Croatia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Croatia’s political rights rating improved from 2 to 1 due to improvements in the treatment of minority Serb and Roma communities.


Halfway through his second term, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader unexpectedly resigned in June 2009, and Jadranka Kosor became Croatia’s first female prime minister in the post-communist period. The first round of presidential elections was held in December, with SDP candidate Ivo Josipovic and independent candidate Milan Bandic moving on to a second round scheduled for January 2010. Progress was made in public administration and judicial reform, and the treatment of ethnic minority communities also registered improvements.

As part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia held its first multiparty elections in 1990, which resulted in a victory for former communist general turned nationalist dissident Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Tudjman and the HDZ continued to rule Croatia throughout the decade. Even as the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the predominantly Serb region known as Krajina declared its independence from Croatia, resulting in a de facto partition. In 1995, Croatian military offensives overran the Serb enclave, and a majority of Croatia’s Serbs either fled or were forcibly expelled from the country.
Tudjman died in December 1999, and voters elected an estranged Tudjman ally, Stjepan Mesic, as president in January 2000. Parliamentary elections later that month resulted in a victory for a center-left coalition led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose leader, Ivica Racan, assumed the position of prime minister.
The HDZ, under the leadership of Ivo Sanader, returned to power in 2003 and repositioned itself as a conventional European center-right party, although some of its more controversial nationalist figures remained in influential positions. Sanader’s government worked to meet the conditions for European Union (EU) accession, including improving cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. The trial of top Croatian war crimes suspect, Ante Gotovina, was still in process at the end of 2009. Several other Croatian military and political figures are also on trial for alleged crimes committed during the 1991–95 conflict.
The HDZ led November 2007 parliamentary elections with nearly 37 percent of the vote, followed by the SDP with 31 percent. New laws on the State Electoral Commission (SEC), voter lists, and party financing had been enacted in 2006 and 2007 to remedy previous electoral problems. However, issues that remained outstanding included granting the SEC the power to independently verify campaign finance reports submitted by candidates, and streamlining the legal framework for dealing with election complaints and appeals.
Following weeks of negotiations, Sanader’s new government took office in January 2008. The HDZ formed a governing coalition with the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), and seven out of eight ethnic minority representatives, including three members of the Independent Serbian Democratic Party (SDSS). One of the new cabinet’s four deputy prime ministers was a Serb.
In July 2009, Sanader unexpectedly resigned from office, leading to allegations that he was irresponsibly leaving his post just as Croatia was facing serious economic difficulties and a deadlocked territorial dispute with Slovenia. He was replaced by HDZ Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who became the first female prime minister of Croatia. The first round of presidential elections to replace Croatia’s other leading politician, President Stipe Mesic, were held in December, with Social Democratic Party candidate Ivo Josipovic and independent candidate Milan Bandic becoming the top two vote-getters from a field of twelve candidates. A runoff election was scheduled for January 10, 2010.

