When I was working with the UNDP Gender Programme in Montenegro two years ago, our office was told by the Gender and Ethnic Minorities Minister that while he could not speak for other communities, in the Albanian minority, homosexuality ’didn’t exist’.
Such prejudices still grind as this Sunday saw an anti-gay protest end in violence in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. Following the city's first gay pride parade, the police had to step in to quell unrest from a counter-protest. Reports vary but suggest the few hundred on the LBGT pride march being evacuated by the 2,000 police on duty as a small group of hooligans smashed windows and attacked offices. Police and special forces put the city in 'lockdown' and used tear gas to disperse groups of adolescents.
No one is surprised by such a reaction in a region where many have strongly conservative views on sexuality but hopefully Sunday's events can be remembered for the success of an LBGT march attended by diplomats, celebrities and politicians, rather than for a minority of reactionary hotheads.
Achieving social change through understanding and accepting the variety of humanity is an uphill struggle. Diplomacy, tact and discretion are essential in identifying common ground and making it the centre of gravity. For a fledgling state already with the euro and a new EU neighbour, that common ground is accession to the EU.
While the European project is not necessarily in rude health, the benefits of a common market and growth stimulation can not only improve the life of individuals economically but demonstrate the real need for the democratic values of tolerance and debate.
Pictured left: Rock-throwing gay rights opponents were stopped by the police
Liberal democracy and capitalism lead to real social change, lifting people out of introspection and creating the demand to think on different planes. Markets and trade cannot solely be relied upon to erode complex prejudices but they are key vehicles in bringing change. It is no wonder that the EU flag was being waved with the rainbow one on the streets of Podgorica and that is something in which the organisation can itself take pride.