Croatia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Croatia formally became the 28th member of the European Union (EU) in July 2013 after its EU bid had stalled in recent years over concerns about insufficient cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), among other issues.

More than two decades following the outbreak of the conflicts accompanying Yugoslavia’s collapse, this political milestone followed a key agreement with Slovenia, which had previously refused to ratify Croatia’s EU accession treaty. Croatia and Slovenia had been engaged in a 20-year dispute over a Slovenian bank, Ljubljanska Banka, which had received savings from Yugoslav citizens in the 1970s. When another Slovenian bank acquired its assets in 1994, thousands of non-Slovene customers lost their deposits, prompting several government-supported lawsuits in Croatia. After years of requests from Slovenia, Croatia suspended the suits in March, and the countries agreed to seek a final ruling on the issue from the Bank for International Settlements. In April, Slovenia ratified Croatia’s EU accession treaty.

Three days before joining the EU, Croatia adopted a law exempting crimes committed before 2002 from the purview of European arrest warrants—evidently to prevent the extradition of a Yugoslav-era Croatian secret police chief wanted in Germany for questioning in a murder case. Under the threat of EU sanctions, Croatia amended the law in December 2013 to repeal the exemption. Also in December, Croatian voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to effectively ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment.

Throughout the year, Croatia struggled with recession and a high budget deficit. In response, the government pursued belt-tightening measures to shore up the economy, including unpopular public-sector wage cuts.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 36 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The president, who serves as head of state, is elected by popular vote for a maximum of two five-year terms. Members of the 151-member unicameral parliament (Sabor) are elected to four-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president and requires parliamentary approval.

Ivo Josipović of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was elected president in January 2010. In the December 2011 parliamentary elections, the center-left opposition Kukuriku coalition, comprising the SDP and three other parties, placed first with 80 seats. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and its coalition partners, the Croatian Civic Party and the Democratic Centre, followed with 47 seats. The SDP’s Zoran Milanović succeeded Jadranka Kosor of the HDZ as prime minister that month.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

Following Croatia’s first multiparty elections in 1990, the center-right HDZ ruled until 1999. Power has since alternated between the HDZ and the center-left SDP, including at the presidential level. Several smaller parties have also won representation in the parliament.

The Sabor comprises 140 members from 10 districts; in addition, 8 seats are set aside for ethnic minorities, including 3 for ethnic Serbs. Another three seats are reserved for representatives for Croatians living abroad. Roma are generally underrepresented in government.


C. Functioning of Government: 9 / 12

In a March 2013 report on Croatia’s accession preparations, the European Commission (EC) noted progress on Croatia’s anticorruption efforts, including the introduction of a new Criminal Code—effective January 1—which enforces stiffer penalties for various forms of corruption. Also in early 2013, a long overdue commission was appointed to monitor conflicts of interest among public officials. The EC praised law enforcement for continuing its proactive approach to high-profile corruption cases. However, the EC also noted that sentences in corruption cases are relatively weak, and more effort is needed to clean up corruption within public procurement processes.

In 2013, the trial continued in the so-called Fimi media case, which includes indictments against former HDZ officials, including Ivo Sanader, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2009. Individual former members of the HDZ and the HDZ itself stand accused of funneling money from public companies to a slush fund from 2003 to 2009. Sanader has been indicted for corruption six times since 2010. Most recently, in September 2013, Sanader was indicted for allegedly forcing the utility company HEP to sell electricity to two aluminum companies at below-market rates while serving as prime minister. Separately, following a lengthy investigation, Croatian officials in August arrested 16 suspects, including nine police officers, on bribery charges related to the illegal smuggling of immigrants. In November, authorities arrested Nadan Vidošević, a prominent businessman and politician who led the Croatian Chamber of Commerce for 18 years, for allegedly embezzling 32 million kuna ($5.7 million) from the chamber through a fake-invoicing scheme.Croatia was ranked 57 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 50 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press, and these rights are generally respected. However, journalists face political pressure, intimidation, and attack. In January, a leading Balkan press watchdog criticized the arrest of Jasna Babić, an investigative reporter sued for libel by a businessman. In an unprecedented move by the authorities, a court ordered Babić jailed for two days after she repeatedly missed hearings in the case. Babić was released 24 January. Four days later, she apologized in court to the businessman, who dropped the suit. Internet access is unrestricted.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. A group needs at least 500 members and five years of registered operation to be recognized as a religious organization. Members of the Serbian Orthodox Church continue to report cases of intimidation and vandalism, although such incidents are declining. Little progress has been made in restoring property nationalized by the communists to non-Roman Catholic groups.

