Marek Mikuš

THE DISTANT DEMOCRATISER: Representations of the EU and their Political Uses in Serbia

RRPP ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2011 ‘Social, Political and Economic Change in the Western Balkans’ Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, 25–26 May 2011

2 Given the Copenhagen criteria for the European Union (EU) membership refer to democratic governance, it follows logically that democratisation figures as one of the key EU conditionalities toward candidate countries. The EU provides these countries ‘assistance (…) to support political reform, in particular institution building, strengthening the rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities and the development of civil society’. 1 Students of EU policies implementation in non-member states are increasingly aware that to adequately understand policy outputs, they must pay attention not only to determining and explaining the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of policy transposition, but also to the hows and whys of the implementation process itself (Treib 2008; Barbé et al. 2009). While departing from this basic premise, my approach is distinctly anthropological. It studies specific, strategically chosen aspects of social reality, not seeking to address the subject in an all-embracing manner. What it aspires to, though, is offering an empirically grounded perspective on whether and how socio-political practices and discourses in Serbia reflect and transform the supposed link between ‘Europeanisation’ and democratisation of governance. Rather than in the institutionalist terms of governance and policy, I examine Europeanisation through the post-structuralist lenses of governmentality and politics. Instead of supranational institutions ‘impacting’ on domestic institutions, I see it as an encounter of ‘political-cultural formations (…) and ways of governing and being governed through language, practices and techniques’ (Lendvai 2007: 26). The Union emerges not as a set of self-evident institutions, values and norms, but rather as a multiplicity of experiential and ambiguous constructions negotiated by complex assemblages of actors. Taking cues from the anthropology of public policy, I approach policies as ‘myths’ in the anthropological sense of socially functional and productive ‘cosmological blueprints’ (Ferguson 1999: 13) or, less loftily, implicit and explicit articulations of models of society (Shore & Wright 1997: 7). Policies enact nation-building projects by tapping into citizens’ everyday lifeworlds and reconfiguring their subjectivities. My focus is on ‘political subjectivities’, i.e. on how people come to understand themselves in relationship to possibility

* This paper is a part of my doctoral work-in-progress at the LSE, currently in its fieldwork phase, entitled Rerunning the Transition: Democratisation, Civil-society Building and Europeanisation in Serbia.

‘Financial Assistance’, the website of DG Enlargement. Accessed at

financial-assistance/index_en.htm on 26 Apr 2011.

3 and desirability of political action (Greenberg 2007: 24–5) in a (nominally) democratising and Europeanising Serbia. Here, I am specifically concerned with the (attempted) building of a democratic and European Serbian nation, and my general method is the one of ‘studying through‘ – following the source of a policy (its discourses and prescriptions) through to those affected by it (Wedel et al. 2005: 40–1). After establishing key features and functions of hegemonic media and policy discourses on ‘European Serbia’, I analyse how they are read, transformed and acted upon by the members of ‘civil society’. Proceeding to the case study of the 2010 Belgrade Pride Parade, I show how EU-promoted democratic principles such as LGBT rights can end up presented and approached as something foreign and driven by an ‘elitist’ alliance. Finally, I contrast this with a different, ‘populist’ kind of advocacy of the same cause.

‘Europe has no alternative’: Hegemonic performative discourse and its effects

In Serbia today, the discourses of the media and the public and civil sectors seem to explode with the word ‘Europe’ and its derivatives. On Serbia’s ‘path to Europe’, her citizens hear daily about ‘European values’ (evropske vrednosti) and ‘European standards’ being, or failing to be, ‘promoted’, ‘introduced’, ‘accepted’ and ‘adopted’. RTS, the state TV, brands itself the ‘public service of the European Serbia’.2 The Danas daily publishes an EU-funded supplement whose subtitle reads Serbia Next to Europe with Europe to Europe. An EU-funded project entitled Speak European (in imperative) trains civil and public servants ‘to strengthen [their] broad understanding of the values, standards and practices of the European Union’. 3 In the second round of his re-election in 2008, President Boris Tadić ran under the slogan Let’s win Europe together! He subsequently led the winning coalition of the 2008 Serbian parliamentary and local elections and Vojvodina parliamentary election called For a European Serbia – Boris Tadić. One of the coalition’s billboards claimed that ‘Europe means jobs for 200,000 unemployed’. My interview and textual data indicate that in the national memory, ‘Europe has no alternative’ (or ‘The EU has no alternative’) figures as the real

2 All 3

translations from Serbian are mine.

‘About the Project’. Accessed at on 22 Apr 2011.

