LGBT rights in the Balkans: Assessing two decades of change and nationalist challenges

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02/28/2023

After a turbulent post-war period, the three largest countries of the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia – shifted toward greater democracy and Europeanisation in the early 2000s. All three had joined the Council of Europe by 2003 (with Croatia the earliest in 1996) and had set their sights on EU membership (Croatia started EU negotiations in 2005 and joined in 2013, while Serbia and Bosnia have been at the ‘candidate’ phase from 2012 and 2022 respectively). Many civil society groups expected and demanded, and the EU also required for membership, that these new states would improve their human rights protection, including LGBT rights. During the first two decades of the 2000s, sexual and gender minorities, which were taboo and mostly hidden during the socialist and wartime periods, were starting to become more visible and organised, and intensified their struggle for equal rights. There have been measurable and improved legal rights protections in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, and LGBT rights became more visible in public discourse and the media (according to one Serbian LGBT leader, even contentious public debate was better than erasure and invisibility).

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