On September 11th, thousands of people brandishing religious symbols and Russian flags answered a call from the Orthodox Church and took to the streets of Belgrade to protest against EuroPride 2022 being held in the Serbian capital.
EuroPride 2022 was launched the next day: a week of conferences and cultural events, due to end with a pride march through the streets of Belgrade. Citing security reasons, the government's 11th-hour decision to ban the march was met with fury by the participants.
EuroPride is the annual European meeting of the LGBTIQA+ community, and this was its first time in the Balkans and South-East Europe. At the first EuroPride conference, the Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, who is openly lesbian, tried to quell the anger.
"I’m doing my best, I increase the visibility. I have given myself no other right than all of you have. And that is not a lot of rights, I admit.”
This message did not go down well. EuroPride organizers, slammed the ban, as a breach to freedom of assembly.
«If anybody else can march, and the police is always providing sufficient protection,_and we are the only social group that cannot march, then it’s discrimination", stormed EuroPride 2022 coordinator Goran Miletić.
“_Who is threatening us? And why aren’t they banned? Why are we banned? It’s a peaceful protest! It’s a further degradation of rule of law, a further degradation of our human rights, a further degradation of our constitutional rights._It’s exactly why we need to be on the street on the 17th on Saturday. We must stop this!" said Marko Mihailović, director of the event.
All EuroPride venues were under heavy police protection. In defiance of the ban, volunteers mobilized for the event prepared banners for the Pride. Nothing would prevent them from marching. Many foreign LGBTI activists were there to show their support.
“Human rights in general are never granted. And we’ve seen this also in other fields, like reproduction rights or refugees and immigration rights. We have seen a lot of things going back and forth. It does seem like a constant struggle" sighs Annie Papazoglou, from Greece, before adding, in a smile:"But this is our lives, we must live them to the fullest. That's why we are here, and we are queer, and proud!".
A recent poll states that a majority of Serbs would agree to less restrictive legislation toward members of the LGBTIQA+ community, but also that the stigma is still very strong.
Maja Žilić is from the Youth Initiative For Human Rights Serbia.
“We have a very high rate of suicide among LGBT teenagers. Especially when they come from local communities outside of Belgrade. People are still very homophobic. They can't express themselves the way they want to. So they come to Belgrade to work, to study. That's why I came here too."
Maja and her team had organized a public awareness session in the city centre.
“_We are here to say that democracy means everyone has the right to protest.__For some people here there is a ban on their right to protest_”, explains Dejana Dexy Stošić to a woman passing by the group of activists.
“If these people are ill, I really cannot support them, and I just feel sorry for them!", exclaims the woman, before scurrying away.
“She said that gay people have mental diseases!" sighs Dejana, taken aback. "We do have pretty strong reactions, but we also have pretty good ones. A lot of people actually didn't know about certain things.They ask things like: "They really can’t visit their partner in hospital?” and we answer, “No! That's one of the requests of the Pride march. For homosexual couples have the right to visit their partner in hospital, or to have the right to actually inherit from their partner, things like that. J_ust basic human rights!_"
LGBTIQA+ activists are campaigning for the legal recognition of same-sex couples. A draft law, deemed unconstitutional by the Serbian President, has long been delayed. Aleksandra Gavrilović is from the Lesbian Human Rights Organization LABRIS. She is fighting for a reform of the Serbian family law. Aleksandra founded a family with her partner. Five years ago, she gave birth to triplets through artificial insemination.
“The first problems started when the children were born, since they were born prematurely, they were in an intensive care unit for premature babies. And my partner could not come to visit them because only parents are allowed to do so. And according to the law in Serbia, parents are a father and a mother. It is a constant fear that you are living with, because the law does not protect us, a constant fear of what will happen if something happens to me. Will my partner, since she has no legal status, be able to have custody of the children?" she explains, before concluding:"We need one comprehensive law, that will include everything -inheritance, health insurance, and all the elements that protect us and are related to our life."
European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, several ministers, and many European MPs and ambassadors attended Belgrade’s EuroPride. They called for the Serbian government to reconsider the ban on the march, deemed by the European Council as a violation of the European convention on Human Rights.
Terry Reintke is a Member Of European Parliament (Greens/EFA), and LGBTIQA+ Intergroup Co-President.
“Europride is happening in a context where democracy, rule of law, liberal societies, freedom in our societies are under attack. Not only by authoritarian movements inside of Europe, but also, for example, when we look at the Russian aggression towards Ukraine.
And this makes it even more important that now we say : we have to defend these values, we have to defend these rights. And this is why EuroPride will be a symbol of that. “
Boško Obradović is leader of the Dveri Party and close to the Orthodox church and one of the main figures of the anti-Pride protests. While he tolerates legislative amendments on issues like inheritance or visitation rights in hospitals and prisons for homosexual couples, going any further, for him, is out of the question.
“For decades, we have been suffering constant pressure from the EU and NATO. For us to adjust and adapt our value system and our politics to their view of the world. EuroPride is only one part of that agenda that is imposed on us.
That package also includes the obligation to recognize independent Kosovo, impose sanctions on Russia, and also to hold EuroPride in Belgrade. We perceive Europride as part of the occupation agenda that comes to us from the West."
A few hours after meeting the parliamentarian, we hear a very different viewpoint from Aleksandar Savić, alias "Alexis Vandercunt Plastic", hosting Belgrade's monthly Drag party in a reconverted warehouse in the city outskirts.
A drag queen at night, Aleksandar is an activist during the day, with Da Se Zna, an association supporting victims of homophobic violence.
EuroPride, he says, acted as a trigger.
“We had a huge increase of violence in the past month. Four times more than in a year, since the same month of august in 2021." he tells us. "The good thing with EuroPride is that it basically provoked this hate to come out. Because in the past few years everyone was pretending that it doesn't exist, and that everything is going so well. And now it's all out so we can deal with it. And I think that reality check is going to be, I believe, very important for the queer community_to realise that if we don't fight for ourselves, no one is going to fight for us.”
Another 11th-hour decision from the government finally authorised a much shorter version of the march to take place, under the protection of more than 5,000 police. For its participants, the Belgrade event, even restricted, is a landmark moment in history for EuroPride, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
The battle is not over, concludes Goran Miletić, the Belgrade EuroPride2022 Coordinator.
“We marched, we showed that we are citizens, that we are here together, that there is solidarity. The fight will continue, this is just one episode. And I think no-one else will ban Pride ever in the future.”