On Wednesday, January 30th, Sinisa Mali, minister of finance, bragged about Serbia moving 11 places up the Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom Index scale. We moved from 80th place last year to 69th in 2019. Just like in past years, Serbia still belongs to the category of so-called moderately free countries. The countries above it are free or mostly free and those below are mostly non-free countries and repressive regimes.
Of course, it is a good thing when economic freedom in Serbia increases, and the minister couldn’t pass on the chance to brag about it. But, if you scratch beneath the surface, i.e. look a bit more closely at the analysis, it’s clear that Mali didn’t say the whole truth. Because, when you look at the big picture, you can see that the economic sphere is lacking in numerous and significant areas, which proves that there isn’t much reason for satisfaction. On the contrary.
First of all, ranked 69th out of 180 countries, Serbia almost made it into the top third of all countries of the world. But, if you take into account only Europe, Serbia is ranked 34th out of 44 countries, which means that it is in the bottom quarter. However – and this is another “positive counting” for Serbia – some members of the European Union are ranked behind it: France (71st in the world ranking, 35th in Europe), Italy (80th, 46th), Croatia (86th, 38th), and Greece (106th, 43rd). In addition to these, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Moldova, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are also behind us. All others, therefore, led by Switzerland and Ireland, which are completely free, are ranked higher than us. And if we look back at the aforementioned EU members, we will see that countries with the least economic freedoms are the ones that today face the biggest economic, social, and political problems.
Let’s go back to Serbia. The progress made is primarily due to the economic reforms undertaken in recent years: fiscal and monetary stabilization, i.e. eliminating the budget deficit and reducing public debt, on the one side, and low inflation, on the other.
However, while the situation has improved in a purely economic sense, it deteriorated when it comes to general social order. And by this, I refer to the (relatively broad) concept of the rule of law. So when it comes to respecting the law, the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the government – Serbia scored less than half the available number of points. While it scored 90 and 80 out of 100 possible points for fiscal and monetary stability respectively, for legal framework it scored only 50, 45 for judiciary, and only 37 points for the principledness and professionalism (which means absence of corruption) of state administration. All this is far below the European and global average (except for the judiciary). And for professionalism of state administration, Serbia even scored lower than in 2018.
In this way, the Heritage Index only confirmed what two recently published reports also showed. In mid-January, the Freedom barometer of the Friedrich Neumann Foundation and the Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit were published. According to the latter, Serbia scored 6.41 (out of 10) and was classified as a weak democracy. Furthermore, this report shows that our fragile democracy has been weakening in recent years, because this grade is lower not only than the one from three years ago (6.71), but also than the one from 12 years ago (6.62).
According to the Freedom barometer, which places emphasis on political freedoms, Serbia ranks 35th among 45 countries in Europe (not all countries are taken into analysis) and Central Asia. So, we’re near the bottom once again. Worse still, the trends here are also troubling. Namely, three extremely important areas: democracy of the electoral processes, media freedom, and the independence of the judiciary, are evaluated as being “in rapid decline”.
When it comes to social measurements, in this context, we should remember a study from last year that seems to have been ignored by our public. Namely, in September 2018, Gordana Matkovic and Katarina Stanic from the Center for Social Policy published a report on inequality in Serbia. According to this study, if you include natural income in the research, the social inequality in Serbia is about 30 Ginis, and if inequality is measured by consumption – only 26 Ginis. This practically “denounced” the data of the State Statistical Office, according to which inequality in Serbia is slightly above 38 Ginis. And secondly, perhaps more importantly, it was noted that, given these results, social inequality in Serbia is within the European average.
In the end, all of this brings us to the conclusion that the situation in Serbia regarding human rights and democracy is much worse than in terms of social justice. Which is, in a way, reflected in the current civil protests. Although the majority of citizens of Serbia live under poor conditions, this rebellion is mostly caused by the violence, arrogance and greed of the authorities. Much more by political repression, than by economic depression.
In other words, the hunger for freedom is much greater than the hunger for bread.
Translated by Marijana Simic