Leading article: Lessons from Belgrade

Share
Related Topics

Cars on fire, shops trashed, tear gas in the streets and dozens injured. Such were the unedifying scenes yesterday in Belgrade when Serbia's beleaguered gay and lesbian community took to the streets to stage the first Gay Pride parade in almost a decade.

That the thousand or so participants survived the march unscathed was almost a miracle. The last Gay Pride in Serbia in 2001 ended in carnage. Police stood by and let the self-styled defenders of "family values" lay into the marchers and beat many of them to a pulp.

The reasons why the government took a firmer stance against the nationalist thugs this year were illuminating. Serbia is more desperate now to join the European Union than it was in 2001 – and is expecting the release of a European Commission report on its candidacy in which the issue of respect for minority rights will feature.

Meanwhile, several senior diplomats in Belgrade from European Union states had stated in advance that if a Gay Pride march took place in Belgrade this year, they intended to go on it. Appalled by the prospect of important foreigners coming face to face with Serbia's men of violence, the authorities announced that they would deploy thousands of police if necessary to make sure the march could take place.

The lesson from all this is clear. When Europe chooses to deploy that combination of diplomatic and financial levers known as "soft power", it can change the way that the governments of would-be member countries treat often highly unpopular minorities.

What Europe needs to do now is apply those same levers with regards to other minority communities in the region, starting with the Roma and the mentally and physically handicapped. Despite their obvious differences, what these groups have in common is that they are either actively persecuted, or are at least shunned and marginalised, by societies that place a high premium on conformity to rigidly defined norms.

Europe failed all three of these groups when, for political reasons, it allowed the admission of Romania and Bulgaria into the club in 2005 – a decision that almost everyone in Brussels now recognises was premature.

As the candidacies of other Balkan states come up for consideration in the next few years, Brussels must not make the same mistake of assuming that the offer of entry into the club of itself will improve the position of minorities in those countries. As the Belgrade march showed, it is only when Europe is vigilant that official attitudes even start to shift in the right direction.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Here is what I learned after creating the Caitlyn Jenner bot @she_not_he

Caitlin Dewey
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific