Rain stops play at Belgrade Pride - will the Ukrainian authorities stop Kiev's?
This year’s Belgrade Pride - due to take place at the end of May, was cancelled because of floods. Some people, like one former UKIP councillor a few months back, may see this as a sign of god’s wrath at homosexuals flaunting themselves. I can only say that Australia, where Sydney Mardi Gras is one of the biggest flauntings in the world, is experiencing a severe drought, and San Diego, where gay surfers go to frolic in the waves, is suffering bushfires.
Belgrade pride being cancelled because of floods is rather a change to its fate in previous years. On several occasions the march has been cancelled because of the threat of violence. In 2010, nationalist protestors were so violent that over 100 police officers who were guarding the pride gathering were injured.
I attended in 2011. I arrived on the overnight train from Zagreb not knowing whether the march would take place, and, if so, where. The first graffiti I saw read 'STOP GAY PARADE' with a reference to a battle of Kosovo Pole in 1389 which is a touchstone for Serb nationalists. This wasn’t a good sign.
It turned out the parade was cancelled, and I attended a substitute press conference. Serbian speakers were sarcastically scathing about the message that this sent for civil rights in their country. That night large numbers of cars sped along the streets honking their horns and waving large flags, celebrating the victory of a local team in a football match – it seemed as if some celebrations are more equal than others.
Another member of the LGBTI Network, Ferran, was part of Amnesty’s official monitoring team for Belgrade Pride 2013. Belgrade pride is currently part of Amnesty’s ‘prides at risk’ programme that provides security and planning advice for organizers of prides in hostile environments, plus a monitoring team to observe pride marches.
Signs for Belgrade Pride 2013 were encouraging after two consecutive cancellations (2011 and 2012): a few days before Prime Minister Dačić had strongly suggested that the Pride would go ahead.
The night before, a small anti-pride march carrying extremely homophobic signs and a plethora of ultra-nationalist and religious paraphernalia paraded Belgrade’s main commercial street under police protection. A few minutes later, news broke that Dačić had banned Pride on ‘security grounds’.
The Serbian Authorities had been able to ensure a safe and incident-free Serbia-Croatia match in Belgrade just a few days earlier but seemed incapable or unwilling to protect the rights of their LGBTI citizens. Again, anti-pride extremists celebrated their ‘victory’ driving around central Belgrade blasting their klaxons and waving huge flags.
Courageously, Serbian LGBTI activists took to the streets and organized their own impromptu mini-pride that same night, walking from the Serbian Government to the Parliament with a small police protection. Despite the earlier klaxons and bravado of the anti-pride demonstrators, everything passed off peacefully.
But this small, informal pride march is not good enough. The Serbian LGBTI community deserves their right to freedom of expression and assembly.
This year Amnesty was seeking to support prides in Belgrade and Kiev. Belgrade pride has been cancelled for reasons beyond the control of local activists and Amnesty, and the outlook for Kiev is uncertain because of the situation in Ukraine. I was in Kiev on holiday last week, and met local Amnesty activists there, who still don’t know if a pride wll go ahead.
But in the meantime, a pride has taken place in Tirana, Albania, and prides in Warsaw, Poland and other countries in central Europe go from strength to strength. Through solid work over a course of years, we can ensure that LGBTI people enjoy the same rights of freedom of expression and assembly as everyone else.
Although Belgrade Pride was not to be, Amnesty will be at London Pride(and others in the UK) to show our support for activists speaking out for LGBTI rights in places like Serbia and Ukraine. And we’d love for you to join us.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.