Belgrade Pride has a history replete with violence and disruption and yet, planning proceeds while a newly elected right-wing government struggles to form a majority in parliament
On June 27, members of the LGBT community in Belgrade gathered to commemorate International Pride Day. They carried banners and balloons in the street and publicized the slogan “Silence will not stop us.” A rainbow flag waved from the office of Serbia’s ombudsman, who is tasked with protecting human rights. Yet this was not Belgrade’s official Pride parade. That is scheduled for September 30-October 7 and will include, in addition to a parade, workshops, fashion shows, debates, and exhibitions. Indeed, planning for the event is in full swing.
Yet the event sits against a bleak historical backdrop. Prides in Serbia have been among the most controversial and violent in the world. In 2001, at the first Belgrade Pride, parade participants were attacked by football hooligans and right-wing groups in a terrifying display of homophobia. Another Pride would not be planned until 2009, but that year’s event was canceled due to threats of more violence and a lack of cooperation from the police.
The parade went ahead in 2010 and was again besieged; police tasked with providing security for Pride clashed with hundreds of anti-gay protesters, who also attacked government and media facilities. And last year, the government again canceled Pride in the name of security, just 48 hours before it was scheduled to take place. So high-profile has Serbia’s Pride become that, in late 2011, a local director released the movie Parada (“The Parade”), a comedy-cum-drama in which a Serb ex-combatant from the 1990s agrees to provide security for a Pride organizer.
What will happen to Belgrade Pride 2012? Given the historical context as well as a newly elected Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić, who is more right-wing than his predecessor (he was once an ally of Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj), it is a critical question for the LGBT community. So I put it, along with other queries, to Boban Stojanović, a member of the Belgrade Pride Organizing Committee.
NCRM: Did you face any protests or other backlash on June 27 when you held Pride Day events?
Stojanović: No. It was strange, most people were very positive.
NCRM: Why do you think Belgrade Pride has faced so many obstacles and threats from some people in Serbia?
Stojanović: Because we are young democracy. We don’t have clear rules about anything, we cannot decide are we want to be pro-EU and pro-USA or pro-Russian. As a society, when we decide this [our orientation toward the world], we will have idea what to do with human rights. Until then, we will give support to human rights but to nationalists and fundamentalists also.
Also, criminals and hooligans are connected with the state. During the 1990s, most of the politicians [today] were connected with war criminals, leaders of paramilitary troops, criminals, and narco dealers. … This is the base of hate toward LGBT in Serbia. … [People] need enemies.
Stojanović: Banning of Pride last year was the result of unstable state policy, and it just encouraged us to insist on our rights. The announcing of Belgrade Pride 2012 is more than a clear massage to this banning.
NCRM: Have government authorities and police been cooperating with the 2012 Pride organizers? Do you worry they might cancel Pride again?
Stojanović: We don’t have a new government yet, after elections in May of this year. Tomislav Nikolic, a nationalist politician, was elected president and is still forming a new government.] But we are prepared and we will start with negotiators immediately. There are some positive things: Even though we are still a conservative society, there is some recognition about the importance of joining to EU [which requires meeting certain human rights benchmarks]. Also, because the election has passed, there is less tension than before. As for whether Pride will be banned or not, it is a state decision. We … deeply believe that Pride will happen.
NCRM: What do you think Nikolic’s election will mean for LGBT rights and issues in Serbia?
Stojanović: Not so much. Until we have educated and professional people in important decision-making positions, things will be same. …. A general problem with Serbian institutions is some kind of pink-washing: a lot of words and promises but no concrete results. Last year, during the preparation of Pride, when some journalists asked some politicians, “Do you support Pride?” their answer was, “Violence is unacceptable.” And in 2010, an ex-minister for Human and Minority Rights, after so many meetings and big support to Pride, asked us, “Well, what exactly does the acronym ‘LGBT’ mean?”
NCRM: Are you concerned about the security of participants in the 2012 Pride? Or about how the events might affect members of the LGBT community in their daily lives? If you are concerned, what steps are being taken to protect individuals?
Stojanović: The police have good tools to protect participants… [and] as organizers, we make a list with suggestions of how any person can increase his/her security at Pride. It is something what is standard at these events in this part of Europe. Pride is [one of] the biggest issue for LGBT people. We can speak in so many debates, round tables, but Pride can open huge public discussion about LGBT existence and rights. Pride can open discussion everywhere: in the office, classrooms, street, in families. It is good. We hope for two results: encouraging people to come out and increasing the number of people, mostly young people, who are willing to register violence.
NCRM: What is the slogan of this year’s Pride? Why was it chosen?
Stojanović: [I will] quote one wonderful author, Marcus V. Agar, who wrote in his article: “Love, faith and hope: three universal human values that Belgrade Pride organizers hope will encourage greater positive interest in the lives, rights and issues of Serbia’s gay community. Working beneath this banner, they intend to present Pride as a meter by which to measure civil rights, freedom and democracy in the country. In an effort to move forward from last year, when Serbia’s government slammed an internationally condemned ban on a proposed parade through Belgrade, Pride chiefs have opted for a more approachable Ljubav, Vera, Nada re-brand, hopeful that people from across society will come together to encourage understanding, allay hatred and reduce prejudice of LGBT people in Serbia.”
NCRM: Why do you think it is important to host Pride, even in the face of dangers? What are hopes for and goals of this year’s event?
Stojanović: You know, if you look back, only those people and groups who insist on their rights get rights. It is a process. Those people who produce fears, they only want to discourage us. I deeply believe that honesty and love can erase hate. Hopes? Well, to have a nice and colorful Pride and Pride Week, a lot of encouraged people and positive energy in Belgrade. Our idea is to put human rights in focus … to become a place for all LGBT people (and those people who support them) to do whatever they want in order to promote equality for all.
Seyward Darby is a freelance writer currently living in Kosovo. She is working for a local human rights group on LGBT and freedom of expression projects with support from the Coca-Cola World Fund and Kirby-Simon Fellowship Program at Yale University. Her organization receives some funding from the U.S. government.
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