Serbia’s 2012 gay pride parade, which is to be held on October 6, will demonstrate the country’s progress towards ensuring human and minority rights and freedom of assembly.
The parades from the last several years have been marred with strife, and the 2009 and 2011 events were cancelled as police claimed to be incapable of defending participants from potential violence perpetrated by organized groups professing anti-gay sentiments. Many at the time considered the government’s banning of the event a cop-out on the part of the country’s politicians and security forces, and some even accused police officials of secretly supporting the stance of many of the country’s vocally anti-gay organizations.
Back in March, however, a Belgrade court sentenced Mladen Obradovic, the outspoken leader of an Orthodox, clero-fascist neo-Nazi movement known as Obraz (which translates to Honour), to 10 months in prison for threatening homosexuals and inciting hatred, displaying the government’s commitment to protecting the rights of the country’s sexual minorities. Obradovic is known for having liberally dosed large areas of the capital city of Belgrade with threatening and hateful graffiti aimed at the country’s LGTBQ population. Some of his “artwork” includes slogans such as “We are Waiting for You,” “Death to Faggots” and “Blood will Flow.” He was also sentenced to two years in prison in a separate case for inciting violence during the 2010 gay pride parade, but is, however, still roaming the streets as his lawyers attempt to appeals the verdict. Obradovic is one of 14 people that were sentenced to prison terms after the events of 2010, setting a new precedent in Serbia. Many of those charged for using violence and inciting hatred, however, were sentenced to terms between 8 to 18 months in prison, leading gay-rights activists to complain that the courts were too lenient.
Tolerance and Equality: Not foreign Concepts in Serbia:
Because Serbia’s homophobic population is both vocal and violent, it tends to receive a disproportionate amount of media attention. As a result, many in western Europe, accustomed to watching the actions of Serbia and many other Eastern European countries with a judging eye, tend to assume the country is rife with primitive homophobes who are out for blood. This is, however, far from the reality on the ground. While the country’s homophobes do make a lot of noise, many Serbs quietly support the rights of their LGTBQ friends and neighbors to make their own choice and live their own life. The problem seems to lie in that there is still a lack of open dialogue about sexual diversity, a fact that many of the country’s non-governmental organizations and gay rights activists are trying to remedy.
Throughout the past several years, many groups have been attempting to organize actions and projects that will get more people talking openly about sexuality and that will begin to challenge hetero-normative concepts of love and marriage. In July, an action was taken by the organization Q-Club, a non-governmental organization working to improve the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, together with the Gay and Straight alliance of Serbia. The groups staged a performance in Belgrade’s central Republic Square in which cardboard LGTBQ people held up signs saying “Get to know me before you hate me” and “I’m proud to be alive.” The reaction of Belgrade’s citizens was very positive, and the NGOs expressed a belief that the event worked to open dialogue. Six LGTBQ organizations also organized a campaign called “Together Against Homophobia” and promoted it at the popular Serbian music festival Exit. Serbian celebrities Katarina Zutic (actress), Luna Lu (fashion journalist and TV host) and Steven Filipovic (film director) all openly supported the campaign. Recently, the film Parade, a comedy about war veterans providing security for a gay pride parade, was a huge success in box offices.
Politics, Tolerance and Homophobia:
Steps towards equality have also been made on a political level. In 2009, an anti-discrimination law was passed which officially banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. While many of the country’s residents feel that further steps need to be taken in order to ensure the law is put into practice, the passing of the law was a first step towards guaranteeing the legal protection of LGTBQ individuals in Serbia. Additionally, 2010 saw Boris Milicevic, a gay rights activist, become Serbia’s first openly gay politician after his election to the board of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).
Many, however, connect support for gay rights with political support for accession into the European Union. This April, when the European Parliament adopted its annual progress reports for countries such as Turkey, Serbia, and Montenegro, one of the key points mentioned was that more progress needed to be made to promote LGTB rights. Those who support more pro-nationalist political parties that openly oppose Serbia’s accession into the EU – such as the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) – also tend to oppose granting the LGTBQ community equal rights. Likewise, those who would like to see Serbia become a member of the EU, and who support political parties that are cooperative with the West, such as the Democratic Party (DS), also tend to be more tolerant and to support the protection of LGTBQ and other minority rights.
Concerns about the Future:
Still, the country continues to have a long road ahead if LGTBQ people are to be granted full rights and are to be able to enjoy complete social equality and a life without fear. Leading up to this year’s parade, politicians have voiced their support for the event, but have also expressed concern that violence, such as that acted out in previous years, will be repeated.
Ironically, after the movie Parade made a public connection between war veterans and Serbia’s LGTBQ population, the association of Serbian war veterans has announced it will hold its own parade on the same day. While organizing members claim that their parade will not be anti-gay, spectators are concerned that the two groups may become hostile towards one another. Considering the fact that the veterans’ parade is to be entitled the “Parade of Shame,” it is hard to imagine that the veteran demonstrators will hold positive opinions of their LGTBQ counterparts. Others believe that the veterans’ parade may be co-opted for violent purposes by other right-wing groups.
Regardless of the outcome, this year’s parade will be a test to demonstrate the progress the country has made towards tolerance and the protection of minority rights. If the parade takes place with minimal incidents, it will be a huge step forward compared to the last several years. Human rights and LGTBQ activists around the world, together with EU and other international officials, will be watching on the day of the parade. A peaceful day of action could do wonders to improve Serbia’s image abroad, and could set a precedent that would give Serbia’s LGTBQ community more freedom to express itself and to organize in the future.