4 slogan. The coalition’s representatives, including Tadić, frequently used this catchphrase in the run-up to the 2008 elections 4 and continue to use it today.5 What can be inferred from these ubiquitous references to Europe? First, they reveal the extent to which popular and government-promoted imaginings of the future Serbia became linked to the idea of Europe. Kostovicova (2004) observed that post-Milošević ‘democratic elites’ merged into one two meanings of Europe – its experiential/cultural (Europe-asidentity) and procedural/institutional aspect (Europe-as-EU). This Europe identified with the EU was posited as a democratic polity where Serbia has a rightful place. From the perspective of discourse pragmatics (Blum-Kulka 1997), these references to Europe are performative utterances (Austin 1975). Their purpose is not to claim something, but to do something, such as make it true that Serbia is European, or reject the existence of alternatives to Europe/EU. Obviously, whether such statements actually transform reality depends on who is making them in what context. There seems to be some tenuous evidence for success of these performatives (Golubović et al. 2003: 305; Mitrović 2008, 2010; cf. Volčič 2005). My interviewees almost universally rejected the claim that ‘Europe has an alternative’. Some argued that Serbia already is European as its strongest cultural and economic links are to Europe. However, the character of the social milieu I am studying renders my data rather particular. Second, the functionality of these references to Europe depends on their conspicuous vagueness. Тhis is especially true of their usages by the media and politicians whose catchphrases the media transmit. Undoubtedly, more analytic media stories or the government’s policy documents may make an effort to develop on these phrases and give them a specific meaning. However, the public arguably comes into contact rather with the former type of usage, and its obscurity did not go unnoticed by the civil society members I interviewed. For instance, they were aware that Serbian media constantly talk about ‘European values’, but claimed they typically passed over the term without thinking, considering it a journalist filler with some vague contextual meaning or something adopted from the discourse


‘Boris Tadić: Hajde da osvojimo Evropu 3. februara!’ Accessed at

option=com_content&view=article&id=3928:------3-&catid=16&Itemid=431 on 25 Apr 2011.

‘EU nema alternativu, pre svega zbog visokog standarda života’. Accessed at

option=com_content&task=view&id=11075&Itemid=424 on 25 Apr 2011.

5 of politicians. Many interviewees professed they did not believe there is anything like European or EU values, at least not beyond official declarations. Some were more comfortable with talking about ‘European standards’ or ‘quality of life’, reasoning these were grounded in the European law or the reality of living in the EU. Thus, the dominant usage turns ‘European values’ into a deliberately unspecified better place and time to which the politicians promise to lead the nation. In the same time, they can present the potentially painful part of the process as ‘something enforced upon us by Brussels’, as a research participant commented. I argue below that my interlocutors attempt to gain ownership and restore the transformative potential of this discourse by putting forward their own meanings and orientations to Europe. This echoes the ‘temporality, agency, and processual nature of normativity’ (Paley 2008: 5) that anthropologists found central to the asserting of the multiplicity of forms summarily known as democracy.

‘Putting our backyards to order’: Europe and civil society political subjectivities

This section explores orientations of civil society members to concepts connected with Europe/EU. In this paper, the term ‘civil society’ has its normative meaning prevalent in Serbia, limited to voluntary organizations promoting democracy, liberalism, cosmopolitanism and anti-nationalism (Milivojević 2006: 10). Employing this ideological self-conception analytically risks overlooking the strong ‘illiberal’ sector of civil society (Kostovicova 2006) and important linkages of political parties and NGOs (Bieber 2003b). For this and other reasons, it must be a subject of analysis itself.6 This concept is not unique – in a similar vein, civil society in Central Europe invented itself as the autonomous and morally pure ‘other’ of the communist state and the leading force of post-communist democratisation (Eyal 2000; Kaldor 2003). However, the Serbian civil society assumes a culturally and historically specific form due to its links with – or perhaps embeddedness in – the theory of ‘two Serbias’. Since 1992, the opposition to the Milošević regime, operating largely through civil society organizations (CSOs), was identifying itself as the ‘Other Serbia’ of urban intellectuals, artists and professionals, in contrast to the proMilošević ‘First Serbia’ of rural and semi-urban groups (Naumović 2002: 25–6; Bieber 2003a: 19). The binary reflects widespread folk models of politics, culture and society which

For anthropological conceptualisations, see Hann & Dunn 1996; Comaroff & Comaroff 1999; Hann 2003.

6 draw links, on the one hand, between political orientations and aesthetic forms, and on the other hand, socio-cultural classifications. Thus, they associate conservative and nationalist views with ‘peasants’, ‘peasant-urbanites’ and other ‘Balkanised’7 groups, whereas the cultured urban middle class is seen as inherently cosmopolitan, liberal and ‘civil’ (Jansen 2001, 2005; Greenberg 2006a). Significantly, the adjective građanski, derived from grad (‘city’), translates as ‘urban’ as well as ‘civil’ (Spasić 2006: 222–3). While this folk theory 8 was especially strong in the 1990s, it continues to shape public discourse. Liberal commentators accept their ‘Other Serbia’ identity but acknowledge the ‘First Serbia’ is also constituted by many NGOs and cultural elites (Čolović 2009: 146–7; Helšinski odbor 2009: 309–18). Conservative commentators coined the term ‘missionising intelligentsia‘ for their rivals (Antonić 2003) and accuse them of Balkanising its own people. They take for granted the theory’s assumption that the ‘Other Serbia’ (and hence ‘civil society’) is unequivocally pro-European. Thus, the Pečat magazine condems ‘euroreformers‘ in the same breath with ‘Other-Serbs‘ (drugosrbijanci)9 and Slobodan Antonić talks about ‘the “Other” Serbia [who] boast about their European orientation’.10 I will now explore how this presumption of ‘Europhilia’ of civil society plays out empirically, and juxtapose my findings based on participant-observation and interview 11 data with the hegemonic policy and media discourse. First, it is worth stressing that none of the participants expressed outright hostility to the EU. To that extent, the examined presumption is not invalidated. However, their orientations to the studied concepts were considerably more reflexive, diverse and ambiguous than the


‘Balkanism’ is a discourse similar to Orientalism which locates the Balkans to the periphery of the symbolic geography of

Europe and the bottom of its civilizational hierarchy, but is also often mobilised to establish such hierarchies between and within Balkan countries, nations and social categories (Bakić-Hayden & Hayden 1992; Bakić-Hayden 1995; Živković 2001).
8 Although

some scholars (Gordy 1999) took it for an adequate description of reality, I argue it is better understood as a folk

theory. As such, it captures something of social reality, but I agree with many of my research participants on that it oversimplifies in doing so.

‘Ombudsmanov govor mržnje: Invalid(i) uma’. Accessed at

invalidi-uma/ on 30 Apr 2011.

‘Pad sajta i reakcije’. Accessed at on

30 Apr 2011.

The interviewees were asked some or all of the following questions (my translations from Serbian): ‘Is it possible to

believe that “Europe has an alternative” for Serbia?’ ‘Is their something like “European values” (variation: “values of the EU”) and if there is, what is it?’ ‘What do you think of the way that the European integration of Serbia is going?’

7 simplified narrative would have it. The variations reflected their biographies, values and social, political and institutional positions, but also their incisive analyses of political process of which they are subjects. On many occasions, they emerged as competent ‘native anthropologists’. Running through their comments was a clear association between Europe/EU and the interrelated ideas of ‘system’, ‘order’, ‘normalcy’ and ‘modernity’. Acceding the EU, the interviewees reasoned, is a chance for Serbia to become a ‘normal’ and ‘orderly country’ (uređena zemlja) ‘where rules are being respected’. She would achieve ‘the rule of law’ or ‘modern system of governance’ with ‘functioning institutions’. These findings reflect the association commonly made between the ideas of Europe and ‘normalcy’ which anthropologists documented in post-Yugoslav societies. The set of supposed European ‘norms’ and ‘standards’ is looked to as an antithesis and exit from the ‘abnormality’ of transformations of past twenty years (Greenberg 2007: 89–97; Gilbert et al. 2008). When the Yugoslav wars, an epitome of Balkanic chaos, broke out, journalists and citizens discussed them ‘as if they felt constantly under European scrutiny and had to justify their actions to Europe all the time’ (van de Port 1998: 75). If the (simulated) European gaze acts as the arbiter of civilization and order, it is only because Europe, owing to long-standing Balkanist discourses, is seen as embodying these properties. Today, when Serbia enjoys a relative stability, this symbolic value of Europe remains but is phrased pragmatically. The emphasis on order, rule of law or strong institutions as European qualities was more common than associations with loftier values which the EU proclaims its own, such as tolerance and the respect for human rights, peace and cooperation between nations, or indeed democracy. This might reflect the blending of discourse on Europe with the global ‘good governance’ discourse (Doornbos 2001) which seems to take hold in popular expectations of politics in Serbia (Spasić 2005: 48–9). Symptomatically, at the November 2010 session of the Democratic Political Forum debate series, the participants seemed to find it natural to assess the state of institutions – which was the advertised topic – largely through the prism of the European Commission (EC) 2010 Progress Report on Serbia. On the other hand, there was no shortage of critical views of the EU. Many interlocutors, including some rather Euro-optimist, saw it as an incoherent and unprincipled identity. As noted above, many doubted there is anything like European values and referred to various instances when the EU applied ‘double standards’ to candidate or member countries.

8 Regarding the integration process, all interviewees were dissatisfied with its unfolding. The almost universal consensus was that the convergence is ‘superficial’ or ‘unserious’ (neozbiljna) – the laws introducing acquis communautaire are being adopted, but not implemented. However, the EU is easily satisfied with that – either because it cannot check for implementation, or is happy with ‘ticking off boxes’ on the list of laws to be adopted. Some interviewees, especially those with links to public administration, criticized integration in technical terms as too ‘slow’ or of ‘low quality’, and the EU as having a ‘bad communication towards Serbia’:
People don’t see anything concrete (…) there is no big bridge, there isn’t a road, there isn’t anything big enough to show that the EU is really here.

More often than with the EU, people found fault with Serbian politicians who ‘insult intelligence’ of citizens by using the EU as an election slogan and ‘bidding with years/ deadlines’ of Serbia’s accession. Rather than working on real priorities, such as endemic corruption, they introduce unimportant reforms. Some suspected that ‘the whole story about Europe’ is only to ‘make people blind’ (da se ljudima zamažu oči) to real problems. ‘Europe’ has become a ‘cliché’ (floskula) presented as a ‘solution for everything’, the only engine of reform which should be carried out for a more important reason – the welfare of citizens. Many interlocutors decried the undemocratic character of integration. Politicians ‘do not explain anything to anyone’, they talk about the accession as a dogma which cannot be questioned and discussed, without ever presenting an ‘analysis of costs and gains’. Laws required by the Union are being adopted in a sped-up procedure, without public discussion or adjustment to the Serbian context. Some believed that as a result of this, the ‘ordinary citizen’ believes that ‘Serbia has to’ enter the EU. Thus, while the participants considered the integration process a chance for progressive social transformation, they felt it was disabling their political agency. They often tried to resolve this contradiction by shifting emphasis to the national and community levels as the loci of change. Rather than seeing development as necessary to accede the EU, a Euro-sceptic interviewee said, politicians should recognise the importance of ‘our individual development’. Serbia cannot expect the EU to do reforms for her, and she should have a national ‘strategy’ of reforms and problem-solving. Some interviewees went further and stressed that citizens should ‘put to order’ (urediti) their own society:

I advocate the kind of stance that if we, everyone of us would put our own backyards to order, houses, parks and the like, and that applies also to the state, its enterprises, the whole system, [then] we wouldn’t even need Europe.

However, my interlocutors figured politicians and citizens do not understand or downplay this key aspect of integration and instead talk about benefiting from EU funds, or imagine that being in the Union equals instant prosperity.12 Some commented that the problem rests in the Serbian ‘attitude to work’ or ‘working habits’ (see also Golubović et al. 2003: 304), appropriating this time-honoured Balkanist motive for self-criticism.13 In her research with student activists in early 2000s, Greenberg found they see Serbia’s EU membership 'as a mechanism to circulate the entire country into Europe through a collective relocation that promises normalcy (…) on a national scale’ (2007: 99). The vernacular discourses I describe continue to express this quest for normalcy, but the actors and agency to achieve it are scaled down from the abstracted notions of the EU and Serbia. They bring agency and responsibility, at least as a potentiality, closer to citizens – either by refocusing the attention on the flaws of national elites, or by arguing the citizens must reform themselves. Skeptical about ‘European values’ (or their automatic transposition through integration), they call for indigenous development and change of values. This represents a move from being a passive object of European gaze and intervention to becoming an active, self-governing subject. The critiques of the undemocratic nature of integration further attest to this frustrated, but not abandoned wish for transformative agency.

‘State Pride’: The state orchestration of a clash of citizenship visions

On 10 October 2010, Belgrade saw its first Pride Parade (Parada ponosa) protected by state security agencies. A Parade without such protection was organised in 2001, resulting in a severe attack on the participants (Greenberg 2007: 357). There have been two published

12 A recent

story in the Ekonom:east weekly subtitled European Values Serbian-style echoes this idea. ‘Njihova pravila i naša

posla’. Accessible for subscribers at

This theme is mirrored in a recent story in the influential Politika daily which claims the Serbs will need years to adopt

‘European values’. Interestingly, these are selectively understood as an ideal-typical model of North West European, ‘protestant’ value system – i.e., an ideal-typical opposite of the stereotype of Serbian values. ‘EU ne trpi selektivnu pravdu’. Accessed at on 26 Apr 2011.

10 initiatives to organise a Parade since then, in 2004 and 2009, but they were both called off for security reasons (GSA 2010: 44–55). The 2010 Parade was seen as a watershed in the history of LGBT rights in Serbia, but also of Serbia’s European integration. As other supranational and non-governmental actors, the EU has repeatedly criticised the government’s inadequate response to high prevalence of homophobia. While in 2009 the EC found the authorities ‘unable to guarantee the safety of the participants’ (EC 2009: 15), in 2010 it stated that the Parade represented ‘a step forward in promoting constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights’ (EC 2010: 13). In a January 2011 resolution, the European Parliament (EP) stated that ‘freedom of expression and of assembly are core European values’ and that by backing up the Parade, the state showed ‘commitment to uphold EU standards of tolerance’.14 As a representative of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), one of the organising NGOs,15 told me,
(…) we used very consciously the fact that Serbia finds itself in the process of EU integration, that the Progress Report of the European Commission was going to be important, that in the meetings with high state officials which they had during 2010, one of the really important subjects was precisely the Pride Parade (…)

To collect information for the EC Progress Reports, the ‘political section’ of the EU Delegation in Serbia regularly consults GSA and other LGBT organizations on the state of LGBT rights in Serbia. In the period immediately before and after the Parade, GSA has been reporting to the Delegation on a daily basis. Notably, Vincent Degert, Head of the Delegation, held the first speech at the event; also speaking were Head of Council of Europe Delegation to Serbia, Head of OSCE Mission to Serbia and a Dutch member of the EP. The only government’s representative was Svetozar Ćiplić, Minister of Human and Minority Rights. The Parade’s opponents did not overlook this link. An online video entitled Against the Belgrade Shame Parade is described: ‘The real Serbia AGAINST the occupation of false

‘European Parliament resolution of 19 January 2011 on the European integration process of Serbia’. P7_TA-PROV(2011)


I interviewed representatives of the two Belgrade NGOs which organised the 2010 Parade, Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)

and Queeria Centre (another smaller NGO from Novi Sad was officially ‘supporting’ the Parade); a staff member of the EU Delegation managing the EIDHR; and three LGBT activists – one primarily associated with lesbian activism and involved in the organization of the 2009 Parade, and two not involved either in 2009 or 2010 – a leader of an LGBT NGO in a smaller Serbian town and an academic. My intention was obviously not to investigate perceptions or interests of the ‘LGBT community’, but rather to identify and interpret diverging politics of LGBT rights in Serbia in relation to the Parade.

