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23. 07. 2012

MSI Serbia - 2012

Belgrade (IREX) - Serbian citizens endured another politically turbulent and economically strained year in 2011, despite several positive developments. For example, in March, the Serbian government reconstructed itself, trimming the number of ministries. In May, Hague fugitive Ratko Mladić, the ex-Bosnian Serb commander, was arrested after 16 years of hiding-which made international headlines. Two months later, officials arrested Goran Hadžić, the last Hague fugitive from Serbia; he had spent seven years on the run. In other welcome developments, a professional army replaced the 170-year-old tradition of obligatory army service, and the government passed a new law on restitution that was 11 years in the making.

This progress aside, long-simmering unease over the status of Kosovo escalated, with barricades and clashes rising between Serbs living in North Kosovo and international forces in Kosovo. During the year, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians held eight rounds of talks addressing freedom of movement, parish registers, and other technical problems. The government's refusal to approve a pride parade in September set off more political

turbulence, with some interpreting the refusal as government capitulation to the threats of extremists. These events culminated in European Union (EU) leaders denying Serbia candidate status until it normalizes relations with Kosovo.

As in previous years, excessive budget spending and the stagnation of economic development proved to be Serbia's main economic problems in 2011. Serbia reached an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to increase the budget deficit from 4.1 to 4.5 percent of GDP. But the low growth rates produced lower tax collection, leaving the budget on shaky ground for eight years running. The year ended with IMF's decision to postpone implementing the arrangement, from December 2011 to January 2012. Unemployment exacerbated Serbia's deepening debt.

The continuing economic woes seemingly reinforced the government's will to maintain its traditional control over the media, leaving outlets in Serbia very vulnerable to pressures by the state and political and business interest groups. Legislatively, talks for a new media strategy stopped short, while the National Assembly of Serbia passed several regulations that contradict laws supporting media freedoms. The media also saw little progress technologically, and its economy deteriorated further during the year. Pressures, threats, and attacks on journalists and outlets remain common. The court system's treatment of media and journalists continues to be ambiguous, and no murders of journalists were solved this year.

Taking into account all of these issues, the 2012 MSI participants assessed the media situation in the country rather pessimistically: 1.90 compared to last year's 2.06. Scores showed moderate declines in two of the five objectives: Objective 3 dipped most dramatically-more than a third of a point, from 2.27 to 1.93-while Objective 5 decreased by about a quarter point.


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