The EuroPride march, set for Saturday in Belgrade, cannot be held as planned due to security concerns, Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ministry also banned the proposed "pro-family" counter-march organised by a group labelling itself as "anti-globalists," who actively oppose the EuroPride.
"Both marches were supposed to take place in the immediate vicinity [of one another] and it was estimated that there is a danger that this might lead to attacks and clashes, as well as a danger of violence, destruction of property and other large-scale violations of the public order," the statement said.
Belgrade Pride, EuroPride’s official organiser, said that it would use all available legal mechanisms to have the decision reversed.
“At 2:15 pm, we received a notification from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the march is not permitted, stating [the event's] security as the reason for the ban. That is all we know at the moment,” one of the EuroPride organisers, Goran Miletić, told the local outlet Nova.rs.
Miletić clarified that the ministry had an issue with the planned route of the parade, which is expected to draw thousands of participants from Serbia and abroad.
“The actual route of the march was banned, not the march itself,” he said.
“Our legal team is preparing a complaint [to the ministry]. It’s the initial complaint you can legally file within 24 hours [after the decision was made],” Miletić explained. “The march has to take place, and there is no legal reason to ban it.”
The European Union reacted to the news stating it was "disappointed by the ministry's decision to issue a ban on the route of the march," according to EU External Action Service (EEAS) spokesman Peter Stano.
"Since its creation 30 years ago, the parade has been an essential part of the Europride. It is a public expression of the will to fight discrimination and promote equal rights of LGBTIQ+ persons and the most visible part of the Europride. There cannot be a Europride without the march," Stano emphasised in a statement on Tuesday.
"The EU expresses hope that a solution will be found before Saturday 17 September for the march to be held in peace and safety," he concluded.
Opposition from religious and far-right circles turns into large-scale protests
EuroPride is the largest LGBTQ+ event featuring a Pride parade on the continent, hosted by a different European city each year. The Belgrade EuroPride is the first one taking place in a southeastern European country.
Earlier in September, the Balkan country’s President Aleksandar Vučić said EuroPride would be “cancelled or postponed,” stating that Serbia found itself dealing with too many issues at the same time, including increased tensions with its former province, Kosovo.
This led to domestic and international criticism alike, while the organisers vowed to go ahead with the EuroPride week as well as the parade in the Serbian capital.
At the 2 September press conference, Vučić denied that the decision was made due to mounting pressures from the more radical parts of the society and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Since August, several “pro-family” events backed by a religious procession known as "litije" took place in Belgrade, with thousands gathering to protest the alleged negative influence of EuroPride on traditional family values.
The latest in a series of demonstrations gathered several thousand participants on Sunday, bringing together religious and far-right activists, members of the far-right parliamentary party Dveri, as well as pro-Putin biker clubs.
In a sermon following a communal prayer, or “moleban,” the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, said the EuroPride event threatened traditional family values.
"They want to desecrate the sanctity of marriage and the family and impose an unnatural union as a substitute for marriage," he told the crowd.
Vučić responded to the growing criticism by stating he was leaving the decision on whether the EuroPride march should take place to the Ministry of Internal Affairs following a security assessment.
The Serbian president also explained that, although he did not and would not participate in a Pride parade himself, he “had a gay woman in my extended family and wouldn’t trade her for anything else … I wouldn’t renounce her for any of those people who’d like to beat her up.”
Vučić also stated that the Serbian Orthodox Church is a serious institution but that he does not see the LGBTQ+ community as something negative in the country's society.
“If I thought [Prime Minister] Ana Brnabić was evil, she wouldn’t be where she is. Many of my associates are gay and they have been beyond helpful,” Vučić said.
Brnabić, who is in her third term as prime minister, is openly gay and has a child with her partner.
The interior ministry's decision led to Brnabić bearing the brunt of the criticism on Tuesday, as dozens of activists interrupted her appearance at one of the EuroPride's panel discussions in downtown Belgrade.
The PM, who was booed among "we want the Pride" chants, said at the conference that she was "probably the only person that is being discriminated against" by both the LGBTQ+ community and its opponents.
Brnabić pointed out that as a member of the community, she has seen her rights limited as well, including not being able to marry her partner.
Although Serbian law protects LGBTQ+ people from various forms of discrimination, same-sex couples are not allowed to marry or be joint guardians and have equal rights in relation to their children.
Earlier in September, European Pride Organisers Association or EPOA, which owns the licence to EuroPride, responded to the initial decision to cancel or postpone the week-long event by saying that the government cannot legally cancel the event, vowing to hold the Pride parade despite the decision.
“The right to hold Pride has been ruled by the European Court of Human Rights to be a fundamental human right," EPOA President Kristine Garina said in a statement.
"Any attempt to ‘ban’ a Pride is a breach of Articles 11, 13 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, ratified by Serbia as a member of the Council of Europe.”
“EuroPride is not cancelled, and will not be cancelled. During the bidding process for EuroPride 2022 [...] Ana Brnabić promised the full support of the Serbian government for EuroPride in Belgrade, and we expect that promise to be honoured,” Garina stated.
The EuroPride week opened on Monday with a series of exhibitions, lectures and workshops and is set to continue until 18 September.