Croatia was invited to join NATO at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, and formally became a member state in April 2009. The country’s other main foreign policy goal of joining the EU has been significantly delayed in recent years due to the country’s territorial dispute with neighboring Slovenia over maritime and land borders. The EU cancelled accession talks with Croatia in June 2009 after Slovenia blocked the closing of several chapters of Croatia’s accession negotiations. However, the two sides came to a mutual agreement in September to allow for international mediation in the dispute, unlocking Croatia’s EU accession path. By year’s end, negotiations had opened on 30 of 33 chapters for Croatia’s EU accession, and 18 chapters had been successfully closed; the country is likely achieve full EU membership in late 2011 or early 2012.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Croatia is an electoral democracy. Both the 2009 presidential poll and the 2007 parliamentary elections were deemed generally free and fair. The 153-seat parliament (Sabor) is a unicameral body composed of 140 members from geographical districts, 8 representing ethnic minorities, and a variable number representing Croatians living abroad. All members are elected to four-year terms. The president of the republic, who serves as head of state, is elected by popular vote for up to two five-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president, but must then be approved by the parliament.
The largest parties are the center-right HDZ and center-left SDP, though several smaller parties, including the HSS–HSLS coalition and the Croatian People’s Party (HNS), have won representation in the parliament. In recent years, there has been an overall modest improvement in the political climate for Serb and Roma communities, with high-ranking government officials making more public statements in support of ethnic minority rights. The current government coalition formed after the 2007 parliamentary elections included eight minority members of parliament.While Serbs control a number of Croatia’s municipalities,ethnic minorities, particularly Serbs, remain underrepresented in government and the civil administration.
Corruption remains a problem in Croatia, often driven by a nexus of security institutions and businesspeople. Organized crime tied to political and business interests is thought to be behind several assassinations in Zagreb in 2008. In 2009, the Office for the Fight Against Corruption and Organized Crime issued indictments against two former vice presidents of Croatia’s Privatization Fund and a former government minister.Croatia was ranked 66 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press, and these rights are generally respected in practice. However, reporters remain vulnerable to political pressure, and prominent journalists have alleged that the media are becoming increasingly beholden to the interests of powerful advertisers. Moreover, intimidation of journalists working on corruption issues has taken on dangerous dimensions. During the 2009 local election campaign, journalists critical of particular candidates were sometimes barred from press conferences, and in June, journalist Hrvoje Appelt announced that he had been dismissed from his job at one of Croatia’s largest media outlets, despite being under police protection related to his reporting on organized crime. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. A group needs at least 500 members and five years of operation as a registered association to be recognized as a religious organization. Members of the Serbian Orthodox Church continue to report cases of intimidation and vandalism, although the number of such incidents appears to be declining. Little progress has been made in restoring property nationalized by the communists to non-Roman Catholic groups.
The constitution provides for freedoms of association and assembly. A variety of both international and domestic nongovernmental organizations operate in Croatia without governmental interference or harassment. Workers are free to form and join trade unions. Despite economic discontent and dissatisfaction with government performance, protests organized by the Croatian Association of Trade Unions in September 2009 attracted little support. Nevertheless, trade unions have been increasingly successful in influencing government policy and decision making.
The judicial system suffers from numerous problems, including questionable selection of judges, a large backlog of cases, excessively long trials, a lack of impartiality among the local courts, and poor implementation of court decisions, especially in cases related to the repossession of property owned by Serbs. Nevertheless, some progress has been registered on these fronts over the past year. The European Commission has cited progress in improving the efficiency of the judiciary as evidenced by a reduction in the overall case backlog in the judicial system; a new Law on Misdemeanors, an amended Law on the Courts, and a new Civil Procedure Code have reduced the number of cases brought before the courts. Croatia initiated approximately 30 war crimes trials in 2008 and 2009, and the European Commission’s 2009 progress report for Croatia noted greater willingness on the part of Croatian authorities to prosecute individuals regardless of their ethnicity. Prison conditions do not fully meet international standards due to overcrowding and poor medical care.
Respect for minority rights has gradually improved since 1999. There has been a noticeable decrease in negative stereotyping of ethnic minorities in the country’s media.Returning Serbs are still harassed by the local population, although the frequency of such incidents is on the decline. Approximately 80,000 Croatian Serbs remain registered as refugees in the region at the end of 2009; this difficult environment has deterred Serbs from returning to Croatia. The Roma population continues to face discrimination and significant social and economic obstacles.

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. However, women are paid significantly less than men with similar qualifications. There are currently 36 women in the 153-seat parliament. Women must comprise at least 40 percent of the candidate lists for each political party at the local, national, and EU levels, though it remains unclear whether the prescribed fines are large enough to deter violations. Domestic violence against women is believed to be widespread and underreported, though the government has helped to finance several shelters and counseling centers for victims. Trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution continues to be a problem, and Croatia is a transit countryfor women trafficked to Western Europe.