Belgrade Pride: we finally walked. Ljudi za ljude

Barely three months ago I was interviewed by The Independent on the relevance of pride marches, and in particular, London pride. My answer then was that "we march for those who can't. Our platform helps people see the other side, beyond the party. In Eastern Europe for example it's effectively back to basics; counter protesters often outnumber protestors, marches are banned by local authorities at the last minute and those who take part could lose their job."

These words could not describe better 2014 Belgrade Pride. The evening before, the organizers (and us) were still trying a last-minute effort to put pressure on the government by posting photo messages on social media of supporters, including us, holding a banner with the word Šetaću (I will walk).

At @belgradepride: We will walk! In solidarity with Belgrade pride. Please share#bgpride #ljudizaljude #setacu pic.twitter.com/OUlfVpnNkA

— Amnesty UK LGBTI (@AmnestyUK_LGBTI) September 27, 2014

Despite a huge amount of work done by local activists with support of many organizations, the possibility of yet another last minute cancellation was still present

Simultaneously, at Belgrade’s main square an anti-pride rally gathered thousands of people. Being present at the square was a truly unsettling experience: it’s a horrible feeling to be surrounded by thousands of people who hate you for who you are. I can only express admiration for the local activists who face this day in day out. That evening Police instructed organizers not to walk and to move only using pre-booked taxis for security reasons,.

Later that night a significant number of the protesters confronted and clashed with the police. Luckily the police managed the situation well and the extremists they did not manage to get their way in this occasion.

LGBTI rights have often been described as 'the canary in the mine' of human rights. A poor record on LGBTI rights normally means a poor human rights record across the board (e.g. Roma rights, women's rights...). Unfortunately our arrival to Belgrade tragically seemed to prove the point: that same day three Roma children had died in a fire in one of the Roma settlements around Belgrade. Denied the right to housing, their makeshift home caught light from a candle. If that was not bad enough, the mother was initially detained for the death of the children.

But despite all this, finally we walked. Yes we did. Serbia had for the first time an incident-free Pride

However, this was no ordinary pride. Over the years I have participated in tricky prides in Central and Eastern Europe, including Baltic prides in Riga and Vilnius and the first ever Bratislava pride. Belgrade Pride security measures surpassed all my previous experiences.

Traffic was cut off from the entire city centre. The city was enclosed by several police rings and to get anywhere near the city centre you had to go through several checkpoints. Even tanks and water cannons trucks were deployed. Joining the pride march required screenings and checks stricter than most airport controls. Marching through a deserted city is a pretty alienating experience. Still, all security provided was welcome as threats were too real.

Nevertheless, with over 1,000 participants from Serbia and the region, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, this was truly a march for those who can't. Bosnia is a good example of this: a queer film festival in Sarajevo was physically attacked earlier this year. Masked men attacked a cinema showing an LGBTI film, attacking the presenters and one of the organisers. As a result Bosnian activists are still simply too scared to consider a march in Sarajevo.

Being able to march without incident was a historic moment for human rights and LGBTI rights, not only for Belgrade and Serbia, but also for the wider Balkans. I truly hope that Belgrade Pride 2014 marks the beginning of a future where freedom from discrimination and aggression becomes the norm not the exception

At @belgradepride: We look forward to a future Belgrade pride where this is no longer needed #bgpride #ljudizaljude pic.twitter.com/PR0IgVVQKG

— Amnesty UK LGBTI (@AmnestyUK_LGBTI) September 28, 2014

Ferran Nogueroles is one of our LGBTI Network committee members, and a regular international observer at Prides accross eastern Europe.

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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.
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