The European Union’s foreign policy chief faced pro-Russian chants and boos in the Serbian parliament on Friday as she called for the integration of the Western Balkans into the 28-nation bloc.
Far-right Serbian lawmakers, who favor closer ties with Russia over Serbia’s EU integration, banged on benches with their hands and chanted “Serbia, Russia, we don’t need the Union!” during Federica Mogherini’s 25-minute address.
Banners reading “Serbia doesn’t trust Brussels” dotted the room.
“My speech is long, so be ready,” Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said at one point as the shouts persisted.
“It’s the matter of politics,” she later said of the incident. “It’s about a difficult political environment here and in the region, and it is also about different ways of interpreting the path that Serbia has taken.”
Serbia, which is formally seeking EU membership, is deeply split between those seeking pro-Western integration and those wanting a close alliance with traditional Slavic partner Russia.
Mogherini told lawmakers that Serbia plays a key role in the Balkans and holds huge responsibility in maintaining regional peace.
She said that Serbia, the Western Balkans and the EU are closely joined and need each other. Their interconnection is particularly important at what she described as a “delicate” moment of insecurity and tensions in both the region and Europe as a whole.
“You have a great responsibility,” Mogherini said. “Serbia has always been on the crossroads of different worlds.” Tensions recently have mounted in relations between Serbia and its former war foes Bosnia and EU member Croatia. Serbia also has refused to recognize the Western-backed independence of its former province of Kosovo, while political instability threatens Macedonia to the south.
“Peace in the Balkans is peace in Europe,” Mogherini said at a joint press conference with Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s prime minister. “We have faced in the recent times — and we might face in the times to come — some attempts to put this into question.” Vucic criticized the ultranationalists’ chant during Mogherini’s speech as “not gentlemen-like,” insisting that Serbia “remains firmly on the European path.” —AP