11 European values and their mercenaries!’16 The description of another video showing Čedomir Jovanović, President of the Liberal Democratic Party, on his way to the Parade, starts with: ‘Čeda promotes sodomy, a big European value and achievement.’17 In a recent talk, representatives of SNP Naši 1389, nationalist-conservative NGO, spoke about legal sanctions against their comrades, including some related to their anti-Parade activities, as ‘the regime’s attempt to break the last resistance to the Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia.’18 The defence 2lawyer in the trial with members of Obraz, another organization suspected of violence during the Parade, said that ‘this Orthodox youth will fall victim to Serbia’s entry to the EU’.19 This strategy of linking the Parade and LGBT rights with the EU integration enabled the organising NGOs to form an interest-based alliance with the state officially committed to the integration. The latter needed to convince the EU that it takes the anti-discrimination policy seriously. The NGOs could exploit this to have the state protect the Parade. The GSA representative told me unambiguously that in the changed situation in Serbia, cooperation with parties and state institutions is necessary but not all LGBT organizations understand that. As the Queeria Centre representative implied, this was the case with the organisers of the 2009 Parade which is why Queeria left the process at some point. Starting in March 2010, GSA conducted a series of meetings with all but three20 parliamentary parties and representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, Human and Minority Rights, Youth and Sport, Culture and Health; the government’s EU Integration Office; the President of the Parliament; the Parliament’s Defence and Security Committee; and President Tadić who also presides the National Security Council. GSA initiated the formation of an ‘informal co-ordinating body’ charged with ‘monitoring security aspects‘ of the Pride, consisting of representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs and Human and Minority Rights, Republic Public Prosecution Office, Ombudsman Office, Belgrade City Government, and the Parliament’s Defence and Security Committee. However,
16 Accessed 17 Accessed 18

at on 14 Apr 2011. at on 14 Apr 2011.

‘Tribina u Novoj Pazovi’. Accessed at

&catid=36%3Avesti on 1 May 2001.

‘Povodom sramne presude pripadnicima pokreta “Obraz”’. Accessed at

povodom-sramne-presude-pripadnicima-pokreta-%E2%80%9Eobraz%E2%80%9C on 22 Apr 2011.

The following parties refused the meeting: the Democratic Party of Serbia, New Serbia, and United Serbia.

12 cooperation with the police, or more precisely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs as multiple police units were involved, proved more important in practice. While the Organization Committee met with the ‘co-ordinating body’ three or four times, there were ten or more meetings with the police. The Queeria representative told me that ‘concrete’ issues related to the Pride’s organization were only negotiated in meetings with the police and the city government. The state’s involvement significantly marked the Parade, its effects and attendant discourses. The section of central Belgrade where participants completed their walk was hermetically closed, patrolled by a helicopter and encircled by 5,00021 policemen, gendarmes and military policemen. Most people entering the area had to identify themselves to the police who noted their personal data. At several points hundreds meters away, 6,00022 young men armed with stones and petrol bombs were trying to break the blockade, attacking various buildings and destroying public and private property. About 150 people, mostly police, were injured. However, the blockade weathered the onslaught, and 250 attackers were held for questioning. The ultimate winner was the state. As the EU Delegation staff member told me, ‘the EU has to reward’ it, although it is aware that the state’s commitment is an ‘illusion’ (privid), an empty ‘shell’ (školjka) motived purely by the EU integration. Apart from words of appreciation in the quoted documents, the Council of the EU made a step forward in the integration two weeks after the Parade by forwarding Serbia’s application to the EC.23 The decision was expected in that time, but it is noteworthy that the Parade was scheduled for the run-up to it. Domestically, the state strived to demonstrate its ability to enforce rule of law and public order. In their media appearances, government officials weaved together the governmental-technological language of the state’s monopoly of power (Blom Hansen & Stepputat 2001: 7) with the abstract discourse of liberalism and human rights. The spokesman of the Republic Public Prosecution Office declared that ‘nobody is stronger than the state.’


‘Bezbedna Parada ponosa’. Accessed at

+Parada+ponosa.html on 9 Oct 2010.
22 23

Ivica Dačić, Minister of Internal Affairs, on the B92 news, 10 Oct 2010. ‘Serbia’s EU bid gets a green light’. Accessed at

features/2010/10/26/feature-01 on 28 Oct 2010.

