EU criticises Serbia's decision to ban gay parade over security concerns

Sat, Oct 6, 2012, 01:00

THE EUROPEAN Union has strongly criticised Serbia’s decision to ban today’s planned gay parade through Belgrade, which was cancelled for the second year running after complaints from the Serb Orthodox Church and threats from far-right groups.

“Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6th, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens’ safety,” said Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic.

“The last thing Serbia now needs are riots and casualties, hence all conditions for the ban have been met,” added Mr Dacic, who is also Serbia’s interior minister.

The decision undermined hopes that Serbia’s new government, led by parties with a strong nationalist streak, would ensure the safety of the march to prove its commitment to making progress towards EU accession.

Ireland’s Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, had what she called a “very encouraging” meeting with Mr Dacic last week, and said Belgrade seemed determined to do all it could to push for EU accession.

Belgrade could receive a date for the start of accession talks during the Republic’s EU presidency in the first half of 2013, she said. But senior EU officials and international rights groups said the decision to ban the gay pride march raised doubts about Belgrade’s adherence to so-called European values.

“The rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join,” said Sweden’s European affairs minister Birgitta Ohlsson, who described the ban as “deeply troubling”.

A spokesman for European commissioner for enlargement Stefan Füle said Brussels was “particularly committed to seeking from candidate countries that they fully embrace fundamental rights and values”.

“I strongly condemn the intimidation and threats from extremist organisations . . . against the organisers of the parade and regret that those threats have been assessed serious enough to justify a ban on security grounds,” Mr Füle added in a statement.

UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay urged Belgrade to set a new date for the parade.

The ban came after the head of the Serb Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, called the event a “parade of shame”.

“It casts a heavy shadow on Belgrade, our centuries-old Christian culture and the dignity of the family as the foundation of humankind,” he said.