Democracy and rights
In Croatia, free elections are held
regularly, and civil and political rights are generally
well respected. However, corruption is widespread,
minorities are subject to discrimination and there are
increasing authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies.
Power has shifted between the two leading parties
since 2000 and the political opposition can act freely.
Fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and
organization prevail. Strengthened democratic
institutions and judicial reform were preconditions for
EU membership that became reality in 2013. However,
several of the corruption targets that were an important
part of EU alignment failed after entry (see below).
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Croatia, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
In rankings of political and civil liberties and the
rule of law, Croatia gets a better ranking than other
countries in former Yugoslavia with the exception of
Slovenia, which is much better. Among EU members,
Croatia is in the lower tier along with some other
Eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Romania.
In Transparency International's ranking of countries by
levels of corruption, Croatia is ranked 63 out of 180
(for the full ranking list see here).
The picture has darkened somewhat recently when
unhealthy links between the political elite and business
interests have been revealed. The government and the
president are also accused of tolerating and even
encouraging right-wing nationalist statements. Croatian
nationalists are trying, among other things, to restore
symbols and slogans that link to the fascist Ustašar
regime during the Second World War (see Modern History)
and protests occur against Cyrillic writing, which is
used for the minority language Serbian (see Calendar).
Both Serbs and Jews have boycotted memorial ceremonies
for the victims of the Holocaust, on the grounds that
the government supports historical revisionism regarding
the Second World War.
According to the Constitution, Croatia is to maintain
respect for human rights and the protection of
minorities. However, the country is criticized by, among
others, human rights organizations for discriminating
against Serbs and other ethnic minorities. Among
vulnerable groups are also LGBTQ persons (see also
Population and languages and Social conditions). Croatia
is also criticized for inadequate handling of refugees
and asylum seekers.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are
guaranteed in the Croatian constitution, but political
pressures against journalists and some pure threats
exist nonetheless. Journalists can be sentenced to
prison for defamation and "slander" by the republic, the
national anthem and the flag. In Reporters Without
Borders index of freedom of the press in 180 countries,
Croatia ranks 59th - just after Bosnia-Herzegovina and
significantly worse than Slovenia, at position 32 (for
the full list see here).
The freedom of the media is considerably greater than
in previous years of censorship and pressure - first
under Yugoslav, then under nationalist Croatian regimes.
But in early 2019, the journalist association organized
a major protest against what was perceived as increased
pressure on media representatives (see Calendar).
Since 2013, "humiliating" content can also lead to
prosecution. The following year, a journalist was fined
for reporting that a private health clinic was heavily
indebted and risking bankruptcy, despite receiving large
government grants. The information was not inaccurate,
but the company felt that it had been "pampered".
Threats have been particularly targeted at
journalists reporting on organized crime and corruption.
One of the country's most renowned journalists, Drago
Hedl, has been subjected to death threats since he wrote
about war crimes committed during the 1990s war. The
editor of the political magazine Nacional was
killed by a car bomb in Zagreb in 2008, after becoming
known for journalism about corruption and organized
crime. The magazine's marketing manager also died in the
attack, for which six people were later sentenced to
long prison terms.
Judicial system and legal security
The independence of the judiciary is generally
respected. Recently, however, concerns have been
expressed that courts are increasingly inclined to
follow right-wing nationalist reasoning and, for
example, tear down old convictions for war crimes
committed during the Second World War. The legal
apparatus, by the way, works relatively well even though
there are shortcomings in the similarity before the law
- the one who has financial and political resources can
do better than the one without the means.
The police are accused of violence against migrants
and asylum seekers, especially at the border with
Serbia. Prison conditions are substandard due to
overcrowding and lack of medical care.
In addition to the reform of the judiciary, among the
demands that the EU set for Croatia's accession to the
Union, fighting against corruption and organized crime
was also high on the agenda. Legal processes have also
been directed at people in the absolute social peaks.
But the efficiency and legitimacy of the courts have
come into question as several notable cases have been
rejected by the Constitutional Court, which cited
deficiencies in the process. This applies not least to
judgments in a major corruption incident involving the
ruling party HDZ and several high-ranking party
representatives, including former Prime Minister Ivo
Sanader took over as party leader for HDZ after
founder Franjo Tuđman's death and became prime minister
in 2003, when HDZ regained power from the Social
Democrats. He suddenly resigned in the summer of 2009,
without giving any explanation. Six months later, he was
expelled from HDZ after trying to regain his position in
the party. Corruption allegations were heard more and
more and by the end of 2010, Sanader was deprived of the
prosecution immunity he had as a Member of Parliament.
He then quickly left the country but was arrested in
Austria and extradited to his home country where he was
charged with shooting himself in the civil war, abusing
his position and receiving millions in bribes. In two
convictions, 2012 and 2014, Sanader and several
high-profile former HDZ members were sentenced to long
prison terms. But in 2015, the Constitutional Court
overturned both judgments citing procedural errors, and
Sanader was released on trial after three years in
prison. The trials had to be redone. In the fall of 2018
and spring of 2019 he was sentenced again, first to 2.5
years in prison and then to 6 years.
Judicial post-war after the 1991-95 war
For a long time, Croatia was considered to be in
breach of its cooperation with the United Nations
Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in
particular as regards the requirement to arrest former
Ante Gotovina. He was the third most wanted on the list
after the war in the Balkans. Gotovina, regarded by many
Croats as a war hero, was eventually arrested in the
Canary Islands in 2005 and transferred to the UN General
Court in The Hague. Gotovina and another general, Mladen
Markač, were sentenced in April 2011 to long prison
terms while a third general, Ivan Čermak, was released.
In November 2012, a higher authority in ICTY also
acquitted Gotovina and Markač, and they returned to
cheering crowds in Zagreb (see also Foreign Policy and
Defense). Most of the 161 cases ICTY pursued before the
court closed down in 2017 concerned Bosnia, only a dozen
people being prosecuted for war crimes in Croatia. Half
of them were Croatian Serbs and half were "ethnic
Now it is up to the Croatian judiciary to investigate
suspected war crimes. The country has been criticized
for its slow progress, and for relatively few trials to
be carried out against suspected war criminals with
ethnic Croatian backgrounds. The more trials have been
held against Croatian Serbs, though many of them are
being tried in their absence. Croatia has also been
criticized for slowness in identifying survivors of the
victims of the war, and with damages to survivors and
The first time a leading Croatian politician was
convicted of abusing Croatians was 2009, when former
army general Branimir Glavaš was sentenced to prison for
war crimes against civilian Serbs at the beginning of
the war. The verdict was eventually rejected for
procedural reasons and was revoked in 2016, but after
various legal trips a new trial began in June 2019.
Meanwhile, Branimir Glavaš has continued to be
politically active. He is one of the original founders
of the HDZ ruling party, but later formed the right-wing
party HDSSB and is its only MP.