Serbia-EU: Pride Parade – yesterday a step back was made again, when will steps forward be taken?

The country is sinking in the mess of political scrambles, oustings, disqualifications, threats, set-ups, smearing and defamation of semi-truths and untruths. Increasing political pressures and announced new early local and parliamentary elections have further aggravated the situation in which political clans are mobilising all available capacities.

Jelko Kacin, MEP, (LDS/ALDE/ADLE), Vice-Chair of EP Delegation for relations with South-East Europe, EP Rapporteur for Serbia

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The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Vice-Chair of EP Delegation for relations with South-East Europe and EP Rapporteur for Serbia Jelko Kacin (LDS/ALDE/ADLE) has presented his view on the decision made by Serbian authorities to ban the Pride Parade in Belgrade. His article “Serbia-EU: Pride Parade – yesterday a step back was made again, when will steps forward be taken?” is here published in its entirety.

Serbia-EU: Pride Parade Ban – Step Back for Serbia

The eleventh-hour decision to ban the Belgrade Pride Parade, which was taken on Friday 27 September at the evening session of the Security Service Coordination Bureau, was more than merely “interesting” – it was unexpected, indicative and very significant. It happened only a few days after Brussels kick-started the screening of Serbia's legislation for Chapter 23 that covers the judiciary and human rights including minority rights. As a candidate country Serbia has already entered the negotiations for EU membership and the screening for Chapter 23 has proven that the country has been seriously considered in terms of accession. Chapter 23 is and will be of key importance for Serbia's EU accession. It represents the most comprehensive, complex and multidisciplinary topic. Yet, the LGBT population has been banned to organise a gathering, i.e. a “walk” that they had duly announced and been preparing for one year in co-operation with relevant national institutions. To make things worse, the state authorities even failed to inform the organiser who did not receive any notice of the ban, not even a call or an e-mail. The (non)functioning of the rule of law in Serbia is thus revealed even in cases such as this one, where national institutions have been intensively preparing the event for one year. Bizarrely, they explained that the decision was adopted by experts and without any political connotations.

For a long time Serbia hasn't been so close to a positive decision on the Pride Parade which would give this minority to enjoy the right to public assembly that is laid down in the Constitution. The last Belgrade Pride Parade was held in 2010. As it was banned three consecutive years now, Serbia lost yet another opportunity and another year. The decision was made by the “state” and not by the Parade's opponents nor the “hooligans”. The so-called “walk” would have taken place mostly in a park the city centre and would minimally disturb the traffic, yet it was not approved. On 7 October last year Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolić stated for Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) that “next year there will be no excuse for banning the Pride Parade”. The year has passed quickly and the Parade was banned again despite Serbia's claims that it wants and deserves to have an intergovernmental conference which it expects to take place in January 2014 at the latest – tomorrow, so to speak. The ban is definitely not a step towards that goal.

Before the evening speech by Prime Minister Ivica Dačić on RTS the decision-making body (Security Service Coordination Bureau) or rather its leaders secretly sent a message to the media which no serious country would have done. Namely, the Coordination Bureau decided on the matter by voting whereby the votes resulted in a tie with 6 for and 6 against, which raises doubts as to whether another vote was cast in order to gain majority or no majority was reached at all. Dačić's statement was meaningful: “The decision was made for the benefit of the citizens.” But the question is who adopted the decision?

The law stipulates that the Bureau's task is to coordinate the work of security services and that it can invite representatives of Foreign Affairs Ministry and other ministry bodies, director of the police force, public prosecutor, director of customs administration and other officials to its meetings. This triggers the key question – did the Bureau members that evening only align their position or did they actually adopt the decision. The answer reveals if and to what extent Serbia is actually governed by the rule of law.

Of course, like any other regulated country, Serbia has its National Security Council, but this body has not dealt with nor decided on the Pride Parade issue. Trying to alleviate the collateral damage caused by the decision and the ban, the decision-makers have provided the media with various cataclysmic backgrounds for the decision with the details and images of “thousands of hooligans who had allegedly drawn up the strategy to attack the participants, break up the parade and spill acid on passers-by ...”, thus creating and even deepening the general feeling of anxiety and endangerment among the citizens and creating unnecessary psychosis in the country. However, no information has been published on the measures taken by state authorities against the secret planners of assaults on police officers and Parade participants and of hooligan ravaging through Belgrade. Those alleged potential perpetrators are still untouchable and well hidden in the files of security services and in the “underground shadows”. Thus the state has supposedly defeated the hooligans. Criminal charges filed against 17 Facebook users can not rectify the bad impression. Against all the claims of serious threats such meek response raises further doubts about the credibility of competent authorities. Interestingly, a public opinion poll on the realisation of the Pride Parade was carried out during the week before the decision was taken with the majority of respondents opting against the Parade. In its desperate attempts to defend the ban with the assistance of a “political analyst” the morning programme of RTS referred to those results.

THE KEY QUESTION REMAINS OPEN: WHO MAKES DECISIONS IN SERBIA?

For a long time Serbia has been burdened with incomprehensible fears and psychoses that have stiffened the society and prevented it to deal rationally with challenges that – although they seem completely banal and routine to EU citizens – must be overcome in order to liberate human potential and focus its productivity on social development and economic recovery. The country is sinking in the mess of political scrambles, oustings, disqualifications, threats, set-ups, smearing and defamation of semi-truths and untruths. Increasing political pressures and announced new early local and parliamentary elections have further aggravated the situation in which political clans are mobilising all available capacities. Conflicts are present not only among different political options but also within political parties, state institutions and even public companies where clashes between the staff belonging to various functionaries of state authorities are even more fierce. The tense relations in the police force are only the reflection of that situation.

Serbia is somehow still working against her own interests – and it seems to be doing so even more eagerly now. Consequently, the reform process has slowed down while focus is laid on cadre issues and speculations on cadre changes in view of the possibility of early elections. Obviously it will have to wait for the next election, until a new coalition and a new government before it will be able to make a step forward into the future and towards better regulation of the society and economic environment that would attract foreign investments. The fact that screening for Chapter 24 covering justice, freedom and security has already started does not change that estimate although it has introduced some mechanisms to improve the situation, but only once Chapter 24 is opened.

In the meantime most judges still have no permanent tenure, the organisation of prosecution service remains a barrier to the functioning of the rule of law and a challenge for state authorities and the society, economic skeletons are falling out of closets every day, businesspeople are still blackmailed and criminal groups are still not afraid enough of the new authorities to stop their unacceptable activities that remind of primitive accumulation of capital. As a MEP I am especially familiar with cases of foreign investors who have been, feeling powerless, trying to find help anywhere, including from the European Parliament. Speculations and indirect (un)ambiguous announcements of early elections have already been understood by some criminal groups as the message that the state authorities, especially the police, will not have enough time to deal with them as they will have to focus on cases of the most scandalous “tycoons” and their political connections. Without the fully functioning rule of law structures Serbia will find it hard to find a way out of this vicious circle of increasing citizen dissatisfaction, rising social distress and deepening political crisis. For the EU public the decision on whether to ban the Pride Parade was a transparent and clear test of the functioning of the rule of law in practice. Unfortunately this “stress test” has failed to bring any positive results.



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