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Serbia rethinks Nobel Peace Prize boycott

December 10, 2010

Serbia had initially caved in to Chinese pressure to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, but sharp criticism by the European Union forced it to rethink its position - not least due to its own EU ambitions.

fuele and cvetkovic standing at podiums during press conference
The EU found clear words for Serb prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic (left)Image: DW

European Union enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele criticized Serbia's original decision to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony sharply.

Standing alongside Serb Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, he said that the EU "regrets the decision of Serbia not to attend" the ceremony and added that Serbia was "expected to embrace euro values and coordinate" with partners.

His words had a deep impact: While the foreign minister of Serbia had originally defended the country's decision not to attend the ceremony, Serbia decided to send its ombudsman for human rights, Sasa Jankovic, to Oslo.

Serbia was the only EU candidate that originally decided to stay away from the ceremony honoring Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.

nobel committee president next to empty chair of liu xiaobo
The Chinese government refused to let Liu Xiaobo attend the ceremony: his seat remained emptyImage: AP

After the announcement of this year's laureate, China had protested against the Nobel committee's decision and had urged other countries to boycott the ceremony. Serbia followed China's call, as it relies on Chinese government support for Serbia's opposition to an independent Kosovo.

Caught between a rock and a hard place

But Serbia is caught in a clash of interests, because it wants to join the 27-nation bloc of the European Union. Fuele and other EU representatives clarified that Serbia needed to comply with the joint decision of EU member states to send representatives to Oslo in order not to lessen its chances of becoming a member state.

Pedrag Simic, political scientist at the University of Belgrad says that despite Serbia's goal to join the European Union, the country would still rely on four pillars of international politics - Brussels, Washington, Moscow, and Peking. "A small country can only follow one superpower," he said.

Simic added that Serbia's attempts to be loyal to both China and the European Union had to result in a dilemma such as the current one at some point.

Authors: I. Petrovic/David Schnicke
Editor: Rob Mudge