Croatia | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2011

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Ivo Josipović captured a majority of the vote in the January 2010 run-off presidential election and subsequently devoted considerable energy towards promoting regional reconciliation. Corruption returned as a major concern during the year, with indictments against former prime minister Ivo Sanader and other high-ranking officials. Croatia continued to make slow progress towards its goal of European Union accession, with 29 of 33 chapters provisionally closed at year’s end.

Formerly a constituent republic within socialist Yugoslavia, Croatia held its first multiparty elections in 1990, which resulted in a victory for the former communist general and dissident Franjo Tuđman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Independence was subsequently declared in June 1991 under Tuđman’s leadership. From 1991–95, Croatia was consumed by the wars accompanying Yugoslavia’s disintegration, both on its own territory, where the indigenous Serb population attempted to secede, and in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tuđman’s HDZ continued to rule Croatia until his death in December 1999. An erstwhile Tuđmanally, Stjepan Mesić, was elected president in the January 2000 elections, and parliamentary elections held later that month resulted in a victory for a center-left coalition led by the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Ivica Račan, leader of the SDP, assumed the position of prime minister.
The HDZ returned to power in 2003 under the leadership of Ivo Sanader and refashioned itself as a conventional European center-right party. The Sanader government’s foreign and domestic policy goals were focused on gaining Croatia’s acceptance into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Croatia formally joined NATO in April 2009.
The HDZ captured nearly 37 percent of the vote in the November 2007 parliamentary elections, while the SDP captured 31 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deemed the elections to be free, fair, and transparent. Sanader began his second term as prime minister in January 2008, as 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).
In July 2009, Prime Minister Sanader unexpectedly resigned and was replaced by a deputy prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, of the HDZ. Elections to replace President Mesić were held over two rounds in December 2009 and January 2010, with Ivo Josipovic capturing 60 percent in the run-off vote. Since taking office in February, Josipovic has focused on promoting inter-ethnic reconciliation in both Croatia and the region. Systemic corruption and allegations of wrongdoing among high-level government officials continued to dominate public debate throughout the year. Of particular concern was the December indictment of former prime minister Sanader for his alleged involvement in illegal activity while in office.
Croatia’s EU accession has stalled in recent years due to a number of problems, including insufficient cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), slow progress on internal reform (especially with respect to corruption and rule of law), and a territorial dispute with Slovenia. In June 2009, the EU cancelled Croatia’s next round of accession negotiations after Slovenia blocked the closing of several chapters. However, the two sides reached an agreement later in the year, which unlocked Croatia’s EU accession path. As of November 2010, negotiations had opened on all 33 chapters for Croatia’s EU accession, 29 of which had been provisionally closed.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Croatia is an electoral democracy. Both the 2009–2010 presidential poll and the 2007 parliamentary elections were deemed free and fair. The 153-member unicameral parliament (Sabor) is composed of 140 members from geographical districts, 8 of which represent 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 a maximum of two five-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president but must be approved by the parliament. The largest parties are the center-right HDZ and center-left SDP, but several smaller parties, including the HSS–HSLS coalition and the Croatian People’s Party (HNS), have won representation in the parliament.
Corruption was a major problem in 2010. Investigations into corruption allegations were opened on a variety of fronts, including HDZ misappropriation of funds from state enterprises, customs duties, and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. Several high-ranking government officials, including former prime minister Ivo Sanader and former deputy prime minister Damir Polancec, were officially charged with embezzlement of state funds for use by the HDZ during electoral campaigns and for personal gain. Croatia was ranked 62 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press. While these rights are generally respected in practice, reporters remain vulnerable to political pressure, and journalists have alleged that the media are becoming increasingly beholden to the interests of powerful advertisers. Additionally, violence against journalists investigating corruption issues has resulted in several murders in recent years. The state broadcaster, HRT, was accused of cancelling several popular television news programs in 2009 and 2010 that investigated cases of high-level government corruption. 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 has been declining as memories of the 1991–95 war recede. 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 (NGOs) operate in Croatia without governmental interference or harassment. The constitution allows workers to form and join trade unions, and they do so freely. Approximately 64 percent of the workforce is unionized. Despite these freedoms, the International Trade Union Confederation criticized Croatia’s 2009 Act on the Basis for Wages in Public Services for endangering the right to collective bargaining. The position of trade unions in the country has also been weakened by the recent global economic crisis, which has forced some trade union organizations to temporarily suspend their participation in the state’s Economic and Social Council, an advisory body to the Croatian government which coordinates dialogue and harmonizes policies between employers, trade unions, and the government.
Judicial independence and the overall functioning of the judiciary remain problematic. Recent reforms, such as the creation of a State Judicial Council responsible for the appointment of judges (rather than the Ministry of Justice), have not delivered greater independence. While improvements in judicial efficiency have reduced the backlog of cases in the system by some 10 percent during 2010 compared to 2009, the number remains unacceptably high. Among other problems, the judicial system continues to suffer from the questionable selection of judges, excessively long trials, and poor implementation of court decisions, especially in cases related to the repossession of property owned by Serbs. Prison conditions do not fully meet international standards due to overcrowding and poor medical care.
The legacy of the 1991–95 war in Croatia remains a sensitive issue. In December 2010, Amnesty International reported that Croatia was processing an average of only 18 war crimes trials per year, with 700 trials yet to go. At the current rate, many individuals suspected of war crimes may never be prosecuted. War crimes trials held between 2005 and 2009 disproportionately targeted Serbs, who were accused of wrongdoing in 76 percent of cases. Nevertheless, Croatian authorities have to a limited extent shown greater willingness to prosecute Croatians accused of war crimes against Serbs during the 1990s.
Respect for minority rights in Croatia has improved over the past decade, but various forms of harassment and discrimination persist. Ethnic minorities, particularly Serbs, remain underrepresented at several levels of government and in the civil administration. Returning Serbs are still harassed by the local population, although the frequency of such incidents is on the decline. 80,000 Croatian Serbs remained registered as refugees in the region as of 2010. The Roma population also faces significant social and economic obstacles, as well as widespread discrimination.
The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. However, women have a notably higher unemployment rate and earn markedly less than men. Women currently hold 38 of 153 seats in the parliament, and the current prime minister is a woman. The 2008 act on gender equity stipulates that women must comprise at least 40 percent of the candidate lists for each political party at the local, national, and EU levels. 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, as Croatia remains a transit countryfor women trafficked to Western Europe.