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Nations in Transit 2013: Worrying Democracy Scores Declines in the Western Balkans

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Corruption in the Balkan states appears to be deepening, despite pressure from the European Union (EU) and international lending institutions to strengthen judicial independence and produce verdicts in high-profile cases, states the Nations in Transit 2013 report, released by Freedom House earlier this week.

Nations in Transit 2013 MapNations in Transit 2013 Map

“Across the region, political interests and personal connections between government and business regularly influence public tender and privatization procedures. Judicial institutions are overburdened and subject to political interference”, states the report, adding that journalists, particularly those covering organized crime and corruption, face political pressure, intimidation, and attacks.

The process of EU accession has motivated important reforms in the western Balkans and provided a formal mechanism that gauges each country’s progress toward fully democratic institutions and a functioning market economy. On the other hand, the implementation of reforms essential to rule of law has been incomplete, perfunctory, and undermined by a lack of political will.

The report lists the case of acquittal of a key ally of PM Sali Berisha in a case of bribery and abuse of power in Albania, as symptomatic of the culture of impunity that persists, to various degrees in all of the Western Balkans states.

“Across the region, public tenders lack transparency and accountability, with political interests and personal connections between government and business actors regularly interfering in bidding procedures”, states the report.

The ratings of the region’s best performers, Croatia (democracy score of 3.61) and Serbia (DS 3.64), as well as Montenegro (DS 3.82) have shown very little movement in the last three years, and none at all in 2012. Meanwhile, four other countries—Albania (4.25), Bosnia and Herzegovina (4.39), Kosovo (5.25), and Macedonia (3.93) have registered troubling declines.

The report states that the political stalemate in BiH has undermined effective governance at the national level and impeded reforms linked to EU and NATO membership. Also, a downgrade in the corruption category in this year's survey marks the fifth consecutive year of net ratings decline for BiH.

In Kosovo, the report notes, the authorities have focused on establishing new institutions rather than implementing existing anticorruption strategies. Kosovo received downgrade for the year on corruption and on civil society.

Macedonia received a downgrade on judicial framework and independence after alarming violations in a prominent murder investigation and blatant political pressure on the courts by the health minister cast serious doubt on the prospects for comprehensive judicial reforms and anticorruption efforts.

The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for Electoral Process; Civil Society; Independent Media; National Democratic Governance; Local Democratic Governance; Judicial Framework and Independence; and Corruption. The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. 

The full Nations in Transit 2013 report, a comprehensive comparative study which covers 29 countries of Central Europe and Eurasia, is available on the website of Freedom House. (Source: Freedom House)

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