Another question and a problem (amongst many) arising from Serbian homophobia

The research I completed this summer allowed me to meet some of the most inspiring and dedicated activists in Serbia.  I was able to meet with one such activist while in Belgrade quite often because she was associated with the NGO that I was working from.


During one of our discussions, the woman—we’ll call her Jelena—was discussing how she helped start the first LGBT organization in what was then Yugoslavia.


A basic breakdown of what happened in the 1990s was that after the fall of communism the republics that made up Yugoslavia overwhelmingly voted for independence.  Political elites used ethnic divisions to catalyze disputes, which erupted in conflicts around the region, all in an attempt to maintain Yugoslavia.


The first incarnation of the organization soon to be called Arcadia formed in Mostar in present day Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It was pretty much just a group of lesbian and gay Yugoslavians who wanted to get together in a friendly space to meet.


While many of the people there were only present to meet other lesbian and gay persons, a few wanted to actually begin something.


This small group met again in Mostar a few months later to decide what was going to happen.  Unfortunately, this was about the time the first conflicts began.  Arcadia wouldn’t be formally organized until a few years later.


The discussion I had with the woman brought to light something I had ignorantly not even thought about:  what was it like in the 1990s for LGBT citizens who were involved in the conflict?


Research is being completed on women in the wars, and I spoke to a Ph.D. candidate who is also an activist who is completing her dissertation on lesbian soldiers in the wars.


Although it’s an interesting question, I honestly don’t know how to begin forming a way to investigate it.  One thing I learned in Serbia is that the region is just very homophobic.  The majority of citizens view homosexuality as an illness brought from the West (it’s for this reason that LGBT Westerners are usually not condemned in the same way that a citizen would), and just overall negative and unnatural.


Such a homophobic environment makes it hard to study LGBT persons’ experiences.  Many LGBT persons don’t even identify as LGBT because of the stigma it bears.


This is an issue that I’m going to face in my further studies, and one I hope can dissipate sooner rather than later.   The history of LGBT Serbians (and those hailing from other former-Yugoslav states) must be recorded.  In the end they are just Serbians, too.  They have the right for their experiences to be told.