February 17, 2016, Tens of thousands of protestors march in Prishtina on Kosovo's Independence Day, asking for two controversial agreements with Serbia and Montenegro to be scrapped and for the government to resign. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Freedom House: 2016 saw small improvements for democracy in Kosovo

Kosovo bumps up from a Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime to a Transitional-Hybrid Regime, according to international democracy watchdog.

Kosovo is making small strides in its democratic reforms, according to a new report by Freedom House, an international democracy watchdog organization based in the United States.

Since 1995, Freedom House’s Nations in Transit has tracked democratic reforms in post-communist European and Eurasian countries.

The countries surveyed are scored each year based on assessments of electoral processes, the civil society sector, the democratic character and stability of national and local governmental systems, judicial framework and independence, and public perceptions of corruption.

Kosovo’s democracy score improved in 2016, according to the country report released on Tuesday as part of the Nations in Transit 2017 overview titled “The False Promise of Populism.”  Now, instead of being classified as a Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime, Freedom House designates Kosovo as a Transitional-Hybrid regime.

“There has been no systematic change, however, and political actors continue to show authoritarian tendencies,” the Kosovo report states.

Nations in Transit sorts countries into five ‘regime categories’: Consolidated Democracy, Semi-Consolidated Democracy, Transitional Government/Hybrid Regime, Semi-Consolidated Authoritarian Regime, or Consolidated Authoritarian Regime.

Countries in Kosovo’s new category are described as “electoral democracies where democratic institutions are fragile, and substantial challenges to the protection of political rights and civil liberties exist.”

Kosovo’s slight scorecard improvements came in the areas of media independence, judicial framework and independence, and corruption.

The report lauded Kosovo’s progress in strengthened independence of the judiciary, including constitutional changes entered into force in February that strengthened the independence of the Judicial Council of Kosovo and the Prosecutorial Council.

However, the report states, Kosovo’s justice system remains problematic.

“In spite of these improvements, the judicial administration is slow and inefficient, officials continue to lack accountability, and political interference over the judiciary remains a significant problem.”

The report cites the case of Astrit Dehari, a 26-year-old Vetevendosje activist who died in custody while awaiting indictment, as an example of judicial failure.

Additionally, the report says, Kosovo’s legislation on media freedom offers some of the highest standards of journalistic protections, and media pressure has contributed to strengthened democracy in Kosovo. But reporting quality, especially for online media, is poor overall and the media environment is “subjected to political interference.”

Small improvements in handling corruption cases were also noted, such as the indictment of former Minister of Health Ferid Agani, allegedly involved in the Stents Affair, a plot involving doctors who sent their public hospital patients to private clinics in and out of Kosovo for personal benefits.

Freedom House’s regional outlook for 2017 is foreboding, and warns of the effects that rising populism in Europe and the United States may have on democratic reforms. For the first time in the watchdog reporter’s history, there are more Consolidated Authoritarian Regimes than Consolidated Democracies in the 29 formerly communist countries studied.

The rebalancing of “security, diplomatic, and domestic policies absent the traditional assumptions about American power and interests” could have negative implications for Kosovo’s security, especially with ‘rising tensions’ between Kosovo and Serbia, the report says.

Despite Kosovo’s slight improvements, Freedom House states that democracy in the Balkans has been, overall, in decline. Over the last six years, the report states, “leaders in the Balkans rallied their bases with attacks on civil society and the press, hollowing out independent institutions even as they moved ahead with EU accession.”

04/04/2017 - 10:47

04 April 2017 - 10:47

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.