Belgrade, Serbia– More than 1,200 individuals gathered in Belgrade last Sunday (Sept. 21st) to march in a pride parade to support the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community in Serbia. This is the second year in a row that such a pride parade has happened in this central Balkan country without any incidence of violence. In 2010, parade-goers were met with hostility and violence from extremists, injuring at least 95 participants and police (according to the BBC). Last year, marchers were surrounded by thousands of Serbian riot police in an effort to ensure the safety of participants and the success of the event overall. This year saw a drastic decrease of 50% in police presence needed at the event (according to Civil Rights Defenders)
Serbia, a former Yugoslav state, is now an EU Candidate (according to BBC) and is negotiating its EU accession (according to World Bank). The parade has been seen as a test for the Serbian government to prove its commitment to EU standards on Human Rights (according to NBC News). In a show of support, marchers were joined by Serbia’s European Integration Minister Jadranko Joksimovic, Culture and Information Minister Ivan Tasovac, and Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali. (according to RFERL).
Bekim Asani, President of LGBT United Tetovo Macedonia has been a participant in the parade before and noted progress:
“I saw less people than last year but found a more supportive environment… Last year I was more scared. This year I was freer. It was real pride with a lot of music, dancing, and rainbow flags. For first time I saw people supporting the pride from their balconies and windows.”
Similar pride parades have occurred in the Balkan region, with varying degrees of acceptance from locals. Some communities have yet to host a pride event, such as in Niksic, Montenegro, where the government has banned such an event for the third time this year. Asani comments on the possibility of a pride event in his community “Macedonia is in deep political crisis… I can’t say much about organizing pride. Who knows? Maybe soon…”
The Serbian Orthodox Church had condemned the parade in the past and had again staged a quiet, yet smaller protest this year, yet less violence and a smaller protest could indicate more acceptance among Serbians for LGBT people.
Civil Rights Activist Ivan Mitic, 21, of Serbia, sees progress here, noting:
“It (the 2015 Belgrade Pride Parade) showed that we made a move forward – maybe a little one, but still, we made it. If you read comments on forums, there is so much hate speech, but that is something that is hard to change. Journalists had more positive reporting than in previous years. Despite all those negative comments… there were many comments showing support to pride and explaining (…) why is it important.”/A.A.
– Written by Jon Breen, LGBT Rights Activist