13 President Tadić stated that ‘Serbia will guarantee the exercise of human rights for all citizens disregarding their diversity and attempts to limit their freedom by violence will not succeed.’24 On the day of the Parade and in its aftermath, my research participants and friends from the ranks of ‘civil society’ were repeatedly calling on the state to ‘arrest’ and ‘put to prison’ the perpetrators and organisers of violence. Some would talk nostalgically about socialist Yugoslavia in which every ‘disruption of public peace and order’ was severely punished. This part of the public was not so critical of the state’s involvement as of the lack of it. The interviewed LGBT activists also believed that the state did not do enough do prevent the violence although it surely had sufficient intelligence. These accusations of lukewarm support are not surprising. The state seemed to nominally support the Parade, but simultaneously do its best to keep distance from it and avoid openly ideological confrontation with the opponents. Several circumstances support this reading. Presenting the unpopular Parade as something which must be done to please the EU is the basic move of this strategy. The only government official in attendance was Minister Ćiplić. Most officials supported it only in formal-procedural terms. Minister Dačić,25 in reality a key ally of the organisers, said not him but citizens decided the Parade will happen – by toppling the Milošević regime and choosing to ‘enter Europe and accept European values’. He added that Europe has been ‘attacking him for a year’ about the cancelled 2009 Parade.26 Further, the state condemned and legally sanctioned the violence as such, not as homophobic or ideology-based. The few attackers punished so far were found guilty of criminal acts like ‘preventing a serviceman in performance of duty’27 and ‘violent behaviour at a public meeting’. 28 There is a single (ongoing) lawsuit in Serbia in which charges were


‘Država najavila odgovor na nasilje’. Accessed at

dd=10&mm=10&nav_category=11&nav_id=464334&yyyy=2010 on 10 Oct 2010.
25 At

the time of writing, Ivica Dačić is the President of the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Minister of Internal Affairs. An

important figure of the Milošević regime, he served as the spokesperson of the Socialist Party in 1992–2000 and held other party functions.

‘Ivica Dačić: Nisam ja odlučio da bude Parada ponosa, vi ste to birali 5. oktobra’. Accessed at

politika/ivica-dacic-nisam-ja-odlucio-da-bude-parada-ponosa%2c-vi-ste-to-birali-5.-oktobra,94832.html on 12 Oct 2010.

‘Prva presuda za nerede na gej paradi’. Accessed at

nerede-na-gej-paradi/2112683 on 1 May 2011.

‘Vođi “Obraza” dve godine zatvora’. Accessed at on 20 Apr 2011.

14 raised of promoting homophobia, but this relates to the 2009 Parade.29 The government consistently referred to the attackers as ‘young people’ or even ‘children’ who were ‘manipulated’, or in a harsher – but still de-ideologising – key, as ‘hooligans’, ‘vandals’ or ‘disturbers’ (izgrednici). The spokeswoman (and currently Vice-President) of the Democratic Party Jelena Trivan explicitly said:
They are hooligan gangs whose behaviour follows the same pattern, no matter if it’s about a football match or an ideological protest. They are hooligans and not fighters for any moral values or principles... 30

The involvement in the protests of far-right movements and the Serbian Orthodox Church31 32, illustrated by a scene I witnessed, speaks to the contrary. Approaching the Ascension Church, the paraders started to whistle and shout derisively. At the gate of the churchyard, behind the fence, a small group of mostly middle-aged men silently stood, headed by an Orthodox priest holding up a large wooden cross. His dour face, hard look and pressed lips made the meaning of his gesture clear – he was guarding the holy lands against the imminent contamination by sin. The opponents’ ideology is simultaneously inchoate and multifaceted. It interprets the LGBT rights movement as an assault on the collective body ethnonational, equated with Orthodoxy and heteronormative masculinity. As Greenberg’s powerful analysis shows (2006b; 2007: 356–69), this is a conflict between ‘elitist’ and ‘populist’ visions of citizenship, its entitlements and regimes of inclusion and exclusion. It is about two fundamentally different concepts of gender, class, form of national belonging and the very ontology (individualist/collectivist) of the citizen subject. Thus, the ‘populists’ chanted ‘we’ll fuck the faggots’, denoting them as feminine subjects, and called on the police to ‘go to Kosovo’ rather than ‘babysit the faggots’. They attacked a mammography facility sponsored by B92, a media corporation associated with the ‘Other Serbia’, as well as the seats of the Democratic Party, Liberal Democratic Party and the Socialist Party of Serbia. A protester shouted ‘there’s money for the Parade, but not for
29 30

‘Suđenje Miši Vaciću ponovo odloženo’. Accessed at on 8 Apr 2011. ‘Huligani napali sedište DS u Krunskoj’. Accessed at

sediste-DS-Krunska-ulica-Beograd-napad-napali-sediste-DS-u-Krunskoj.html on 10 Oct 2011.
31 32

‘Krst, pop i motorola’. Accessed at on 12 Oct 2010. ‘U prvim redovima protestne litije’. Accessed at

protestne-litije/ on 12 Oct 2010.