Academic freedom is guaranteed by law, though subjects such as sexual health remain taboo in the socially conservative country. For example, in January 2013 the government introduced a health education program in primary and secondary schools that proved controversial for including curriculum on sexual health and homosexuality. Allied with conservative lawmakers, the Croatian Catholic Church launched a PR war against the program, including a leafleting campaign asserting that the sexual education curriculum would undermine traditional values while promoting the “disease” of homosexuality. In May, the Constitutional Court suspended the program, arguing that the government failed to consult with parents on the curriculum.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

The constitution provides for freedoms of association and assembly. In June 2013, Zagreb held its largest-ever gay pride parade, and multiple interest groups held protests throughout the year. In September, 46,000 doctors and nurses went on strike over benefit cuts imposed by the government in response to the economic crisis. A variety of nongovernmental organizations operate in Croatia without interference or harassment. The constitution allows workers to form and join trade unions, though unlawful dismissals of union members have been reported.


F. Rule of Law: 11 / 16

In 2013, Croatia continued implementing reforms to improve judicial independence and efficiency. The State Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils functioned independently, working to develop a track record of merit-based appointments and taking a more proactive approach to cases of misconduct by judicial officials. Under a new judicial appointments system that came into effect in January, all candidates must complete the State School for Judicial Officials, representing an effort to increase professionalism. Despite some progress on improving efficiency, the case backlog remains above the EU average. Prison conditions do not meet international standards due to overcrowding and poor medical care.

The legacy of the 1991–95 war in Croatia remains a sensitive issue. In 2013, veterans protested a government plan to introduce bilingual public signs—in Croatian (in the Latin alphabet) and in Serbian (in Cyrillic script)—to serve the Serb minority, which comprises 4.4 percent of the population nationwide and over 30 percent in some municipalities. Nevertheless, the government continued implementing the project.

Throughout the year, Croatia continued to cooperate with the ICTY, which in May convicted six former Bosnian Croat leaders of war crimes during the 1992–95 conflict; crimes included murdering and deporting Bosnian Muslims in an effort to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the 1993 destruction of the iconic, 16th century Ottoman bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar. In a landmark domestic verdict, a Croatian court in January held the state responsible for the killing of two Serb civilians in an attack after the 1995 Operation Storm campaign against the separatist Serb Krajina region. The court ordered the government to pay damages to the families of two of the nine elderly civilians killed by assailants wearing Croatian military uniforms in a majority-Serb village two months after Operation Storm. However, more effort is reportedly needed to tackle impunity in war crimes cases, initiate and quickly process investigations, and improve witness protection.

Respect for minority rights has improved over the past decade. Incidents of harassment against returning Serbs have declined in recent years, and Croatia has been implementing both an antidiscrimination act and hate-crime legislation. Roma face widespread discrimination, including poor access to primary and secondary education.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

The 2011 Housing Care Program, established to aid returning refugees, continues to be implemented, but slowly. The constitution prohibits gender discrimination, but women have a higher unemployment rate and earn less than men for comparable work. Women hold 26 percent of the seats in parliament, well below the 40 percent target under law. Domestic violence against women is believed to be widespread and underreported, though law enforcement is strengthening its capacity to combat such crimes. Croatia remains a transit country for women trafficked to Western Europe for prostitution.

In 2013, a coalition of religious and conservative civic groups called “In the Name of the Family” spearheaded a campaign to effectively ban gay marriage through a referendum to amend Croatia’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. After a successful signature-gathering campaign by the group, parliament voted in November to hold the referendum on December 1. The measure passed with nearly 66 percent voter approval, and the government confirmed that the constitution would be amended.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology