Freedom House report concludes democracy deteriorating in Montenegro

1178.jpgMontenegro did not strengthen civil liberties during 2006, and democracy in the country deteriorated slightly, according to the latest report by Freedom House. In particular, the NGO cited a sluggish fight against corruption, excessive government influence on state television, and public mistrust of the judicial system.

Montenegrin authorities have demonstrated little political will to combat corruption, and parliament has failed to strengthen conflict of interest laws, Freedom House said. Lengthy court processes, as well as excess leniency in corruption and organised crime cases, are eroding confidence in the judiciary, it said.

According to Freedom House, Montenegrin state TV is supposed to serve as an unbiased source of information for the public, but instead continues to reflect a pro-government stance.

The report also assessed laws on NGOs, which it found to be among the most liberal in the region. However, it said, the laws are frequently abused.

“There are more than 3,600 NGOs. Most of them do not function or they are used as a folding screen for small businesses like cafes, taxi services, or foreign language schools,” Freedom House said. “Only around 200 NGOs can be considered representatives of civil society. They still do not deserve the respect of the public or government.”

Despite the lack of progress this year, however, the report expressed confidence that the pace of reform is likely to pick up. The public is demanding it, Freedom House said, and the EU accession process requires it.

“Citizens are ready for progress and they have high expectations of the political leadership,” it said. “The inactivity during 2006 probably won’t continue because Montenegrins seek change to improve their living conditions.”

Montenegro’s dedication to fighting corruption will be tested as the country moves ahead in its bid to join the EU, Freedom House suggested.

“For real progress in this field they need concerted efforts by the government, judiciary, police, prosecutors, parliament and public,” the NGO said.

Montenegro split from its former state union with Serbia in May 2006. Since then, it has been busy establishing an independent state structure and organising elections.

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