On 12th October, the European Commission issued a report recommending that Serbia should be offered official candidate status to join the EU. The decision was long in the making, and not surprising. Serbia’s movement towards Europe began almost immediately after the resignation of President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, when the EU declared that the nations of the western Balkans were “potential candidates” for membership. The EU had made Serbia’s candidacy conditional, however, upon its handing over the last of its war criminals to the Hague, and earlier this year, with great fanfare, Belgrade did just that. Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was apprehended and extradited in May.
The European Commission’s offer, however, was an error. Not least because just two weeks before the report was released, the Serbian government banned a gay rights march scheduled to take place in Belgrade. The authorities feared a repeat of the violence seen at last year’s parade, when 5000 riot police were deployed to protect a mere 500 marchers from anti-gay rioters, who caused nearly $1.5m in damage and wounded over 100 police. Despite this violence, the march was the first successful demonstration of its type in the conservative, Orthodox Christian country.
This year, far right nationalist groups had promised to disrupt the event again, and their threats (all too credible) put the Serbian government in a difficult position. The year before, President Boris Tadic insisted that the parade would take place and took the unprecedented step of meeting gay activists beforehand, an extremely rare move for a leader in the former Yugoslavia. He did so, however, with the EU on his back. And while Brussels pressured Belgrade to allow the parade to go ahead again, the Serbian government did not listen this time.
“I am the interior minister of Serbia, not an internal affairs commissioner for the EU,” sniffed Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic on October 4. “I suppose I know the security risks in my country better than they.”
Liberal values are at the core of the EU. And the protection of minority rights is central to any liberal agenda. By granting Serbia candidate status, the EU has rewarded open defiance. In its report, the European Commission even claims…