Yugoslavia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Yugoslavia's political rights and civil liberties ratings improved from 4 to 3 because of the dismantling of many of the most repressive features of the former regime, increased cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the negotiation of a ceasefire to the Presevo Valley conflict.


Year One of the anti-Milosevic Serbian revolution showed both progress and disappointment. Although considerable success had been achieved in reintegrating the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) into the international community, fighting between rival political factions within the anti-Milosevic coalition, together with the still-unresolved issue of Montenegro, has significantly stymied constitutional, political, and economic reforms.

In April 1992, Serbia and Montenegro jointly proclaimed the formation of the FRY after the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) disintegrated in 1991. Throughout the 1990s, Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) ruled the country by virtue of its control over the country's security forces, financial and monetary institutions, and the state-owned media. During the 1990s, however, Milosevic's control over the country slowly withered. The Serbian opposition's victory in municipal elections in the fall of 1996 resulted in the SPS losing control of the main urban areas in the country. In 1997, an anti-Milosevic coalition of political forces came to power in Montenegro. In 1999, NATO occupied one of the FRY's two autonomous provinces, Kosovo, after a 78-day bombing campaign devastated much of the FRY's industrial and transportational infrastructure. The final end for the Milosevic regime came on October 5, 2000, when a botched attempt to steal the presidential elections resulted in hundreds of thousands of people converging on Belgrade to overthrow the Milosevic regime.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition of 18 political parties and one independent trade union took power after October 5. The two primary figures in the DOS were Yugoslav federal President Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party (DS).After Milosevic's overthrow in October 2000, international pressure on the new authorities in Belgrade to extradict Milosevic for alleged war crimes committed during the Kosovo conflict was intense. Disagreements within the DOS coalition, however, and opposition from DOS's Montenegrin allies prevented the extradiction. Finally, however, with the success of a donor's conference for the FRY hanging in the balance, the government of Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic turned Milosevic over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on June 28. A few days later, the donor's conference raised approximately $1.3 billion for the FRY.

The Yugoslav federal government fell as a result of the handling of the Milosevic case, and tensions within the DOS coalition also threatened to break the coalition apart. Further problems arose in August when a former police official was assassinated soon after leaving Kostunica's office. Rumors quickly spread that the assassinated official had been delivering information on high-level government figures involved in organized crime. Although Kostunica threatened to quit the DOS if the government did not deal with the issue of high-level corruption more seriously, such a move would have only benefited extremist parties, so the option of breaking up the DOS coalition was quickly dropped.

During the course of 2001, a fundamental philosophical disagreement was fought out over the best way to reform the Yugoslav state and society after the Milosevic era. Djindjic argued for a revolutionary break with the past, believing that radical purges of security and civil services, as well as of old-regime cadres in important economic institutions and enterprises, would be the best way for the FRY to move forward. Kostunica, on the other hand, believed that for the mistakes of the Communist era to be avoided, and for the rule of law to firmly take root, change must come through strict adherence to legal and constitutional norms.

Another impediment to quicker reform in 2001 was the Montenegrin problem. Despite Milosevic's overthrow, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic accelerated his bid to secede from the FRY in 2001. Montenegrin hopes for independence suffered a blow in April, however, when parliamentary elections in that republic showed that pro-independence parties lacked the critical numbers needed to pass an independence referendum. Montenegrin hopes for independence suffered another blow in November when the European Union sent an unambiguous message that it supported "a democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia." Djukanovic himself suffered a considerable blow to his reputation when evidence of his extensive ties to organized crime and cigarette smugglers throughout the Balkans were exposed. Despite these setbacks, however, the Montenegrin leadership's unwillingness to hold serious discussions with Serbian leaders in Belgrade over the future of the Yugoslav federation--an important consideration for potential foreign investors--was another stumbling block to quicker political and economic reform in the country. A referendum on independence is likely sometime in the first half of 2002.

A significant problem in the FRY remains the fate of some 400,000 refugees and 200,000 internally displaced persons--proportionately, the largest refugee population in Europe.

On the international front, the FRY made significant progress in improving relations with its neighbors and the world. In February, agreement was reached delineating the boundary between the FRY and Macedonia; in June, long negotiations with the other former Yugoslav republics over succession issues were successfully completed; and in November, the Paris Club of government lenders to Yugoslavia wrote off 66 percent of the country's debt (reducing the FRY's foreign debt by approximately $4.5 billion). Yugoslav officials also received high marks from the international community for their handling of the incipient Albanian rebellion in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, adjoining NATO-occupied Kosovo. In May, an agreement was reached in which the insurgents agreed to lay down their weapons in return for an amnesty. The FRY government in turn pledged to implement a series of political, social, and economic measures to improve relations with the local Albanian population. The restraint shown by FRY security forces in the region encouraged NATO to allow the Yugoslavian military back into the buffer zone between Kosovo and Serbia proper so as to deny the Albanian insurgents use of the buffer zone as a staging ground.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Throughout the 1990s, the regime of Slobodan Milosevic used a variety of means to manipulate and falsify election results. For most of the 1990s, opposition parties were routinely denied access to the main electronic media in the country, and the tabulation of votes was extremely suspect.

The DOS victory considerably changed the situation in the FRY with regard to the electoral system. Foreign and domestic observers claimed that Serbia's December 2000 parliamentary elections were the freest and fairest the country had ever had. Nevertheless, the media in the country did show a significant bias in favor of the DOS during the election campaign.

Cultural and ethnic minorities have their own political parties, access to media in their mother tongue, and other types of associations. An important constitutional and political challenge facing the FRY is to satisfy increasing demands from regions with large ethnic minorities, such as Kosovo, Sandzak, and Vojvodina. In May, the FRY acceded to the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. An amnesty issued early in the year led to the release of 143 Kosovo Albanians being held for alleged crimes committed before and during the Kosovo war, although international agencies believe some 200 Kosovo Albanians remain in Serbian prisons.

According to the FRY constitution, all citizens enjoy freedoms of religious belief and association. Ethnic and religious identities are closely intertwined in the region, however; consequently, increases in interethnic tensions often take on the appearance of religious intolerance. Restitution of church property nationalized by the Communists remains a point of dispute between church and state. A government decision in 2001 reinstating voluntary religious instruction in schools was supported by the largest religious institutions in the country, but drew criticism from smaller churches and some secular groups for blurring the boundary between church and state.

FRY citizens enjoy freedom of association and assembly. Numerous political parties exist and compete for power in elections. New laws are currently being drafted to codify relations between trade unions and the government.

Significant legal and judicial reform is underway. Government institutions are currently working on reform of the Federal Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as on laws to promote a multi-ethnic police force, antidiscrimination laws, laws on local self-government, and the creation of human rights institutions. A particular problem from the standpoint of establishing judicial independence is to improve the salaries of judges, who currently receive less than $70 per month.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics; however, they are, in general, vastly underrepresented in higher levels of government. Although women are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, traditional patriarchal attitudes prevalent throughout the Balkans often limit women's roles in the economy. Domestic violence remains a serious problem, and some towns in southern Serbia have become an important part of the network trafficking women from parts of the former Soviet Union through Kosovo and Albania to Western Europe.