Thursday, 29 September 2011

Audio: The Sisyphean task of Belgrade's gay pride march

Pic: Jonathan Davis

By Paul Canning

Last year, writing for the Serbian news website Vreme, Predrag Azdejković compared the organisers of Belgrade's gay pride parade to Sisyphus.
"They have been trying to organize the parade since 2001, but its stone rolls downhill every time. The organizers, like Sisyphus, cannot give up so they return to the bottom of the hill and start rolling the stone back to the top, hoping to succeed every time. Unlike Sisyphus, who was punished by gods to roll it uphill, the gay parade's organizers chose the punishment willingly, and, believe me, organizing a gay parade in Serbia is a punishment indeed."
The 2010 parade attacted 600 people - and 20,000 opponents, who rioted resulting in many arrests and injuries. Numerous Facebook groups were set up with memberships in the tens of thousands which threatened to murder gays and their supporters. The leader of the nationalist organization Obraz, Mladen Obradovic, received a prison sentence for organising the violent counter demonstrations

The 2010 parade followed the cancellation the previous year, which was seen as the State giving in to threats. It had the support of Interior Minister Ivica Dačić and Human and Minority Rights Minister Svetozar Čiplić, as well as by the majority of parliamentary parties in Serbia.

The first Belgrade Pride parade, in 2001, ended with dozens of marchers injured by marauding nationalists, skinheads and football fans.

Organising committee member Goran Miletić said:
“I believe that police can secure the gathering [this year] so everything would go well. The state has showed that it can protect all the citizens, which is visible in matches. The parade is not a threat to security.”
Police have discovered that one right-wing group is using the codename "Belgrade in flames" for their operation against Gay Pride.

Politicians including the Belgrade Mayor have tried to get the 2011 parade called off because they know the same opponents will be out in force. But Serbia as well as Croatia - where a pride march suffered a vicious attack in Split 11 June - are candidates for the expansion of the European Union, and politicians know that their treatment of LGBT people and facilitating a safe gay pride parade is a crucial factor in whether they will be admitted.

One exception is United Serbia (JS) leader Dragan Marković Palma who was forced to clarify that his party had never called for violence and bloodshed but that they will never support Gay Pride because “Serbia has more important things to do”.

This was Marković’s response to Gay-Straight Alliance NGO’s announcement that they will file a lawsuit against him “for homophobia, discrimination and violation of equality”.

Marković said that:
“homosexuality was considered a disease 20 years ago, not according to Dragan Marković Palma, but according to the World Health Organization, but it was taken off the disease list under pressure from powerful lobbies”.
Another exception is the Police Union - over 100 of their members were injured last year, some seriously.

The government's strengthening support for sexual minorities was marked 27 June, International Gay Pride Day, by a rainbow flag hung from the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government.

Writing in the Serbian newspaper Blic 27 June, the US Ambassador Mary Warlick said that she was extremely encouraged by the government's attitude but LGBT people remain at very high risk of violence.

Warnick attended the 2010 Pride March in Belgrade.

She wrote:
"In last year’s poll 14 percent of interviewed people said that violence and beating were legitimate ways for elimination of homosexuality. Many members of the LGBT populations who were victims of crime are not going to the police in fear of making the matter even worse. A lot more has to be done so that members of the LGBT population feel safe at their homes and in the streets."
"In the name of the USA Government and on the occasion of the Month of the LGBT Pride, I hope that the year of 2011 shall be the year which shall bring more equality, justice and hope to all people in Serbia."
Amnesty International said that holding the Pride this year is "an extremely important step forward for Serbia": "Despite the events of last year, when more than 5,000 members of right wing and nationalist groups attempted to attack the Pride, caused more than a million euros of damage and injuring 100 police officers, the government has not bowed to threats, but has taken measures to uphold the human rights of Serbian citizens."
Belgrade Pride is this Sunday 2 October. Details of the route are being kept secret, for obvious reasons.

Pride organisers the Gay Lesbian Info Center (GLIC) said that the statements of right-wing movements like Srpski Sabor Dveri "contribute to LGBT persons’ wish to leave Serbia and look for personal happiness in the countries of the developed West, which is directly contrary to Srpski Sabor Dveri movement’s goals to increase the population and fight against low birth rate."

Serbia continues to be a source of a 'flood' of asylum seekers to the European Union, an unknown number of which would be LGBT. The numbers have led to threats that visa-travel between Serbia and the EU could be reinstated.

Update, 30 September: Interior Minister Ivica Dačić is calling for Pride's cancellation, which organisers have refused to do, and according to SAPA:
The authorities can ban a scheduled public gathering up to 12 hours before it is due to start. The Daily Press wrote: “Chances are strong that Dačić will ban the parade and all other events” - those being four anti-gay demonstrations also planned for the weekend.
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