BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission criticised on Thursday an incident in Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, when an ultranationalist lawmaker trampled on the Croatian flag in the country’s parliament.
The incident prompted a delegation from neighbouring Croatia, a European Union member since 2013, to cut short on Wednesday a visit to Serbia which was supposed to be part of an effort to improve relations.
“What we saw yesterday does not belong to a democratic institution,” a Commission spokesman said. “It is actually disrespectful of a democratic institution representing citizens and all of those who work on good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation.”
The European Commission is pushing for the EU to expand into the Western Balkans, a region still scarred by the legacy of ethnic wars fought in the 1990s as Yugoslavia broke up.
Relations between Belgrade and Zagreb have been sour since Croatia fought a war of independence with Serb-controlled Yugoslav forces in which around 20,000 people were killed.
Head of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj grabbed the flag in a hall outside the parliamentary chamber in Belgrade, threw it on the floor, stamped on it and tried to tear it up while hurling insults, witnesses said. The Croatian delegates looked on.
Serbia is seen as the first of six Western Balkan hopeful countries to join the bloc.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by David Stamp