shortlisted for “SLAPP country of the year” in October by a European coalition against gag lawsuits.6
  • Implementation of the much-heralded Media Strategy is seriously delayed. The Action Plan envisions major media laws on public information and media, electronic media, and public broadcasters, but all were far from parliamentary procedure at year’s end.7
  • The allocation of national broadcasting licenses for television stations for the 2022–30 period by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) has been a highly controversial process that has further strengthened media capture in Serbia. Out of 14 applicants, REM allocated frequencies to the same four strongly progovernment television stations.8 These channels have frequently breached regulations that, according to REM’s own reports, should have led to the revocation of their licenses,9 and have been sued for broadcasting hate speech and violence.10 REM also opened a competition for the fifth national broadcasting license, which should have been decided on November 26 but was delayed.11 This move led to protests by the government-critical news channels N1 and Nova S, the latter competing for the license; in response, the REM Council went on strike.12 The license decision was postponed indefinitely.
  • Telekom Srbija, a state-controlled company and important instrument of government media control, started an aggressive campaign against its private cable competitor, SBB, operated by United Group, which owns several critical media outlets.13 Telekom used space in municipal buildings to message its campaign,14 and President Vučić publicly recommended that citizens use Telekom’s cable network, which does not broadcast the government-critical channels N1 and Nova S.15
  • A retrial of SNS official Dragoljub Simonović, accused of ordering an arson on the house of a local journalist in 2018,16 began in September after a delay of more than six months.17 The prosecutor, who was threatened by Simonović during the pretrial period in 2019 and was already removed from the case in the original trial, found himself under attack by progovernment media seeking to discredit him and the entire case.18
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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 took place in Serbia in 13 cities and municipalities on April 3, 2022—namely, in the cities of Belgrade and Bor and the municipalities of Aranđelovac, Smederevska Palanka, Lučani, Medveđa, Knjaževac, Bajina Bašta, Doljevac, Kula, Kladovo, Majdanpek, and Sečanj.1 Elections for the 17 individual municipalities of Belgrade did not take place, as they were held in 2020.
  • The City of Belgrade elections were not only the most important local elections in 2022 but were also considered to be the most important contest between the ruling and opposition parties due to the political and financial importance of Belgrade, and a good chance for the opposition to win. According to preliminary results, the ruling parties led with 56 to 54 council seats,2 which was later confirmed after repeated elections in some polling places due to irregularities.3 The city government was eventually formed by the same ruling parties, the coalitions around SNS and SPS, with Aleksandar Šapić (SNS) as the new Belgrade mayor.4
  • Seats in the Belgrade City Assembly were won by SNS and SPS lists, as well as by the wide opposition list “United for the Victory of Belgrade,” Moramo (We Must) green-left coalition, and the right-wing lists “Hope for Serbia,” Oathkeepers, and Dveri (Doors). Another opposition coalition—“Come on, People!”—missed entering the city council by just over 1,200 votes. Their entry would have changed the electoral results considerably and led to the opposition’s victory.5 Allocation of seats in the city assembly almost entirely corresponded with the composition of the National Assembly (see “National Democratic Governance”), but with significantly better results for the two center and center-left opposition lists, and a much worse result for the ruling SNS-SPS coalition.6
  • The close results of the Belgrade city elections, especially after the initial vote, led to direct political talks between President Vučić and Dragan Đilas, one of the opposition leaders from the “United” coalition. The talks were allegedly initiated by Vučić and were met with dissatisfaction among other opposition parties. Đilas proposed new elections in Belgrade since a thin majority would not have adequate legitimacy.7 Vučić later mentioned that he would agree to a new election if the opposition wanted it.8 Yet no agreement about new elections in 2023 was reached by year’s end.
  • Local elections in other municipalities were far less contested. In all, the SNS, SPS, and their minor coalition partners achieved convincing victories, and in some races, the SNS list alone had more than 50 percent of the vote.9 The lack of a proper opposition challenge in local elections outside the capital Belgrade raises questions about the strength and capacities of opposition parties nationwide.
  • Perhaps the biggest controversy regarding local democracy in 2022 occurred in the municipality of Pećinci, where children of local opposition politicians and protesters were newly prohibited from enrolling in the kindergarten they had previously attended. The parents accused the local SNS official of making this decision due to their political activities.10 The kindergarten claimed that everything was done according to law,11 while the Education Minister announced in November an inspection at the kindergarten.12
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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
  • Constitutional reform of the Serbian justice system, initiated by the National Assembly on November 30, 2021,1 was confirmed by a referendum held on January 16, 2022.2 Voter turnout was very low at just over 30 percent, but changes to the constitution were approved with a little less than 60 percent of voter support.3
  • The reform was aimed at increasing judicial independence and thus fulfilling requirements under Chapter 23 in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations. Despite some concerns by CSOs,4 the constitutional changes were widely regarded as a step forward. Under the law on implementing constitutional changes, five judicial statutes would need to be adopted within a year of the amendments’ entry into force.
  • Accordingly, the Justice Ministry formed two working groups in April to draft the new judicial statutes. But the composition of the working groups and the drafting process lacked transparency, and there was no adequate involvement by civil society. The draft laws were completed and sent to the Venice Commission in September, but presented to the Serbian public only later.5 The entire process was completed while the government was in technical mandate after the April elections.
