The LGBTIQ issues range from something really ordinary in some societies to very complicate in others. For the Western Balkans and especially Serbia the year 1999 was the critical juncture for the advancement of the LGBTIQ rights and the first step towards acceptance and recognition, though there is still a long road ahead.
Why 1999? Because this year was pivotal for the Europeanization of these countries.
Helsinki hosted the European Council where, a new agenda was decided for EU’s enlargement. According to the conclusions, 13 countries were allowed to become candidate states and the finalization of the concrete rules of the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) enabled them to conduct a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Serbia realized the signing on 2008 while Kosovo that declared its independence the very same year, started negotiations for the singing of a SAA, only in 2013. SAA is seen as a way to ensure political reforms and reconstructions in the rule of law. Moreover, gives leverage to the main principle of SAP, regional cooperation and catalysis of the barriers (economic, trade, people’s mobility) between the countries of Southeastern Europe. In that way, such countries can approach the European reality. Yet the issue of the LGBTIQ peoples’ rights are being abandoned, along with the issues regarding disabled people and other defenceless groups. Throughout the SAA regulations there is no explicit reference regarding homosexuality and the challenges this community faces in instable societies.
However, this first agreement is just the beginning. Even if the countries stick up to the rules and substantiate results of progress, first and foremost should be abided to the principles set out by Article 6(1) and the presuppositions of Article 49 of the Treaty of the EU. Then the obligatory satisfaction of both Copenhagen and Madrid Criteria follow. And in these criteria LGBTIQ issues are explicitly explained, guarded and supported.
So, it becomes obvious that the prospect of the EU membership fostered in Serbia the convergence of political elites upon issues such as corruption, judicial framework and independence, domestic democratic governance, civil society and electoral processes (Freedom House, Nations in Transit report, 2013). In the Kosovo case, things are not so promising, yet the economical aid and the know-how from the EU in accordance with Western institutions present in Pristine show some positive evidence towards a more democratic society. In both cases thought, LGBTI issues still remain a troubled area. Either because until recently were neglected and not clearly put in the agenda either because of a communist legacy of hatred, the challenges and difficulties these communities face, are blatant.
The Serbian case:
While Serbia has made great progress with respect to human rights, with examples like repatriation of minorities and cooperation with ICTY, political will still stands rigid when it comes to LGBTI issues. The 28th of September 2013, day of the scheduled parade of the LGBTI community of Serbia, marked the day that for the third time in a raw «Belgrade Pride» was banned. Despite the fact that Serbia tries to move along with the UN Human Rights Council and despite the significant progress, in the recent report out of 144 recommendations made, the 77 (more than 50%) were affiliated with the LGBTI issues and the hate speech and threats towards the sexual minority of the country. Roma, women and LGBTI persons still consider being the most vulnerable groups of the population, facing discrimination in the majority of the aspects of their social life. Though some first steps have been done with police officer’s trainings and the beginning of cooperation with the judicial system, when Novi Sad’s Appellate Court delivered Serbia’s first ruling on non-discrimination in the workplace regarding sexual orientation (EU enlargement progress report, Serbia, 2013). Despite the fact that the parade was cancelled, the week between 21st and 29th of September when the NGO “Belgrade Pride” organized seminars on LGBTI issues in Medija Centar in Belgrade, was successfully completed, implementing also regional cooperation at its core, with LGBTI activists representing Greece, Albania, Kosovo, FYROM, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. We just wait to see what the situation will be in the parade of 2014 that was postponed for September (It was supposed to happen at 31st of May but LGBTIQ activists agreed to postpone it and they put all their efforts to relief the Serbian population that was struck by the catastrophic floods)
The Kosovo case:
Kosovo has made less progress comparing to Serbia towards the protection and freedoms of human rights. A discrimination law exists as an official law in the constitution but it is fairly implemented (Arberita Kryeziu:2012:pp 50). Thus, the LGBTI community in Kosovo suffers often from verbal and physical attacks, the majority of which are not even getting properly investigating. Hate speech is commonplace in Kosovo’s society and even getting a legal face in some aspects. (EU enlargement progress report, Kosovo, 2013). The Islamic Movement Unite (Levizja Islamike Bashkohu, 2012,http://www.levizjabashkohu.com/online/publikimet/108-sharlatani-ne-mbrojtje-te-degjenerimit), a radical Muslim movement, was excommunicating the LGBTIQ community as well as the Pristine Pride and was referring to the LGBTIQ people as mentally ill. After all this public hate speech against a still vulnerable group of the society, this organization became legal by registering as a political party. Such incidents show the semblance of democracy today in Kosovo and the instability this may bring. The LGBTIQ community, though it is active and extrovert, needs more protection and a fair judicial system.
The European direction for both Serbia and Kosovo is progressing. Democratization due to the prospect of accession is escalating and the EU norms succour effectively the difficult challenges both countries face. With the recent negotiations in Brussels and the 19th of April 2013 Agreement for normalization of the relationships, Serbia is opening negotiations with the EU, while Kosovo’s status issue will have to be settled. Throughout these procedures, the LGBTIQ issues should come out of the umbrella of human and minority rights and be addressed separately. Be addressed effectively and efficiently, as deserved to a liberal and European way of acting. EU enlargement should not create citizens of first and second class. All people should be addressed equally, under the main European doctrine that keeps the Union together.