Emails to US Democracy Group Raise Questions about Serbian Lobbying
Freedom House is not the only watchdog to draw attention to democratic backsliding in Serbia since the Progressive Party of President Aleksandar Vucic took power in 2012.
But the official downgrade and the accusation that the Progressives have "systematically curtailed" the ability of the opposition to play a part in the business of governing struck a nerve.
The letter, signed by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on May 13, 2020, was not the only one concerning Serbia to reach Freedom House at that time, however.
Between May 20 and June 8, 2020, emails with the subject line "US-Serbia Economic Issues" hit the inboxes of Catherine Hanley, an executive assistant at the organisation, Vice President of Research & Analysis Sarah Repucci, and Zselyke Csaky, the author of the report, according to a Yorktown Solutions lobbying report submitted to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, FARA, Registration Unit, which is part of the US Justice Department. Two members of the Freedom House administrative staff also received the email.
The sender was Yorktown Solutions, a Washington-based lobbying firm contracted in 2019 by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, PKS, an association of Serbian businesses and entrepreneurs.
The email asked for a meeting, which would appear never took place. It was the only known contact Freedom House had from Yorktown Solutions, but the timing raises questions concerning the nature of the Chamber's lobbying activities and whether they crossed the line between business and political interests.
Freedom House staff declined to comment for this story. Marko Cadez, president of the PKS, said he had no knowledge of whether Yorktown Solutions contacted Freedom House but that he would not consider it "an issue"...