  • In October, the Venice Commission gave a largely positive opinion on the draft justice laws but recommended a reduction in influence by the Justice Ministry, including on the court budget.6 After the ministry submitted revised draft laws, the Venice Commission published a follow-up opinion in December: it states that considerable recommendations from the previous opinion were followed, but some only partially, such as regarding the ministry’s role in supervising the court’s rule of procedure and the hierarchization of the court system.7
  • The Venice Commission opinion on the two prosecutorial laws was also published in December. The commission gave a generally positive assessment of the draft laws, but it noted the hierarchization of the prosecution system and expressed concern about possible dominance by politically appointed members within the High Prosecutorial Council (HPC).8
  • Developments in the most high-profile corruption and organized crime cases in 2022 raised serious concerns about political influence on the judiciary and the capacity of the Serbian justice system to process these cases.
  • In February, SNS assembly member Vladimir Đukanović became a lawyer for Dijana Hrkalović, the former state secretary in the Interior Ministry accused of influence peddling on behalf of organized crime groups.9 Đukanović’s appointment as lawyer in this case and in the Jovanjica case is even more controversial given that he is president of the Parliamentary Committee for the Judiciary and a member of the High Judicial Council, responsible for the appointment of judges.
  • The beginning of the trial for the “Jovanjica 2” case, in which members of the police and security agencies are accused of protecting defendants in the Jovanjica case itself, got delayed for more than 16 months after preliminary hearings were postponed 18 times due to requests from the defense lawyers. Experts believe that there was an attempt to undermine the prosecution of this second case by postponing it until the first Jovanjica case is potentially weakened.10
  • After several interviews by Hrkalović—in which she accused Slobodan Milenković, the police inspector who discovered the Jovanjica drug farm, of setting up its owner Predrag Koluvija due to his own alleged drug business—the prosecution brought the police inspector in for questioning.11 Consequently, there is now an investigation against Milenković, who already was the subject of a 2021 tabloid smear campaign and claimed that he had received death threats.12 On the other hand, the prosecution has remained passive regarding accusations against government officials.
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 3.253 7.007
  • According to the prEUgovor Network of CSOs monitoring corruption in Serbia, there were notable delays in implementing anticorruption reforms in 2022.1 Reports by the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption also point to major delays in implementing the Revised Action Plan for Chapter 23 in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations in the area of the fight against corruption.2
  • The Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) issued a relatively positive assessment on Serbia’s implementation of its previous 13 recommendations, out of which 8 were “satisfactorily” and 5 partly implemented.3 Four of the partially implemented recommendations concern judicial independence, which is addressed with new laws on the judiciary and the prosecution (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”). The fifth partially implemented recommendation concerns improving the transparency and limiting the use of urgent procedure in the parliament.4
  • Twenty-four new GRECO recommendations were published in July, to be implemented by September 2023.5 Serbia is expected to, among other things, improve prevention of conflict of interest within the government, increase the role of the advisory Anti-Corruption Council, expand the area covered under the Law on Lobbying, and extend the scope of the work of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data.6
  • Adoption of the Anti-Corruption Strategy, considered to be a key document in the fight against corruption7 and one of the priority recommendations in the European Commission’s 2022 report on Serbia,8 faced further delays. Although a working group to draft the strategy was originally planned to be formed in the first quarter, this had yet to happen by year’s end.9
  • Problems with public procurement emerging from the 2020 Law on Public Procurement and the Law on Linear Infrastructure Projects continued in 2022.10 There were around 45,000 public procurement procedures during the year,11 whereas in 2021 there were around 49,000 procedures.12 This is significantly less than the number of open procedures under the old law, as there were around 62,000 procedures in 2019.13
  • According to the European Commission’s report, there was a slight increase in first-degree verdicts in high-level corruption cases. The report, however, again notes the lack of investigations of whistle-blower reports, such as in the Krušik ammunition factory case, one of the major corruption scandals in recent years.14
  • The trial of the Veljko Belivuk gang, arrested in February 2021 on accusations of murder, kidnapping, and rape, began in October 2022. Belivuk and his associates continued to claim that they were working for the SNS, including in the controversial Savamala neighborhood demolitions in Belgrade in 2016.15 Former interior minister Nebojša Stefanović, who was accused by his party colleagues and progovernment tabloids of conspiring with Belivuk, was also accused by his former ministry associate Dijana Hrkalović (on trial for influence peddling) of both conspiring with Belivuk and fabricating the Jovanjica criminal case. Stefanović responded by claiming Hrkalović was herself connected with an organized crime group linked with Belivuk.16

Author: Nikola Burazer is a political scientist from Belgrade, Serbia. He is Program Director at the Belgrade-based think tank Centre for Contemporary Politics and Executive Editor at European Western Balkans media portal. He holds an MA in Nationalism Studies from Central European University (CEU) in Budapest and a BA in Political Science from the University of Belgrade.

On Serbia

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    60 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    71 100 free