15 flats’.33 Organisers and supporters of a peaceful protest on the eve of the Parade insisted that the state should be concerned with economic hardship and demographic decline, not with ‘trivial problems of one aggressive minority group’, 34 i.e. with fulfilling particular, elite privilege. On the ‘elitist’ side of the church fence, I kept hearing ‘civil society’ members saying that the attackers came (or someone brought them) to Belgrade from ‘small towns and villages’, and that they slept rough in parks. On the eve of the Parade, a friend told me how her partially sighted acquaintance was approached by a boy handing out anti-Parade leaflets, and when he asked him to read them aloud for him, it transpired the boy was illiterate. On the B92 website, readers advised the state to ‘[f]irst arrest the monks who are massively involved in all this, and then take it a hooligan by hooligan.’ 35 The fact remains that the Parade and limited repressive action against its opponents was carried through and the state and (a part of) liberal ‘civil society’ consolidated their ‘elitist’ alliance. This was how the ‘populists’, but also other commentators read it. The interviewed LGBT activists not involved in the Parade’s organization repeatedly designated it as the ‘State Pride’ (državni prajd). They were also critical of the fact that Boris Milićević, a founder of GSA, joined the Socialist Party of Serbia (led by Minister Dačić) and, in December 2010, became a member of its Central Committee.36 While lines of criticism were many, those which interest me here evoke the prescription that CSOs should be ‘independent’ and completely separate from the state and political organizations, consistent with the mentioned Eastern European idea of civil society as well as its currently dominant ideologies, be they ‘neoliberal‘ or ‘poststructuralist‘ (Fisher 1997, Houtzager 2004). Other critiques, claiming the organisers ‘monopolised’ the Pride or ignored the ‘real’ interests of the LGBT population, mirror the accusations of elitism and lack of grassroots base often made, within the Balkan civil society, against human rights NGOs

‘Šutanovac: Hoće da zaustave evropski put Srbije’. Accessed at

zaustave-evropski-put-Srbije.html on 11 Oct 2010.

‘Porodičnom šetnjom protiv Parade ponosa’. Accessed at

Porodi%C4%8Dnom+%C5%A1etnjom+protiv+Parade+ponosa.html on 09 Oct 2010.

Written by ‘novosađanin’ on 10 Oct 2010. Accessed at

on 11 Oct 2010.

Boris Milićević resigned on his function of the President of GSA in April 2010. In turn, Lazar Pavlović was elected


16 (Sampson 2004). As an anthropologist of development, I question the normative foundations of these critiques, but I also postulate that actors have a degree of structurally constrained agency when deciding what resources to employ in what manner (Olivier de Sardan 2005; Mosse & Lewis 2006; for civil-society elites in the Balkans, see Sampson 1996, 2002, 2004). Post factum, the organisers were indeed aware of the criticisms and they probably could anticipate many of them before the Pride. My intention here, however, is not to second-guess their motives, but to understand the social construction of outcomes. The critiques cited speak of the perception that the state, and to some extent the organisers, instrumentalised the Parade while the supposed LGBT beneficiaries gained little. The organisers, while not necessarily government-organised NGOs (GONGOs), were widely seen as acting as such. Owing to its militarisation and depoliticisation, the Parade materially actualised and reified rather than transcended the enduring polarisation of Serbian society. As a blueprint for future citizenship, it included some (insincerely, insofar as the state is concerned), but excluded many – by constructing them not as political subjects to be talked to (however difficult that seems), but as a manipulated mob to be repressed.37 The slogan of a campaign against violence initiated in the wake of the Parade illustrates this wish to exclude from the national community: ‘Show him that he is not Serbia!’38 Returning to the guiding question of this paper, evoking the EU in the cause of LGBT rights proved useful only to the extent that it helped maneuver the state to provide security and formal support for the Parade. GSA itself published survey data showing that supporters of the European integration tend to be less homophobic than its opponents (GSA 2010: 29). Thus, the persuasive power of the association with ‘European values’ is limited; and because the Parade was carried through by an alliance widely seen as elitist, this association possibly even reinforced the opponents’ perception of LGBT rights as alien and externally enforced. The state welcomed this as it helped maximise its political gains and minimise and partially externalise losses.

Speaking in cold terms of technology of government, such a strategy is viable if the state is strong and those to be excluded

a small minority. This is the basic approach of advanced liberal democracies toward violent movements and groups which, in such societies, typically remain marginal. However, the Serbian state is weak, and those willing to fight violently against LGBT rights seem numerous. Many more would not engage in violence themselves, but consider such actions legitimate. I believe that in such contexts, purely repressive policies risk deepening social polarisation and disconnect between the state and those opposing the policy, turning them into a powerful antisystemic movement.

‘Kampanja protiv nasija’. Accessed at!/note.php?

note_id=163988266958931 on 3 May 2011.

