Yugoslavia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Yugoslavia's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2, and its status from Partly Free to Free, due to continued democratization in the post-Milosevic period.


In 2002, the post-Milosevic reform process in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) stalled in many respects; as sharpening disagreements and struggles for power between rival factions of the country's leadership emerged; continuing difficulties were encountered in agreeing to a new constitutional relationship between Serbia and Montenegro; and no solution appeared in sight over the final status of Serbia's UN-administered province of Kosovo.

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. Nevertheless, Milosevic's control over the country did slowly wither, as the Serbian opposition won numerous municipal elections in the fall of 1996 resulting in the SPS's losing control of the main urban areas in the country, and 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. 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), a coalition of 18 political parties and one independent trade union, took power after October 5. However, the dominant parties (and political leaders) within the DOS for most of the post-Milosevic period have been the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) led by Yugoslav federal president Vojislav Kostunica, and the Democratic Party (DS), led by Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic.

The struggle for power between these two men and their respective political philosophies defined much of the political story of 2002. Kostunica, an academician and constitutional lawyer, has consistently emphasized the importance of establishing the rule of law in Serbia and Yugoslavia as a way to prevent the mistakes of the Communist or Milosevic era from ever being repeated. Djindjic, on the other hand, has favored a more radical break with the past and has on occasion been willing to adopt extra-constitutional or extra-legal means to achieve it. Further complicating the relationship between these two politicians has been the fact that while Kostunica is by far the most popular politician in the country, and has enjoyed the greatest moral authority, Djindjic's position holds more de facto power. As a result, struggles between the two men have resulted in a considerable deadlock in the reform process.

The most serious evidence of the disagreement between the Kostunica and Djindjic camps came in May, when Djindjic's faction in the Serbian parliament dismissed 50 legislators from that body, including 21 from Kostunica's DSS. In July, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that Djindjic's actions had been unconstitutional. In reaction to the federal court's ruling, Djindjic's faction in the DOS responded by stripping all of the DSS representatives of their mandates. The incident brought a conclusive end to any illusion that the coalition that brought down Milosevic still existed and provided an important example of the weakness of the separation of powers in the country.

In June, President Kostunica fired the chief of staff of the Army of Yugoslavia, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, in what was interpreted as an important precedent for establishing civilian control over the military. Pavkovic's dismissal was also believed to be a necessary step for Yugoslavia to improve its chances to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program (Pavkovic had led Yugoslav forces in Kosovo during the confrontation with NATO in 1999). Yugoslavia also adopted a new strategic program in 2002, according to which the overall size of the Yugoslav military was to be reduced to 60,000-65,000 by the end of the year.

Serbia held presidential elections over two rounds in September and October. The two leading candidates emerging from the first round of elections were Kostunica and the federal vice premier, Miroljub Labus, a respected economist and reputed Djindjic favorite. Although Kostunica decisively beat Labus in the second round (by a margin of more than two to one), low voter turnout (just below 45 percent, falling significantly below the 50 percent threshold needed to make the elections valid) in the second round, however, necessitated a third round of elections in December. Apart from the apparent voter apathy exhibited in these elections, another worrisome development for the country was the showing of the leader from the far-right nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Vojislav Seselj, who came in a strong third in the first round. Moreover, the way the vote split in Serbia's ethnically mixed areas, especially the Sandzak and Vojvodina, between Labus and Seselj, showed that an unhealthy degree of polarization along ethnic lines still exists within the country.

Contributing to citizen apathy is the weak economy. Over the past two years, the government has relied to an excessively large degree on foreign aid. One-third of Serbia's citizens live on less than one dollar a day, and another third survive on less than two dollars a day. The official unemployment rate is 35 percent. Especially hard hit by the poor economy are refugees and displaced persons from the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, believed to number more than 400,000, who constitute the largest displaced persons population (as a percentage of the general population) in Europe.

Another impediment to quicker reform throughout the post-Milosevic period has been Serbia's relationship with Montenegro. In March, the Belgrade Agreement brokered by the EU proposed a new "Union of Serbia and Montenegro" that would preserve some vestiges of a common state but also provide each republic with its own currency, central bank, and separate customs and taxation systems. In July, however, the EU reversed its own previous position (and dealt a setback to Montenegrin aspirations for speedy independence) by insisting on the formation of a federation with stronger economic links. Parliamentary elections in Montenegro in October, however, strengthened Milo Djukanovic's position in parliament, and again raised hopes for the pro-independence position. In November, Djukanovic decided not to run for the Montenegrin presidency and to become the new prime minister, claiming that there was more important work to be done in the parliament than in the president's office. By year's end, the Montenegrin parliament had still failed to ratify the Belgrade Agreement.

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. Citizens in both Serbia and Montenegro can now choose their leaders in free and fair elections.

Cultural and ethnic minorities have their own political parties, access to media in their mother tongue, and other types of associations. Nevertheless, the number of individuals from ethnic minorities participating in government does not represent their percentages in the entire population. 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. Similarly, there are frequent complaints of unfair treatment and police harassment by the Roma (Gypsy) community.

According to the FRY constitution, all citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief. 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. In 2002, reports indicate that there was a better police response to crime against religious minorities, and despite some reports of anti-Semitic activity, the Belgrade Municipal Court agreed to try one case involving the publication of an anti-Semitic hate speech.

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. Similarly, on the whole, both foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations enjoy the freedom to pursue their activities.

During the Milosevic period, the regime enjoyed the support of state-owned media, while independent media outlets were persecuted. Some prominent members of the independent media were assassinated by "unknown" assailants. In the post-Milosevic period, the situation has vastly improved, although journalists are still the targets of occasional harassment, especially outside of large urban areas such as Belgrade or Novi Sad. In July 2002, the Montenegrin parliament passed several changes to its Media Laws that drew criticism from domestic and international watchdog groups. The new regulations require editors to consult political parties about the content and even the headlines of articles, and restrict the number of articles that can be published about parties during the campaign.

Significant legal and judicial reform is under way; however, the judicial system is still plagued by a large backlog of cases, underpaid judges and state prosecutors, and an excess of judges left over from the Milosevic era. There are reports that the system takes an excessively long time in filing formal charges against suspects. In April, the federal parliament adopted the long-awaited Law on Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, although some observers criticized several provisions in the law, such as Article 39, which provides for the extradition only of persons indicted prior to passage of the law.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.

Name Change: 

On February 5, 2003, the Yugoslav parliament adopted a constitutional charter establishing the state of Serbia and Montenegro. For the purposes of this report, which covers the events of 2002, references to Yugoslavia and the FRY have been retained. Unless specifically noted, references to Yugoslavia/FRY do not pertain to Kosovo.