Belgrade Pride: I was part of history

The situation for LGBT citizens in Serbia isn’t very pretty.  Yes, there have been gains in recent years, but those gains have not provided the necessary protection and acceptance that these individuals deserve.

Below is a piece I wrote for the organization that I worked from while in Belgrade.  I was able to participate in the first Belgrade Pride Parade that wasn’t met with any opposition.  Honestly, I didn’t even know there was a possibility for violence until a little before I arrived at the event.  I’m not sure if I would have even gone if I knew of the threat, but I’m glad I went, and I was able to witness actual Serbian history being made.

 

“Pride events in Serbia have been plagued with violence and intolerance dating from the first Pride Parade in 2001 where several people were seriously injured, including over 100 police officers including the violent clashes that occurred during the 2010 Pride Parade, the last one in Belgrade.  This violent marring of Pride Day has been dealt one swift and decisive blow on 27 June 2012.  Not only did the Ombudsman’s office raise a rainbow flag in their Belgrade office, but also a smaller Pride Parade occurred through Belgrade’s main pedestrian street without any violent occurrences or confrontations.

 

In the morning, representatives from LGBTIQ human rights group, Gayten-LGBT, were on hand to assist in raising the rainbow flag directly outside the Ombudsman’s office.  Also, present were Tamara Luksic-Orlandic and Daragana Grabovica (both from the Ombudsman’s office), Milan Djuric, Kristian Randjelovic, Slavoljupka Pavlovic and Suncica Vucaj (from Gayten-LGBT).  The small, intimate event showed how far the former-ultranationalist nation had come from a decade, even a few years ago.  This office was not the only office to raise a rainbow flag.  The Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Nevena Petrusic, in Belgrade also flew a rainbow flag in honor of Pride Day.  Political institutions around Serbia also hung rainbow flags, including Novi Sad and Sabac.

 

After the official raising of the flag, the observers sat down to discuss the climate of civic participation and political culture in Serbia, and the change that needs to occur to strengthen the democratic process in the country away from civic apathy.

 

Following the flag raising ceremony at the Ombudsman’s office, a small yet important Pride rally and parade happened in Republic Square.  Starting around noon, LGBTIQ persons and allies came out to the square to celebrate International Gay Pride Day.  The day remembers the Stonewall Riots in New York City when a riot broke out after police attempted to raid a gay bar.

 

At first, hardly anyone other than police who were dressed to the nines in full riot gear with helmets and shield and those who organized the event were present.  Slowly, however, people with rainbow shirts and accessories began trickling in.  The parade eventually came to be about 40 strong.  Also accompanying the marchers were a myriad of media groups including Balkan Insight, B92, RTS, Tanjug, E-novine, Blic, and others.  At the square, cameras lined up in front of the parade marchers and took pictures and video during the entire event from start to finish.

 

During the first part of the event, the rally, participants held up signs that read “I live in a lie”, “I was beaten up at this square”, “I am afraid”, “I am not here anymore” and “Proud.” One sign was held up on a stand in memory of those members of the LGBTIQ community who have died due to hate crimes.  A large rainbow flag was placed in front of the line of participants.  The parade marchers then formed lines flanked by the police officers on all sides, and carried the signs, balloons, and large flag.  From the Republika Square, the parade marched up to the main pedestrian street in Belgrade to outside the Spanish Cultural Center at the corner of Cika Ljubina and Knez Mihailova Street.

 

At the corner, the marchers stopped and were given each a balloon of different colors.  As they held the balloon, marchers talked amongst themselves.  Soon, participants gathered around the large rainbow flag that was carried along with the marchers.  Marchers took a edge of the flag and began shaking it drawing the attention to themselves and in hopes of getting those who walked by to see their presence.  Marchers then released their balloons into the air.  Watching the balloons drifting from the center of Belgrade, the marchers celebrated one of the first completely peaceful pride events in the country.

 

Education and visibility is a key tactic in the country where a majority of citizens do not feel that the state should protect the rights of homosexuals.  Events like these held a few days ago are meant to being about some visibility to the cause.  They seek to educate the average Serbian citizen about LGBTIQ issues when the misconception that homosexuality is some sort of illness is still prevalent in Serbian society.  These events also attempt to initiate a peaceful dialogue about sexual orientation and sexual identity within the country.

 

After the parade, demonstrators discussed the momentous occasion:  No violence occurred and not even a homophobic slur was tossed to the crowd.  It is sadly expected that hooligans, right-wing extremists, or religious fundamentalists of the Orthodox Church will always meet these events with physical confrontations.  A sense of true pride could be felt though among those discussing their sheer shock and happiness that no clashes occurred, while some marchers seemed cautious to believe this will set a precedent for future Pride parades and events.  They argued that how the parade was organized was the determinate for why no violence occurred.  The organizers planned it as a small event, and it was not heavily publicized outside of the LGBTIQ community.

 

Regardless, the day was something historic for the LGBTIQ movement in Serbia:  A successful pride event can occur without the fear of violent repercussions.  Hopefully, it will set a precedent for the right of peaceful assembly in Serbia when it comes to pride events.  The combination of political institutions recognizing International Gay Pride Day and a calm parade may signal that like the balloons released by the marchers, things will continue to move forward and up from here.”

 

Comments

  1. Daniel Casey says:

    I think it is wonderful that you were able to actively and positively participate in such a historical event. In this day and age of rolling protests/marches that often end violently it is heartening to hear an account of a movement that was both peaceful and meaningful. Hopefully the movement can gather steam from this success.

  2. In one of your other blog postings you mention that conducting research was extremely difficult because of widespread homophobia, yet this gay pride parade was successful. So I’m curious as to how the peace was maintained? Was the government involved in protecting the parade, or did the past violence scare homophobes from a potential repeat? Your research seems incredibly interesting and relevant, I hope that you can keep working on it in the future.

  3. Katie Demeria says:

    Wow, what an incredible experience, to be able to involve yourself in such an important event. It’s great to hear that it was a peaceful development, as well, and to get your insight into the event itself.