17 Toward a populist social transformation?

Some voices in Serbia interpret the violent protests in relation to the social marginalisation of perpetrators and point to exclusionism inherent to liberal and human rights projects. 39 The implied solution to endemic homophobia is a construction of an egalitarian welfare society. As much as I appreciate these valuable analyses and visions, I contend that they overemphasise the class aspect of homophobia at the expense of the wider politics of citizenship which inform it. Gender, ethnonationalist, collectivist and class-based facets of the resistance to LGBT rights (or more broadly, liberal democracy) in Serbia constitute an integrated ideological system and they must be all addressed in social theory and practice. What is needed is a grassroots, ‘populist’ social transformation. While I found civil-society discourses on Europe pacing in that direction, in the field of LGBT rights first signs of such approach came from somewhat unexpected quarters. A day after the Parade, Jelena Karleuša, a pop-singer whose music and private relationships link her to the ‘First Serbia’,40 published a column in the high-circulation tabloid Kurir which triggered and mainstreamed a lively, if short-lived public debate.41 Rhetorically a persuasive, in-your-face dialogue with homophobes, it is written in colloquial, abrasive Serbian. Constructing the anti-Parade violence as a national disgrace, Karleuša asks: ‘How long will the scum remain loud and clear, and we a mute nation (narod)?’ In a frontal attack, Karleuša links homophobia to patriarchy, sexism and ethnonationalism in Serbia, and points out the homoerotic undertones of such mainstream phenomena as football or Serbian straight male look. Heightening the controversy, Karleuša reminds us that she is married to a football player, and gives us insight into his homophobic views. Finally, unlike other advocates of LGBT rights in Serbia, she deals with the awkward but all the more central subject of the

Thus, Sonja Avlijaš speaks of their ‘disempowerment’ and ‘structural violence’ against them in the context of growing

social inequality and ‘rent-seeking’ Serbian economy. (‘Proud of nothing’. Accessed at 2010/10/proud-of-nothing.html on 24 Nov 2010.) Dušan Maljković warns against ‘hooliganisation’ and ‘racist essentialisation’ of the identity of the protesters leading to their ‘dehumanisation’. (‘Gej Prajd 2010: Od politike identiteta do huliganizacije’. Accessed at on 29 Mar 2010.)

Her music, at least in the early phase of her career, is considered ‘turbo-folk’, and her image is appropriately hyperfeminine

and sexualised – all emblematic of the ‘First Serbia’ (Gordy 1999: 144; Greenberg 2006a: 135–7; Živković 2011). Her first brief marriage was with the son of Bogoljub Karić, a tycoon closely associated with the Milošević regime (in 1998–99, he served as a Minister). She has repeatedly spoke in favour of LGBT rights in the past.

‘Otvorite svoj um!’. Accessed at on 11 Oct 2011.

18 perceived repugnancy of gay male anal sex.42 Conspicuously, her text contains no references to Europe. It speaks to domestic audience, and its message is simple: ‘We, as a nation, need to change.’ Karleuša later reiterated her views in the influential B92 talk-show The Week’s Impression.43 The reactions of ‘civil society’ circles were divided. In the logic of ‘two Serbias’ and Bourdieuan game of ‘distinction’, many expressed horror over Karleuša’s vulgar style44 and disappointment that she, rather than all the respectable artists and intellectuals speaking in favour of LGBT rights, elicited such a strong reaction. Others were amused and appreciative. In any case, most recognized the political importance of Karleuša’s contribution. Indeed, owing precisely to who Karleuša is and how she communicated the issue, she took a first step toward opening up a ‘populist’ discursive space where a straightforward, mutually intelligible exchange between the proponents of the two analysed citizenship politics is possible. It is a space of cultural intimacy (Herzfeld 2005), owned and inclusive of all, perhaps even luring them in by the bad manners and celebrity halo with which the issues are being served. In this paper, I did not wish to assert that the Pride Parade or legal and formalinstitutional reforms demanded by the EU cannot or did not contribute to democratisation in Serbia or elsewhere. Neither do I subscribe to normative theories according to which the state and civil society (should) represent two completely autonomous spheres. The analysed policies may play a positive role and their longterm outcomes are yet to be seen; if I have privileged a critical perspective, it is because I believe they need a candid feedback. Without incorporating an empirical and interpretative understanding of the implementation outcomes in their socio-political setting, these policies might fail on its promise and only transfer Serbia from the EU’s ‘immediate outside’ (Jansen 2009) to its internal periphery – to a colonial-like condition of pockets of liberty and progress enclosed and threatened by an inert, oppressive society, in turn dominated by a formally integrated and ‘Europeanised’ state.

42 43

Thanks to Dušan Maljković for turning my attention to this. ‘Utisak nedelje’, broadcast on 24 Oct 2010. Accessed at

nav_category=907&nav_id=467675 on 3 May 2011.

For instance, an acquaintance qualified it as ‘prost’, a somewhat ambivalent adjective which means ‘simple’ as well as

‘coarse’, ‘vulgar’.


Marek Mikuš (1984) is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, currently carrying out fieldwork for his research project Rerunning the Transition: Democratisation, Civil-society Building and Europeanisation in Serbia. Marek has received an MA in Ethnology from the Charles University, Prague (2007) and an MSc in Anthropology and Development from the LSE (2009). His academic interests include political anthropology, anthropology of development, postsocialism, democracy, the European Union, nationalism, discourse, social exclusion and poverty, Roma in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


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