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Serbia: Ban On Gay March Divides Opinion

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By Bojana Barlovac

While some say that the authorities capitulated to hooligans by banning the Gay Pride Parade, many Serbs are happy that the “traditional values” have won out.

Mini pride parade in BelgradeAbout 30 gay and lesbian activists stopped traffic in Belgrade for a few minutes on Saturday afternoon and held what they called a mini-Gay Pride Parade by holding banners reading: “Love. Normal.”

The impromptu meeting came after Serbia’s national security council last Friday banned all gatherings scheduled for the weekend, including the annual Gay Pride Parade, which was due to take place on Sunday.

The security council cited concerns about the danger of violent clashes erupting in the city between gay marchers and right-wing groups.

The Pride organizers said that the decision to ban the parade was inconsistent with the law on gatherings of citizens, noting that gatherings were only supposed to be prohibited when national security was threatened or when sensitive religious gatherings were planned.

But the organisers did not invite people to take to the streets on Sunday and break the security council’s decision.

On the day of the banned march, Belgrade was peaceful. Police units were deployed on the streets to prevent any attempts to organize high-risk public gatherings.

“Police have so far arrested six persons in Belgrade, including an individual who tried to call for a public gathering in front of the Serbian parliament,” Police Deputy Director Srdjan Grekulovic said.

Last October’s parade, the first to be held since 2001, ended in mayhem as stone-throwing anti-gay youths clashed with police.

While some dubbed the government’s move a craven capitulation to violent groups, many Belgraders were pleased that the city was not hosting another Pride march and that the last year’s scenario would not be repeated.

“This decision means that the state has capitulated and succumbed to bullies and violence,” Boban Stojanovic, one of the Pride organisers, told Balkan Insight.

Nevena Petrusic, of the Commission to Protect Equality, said the ban on the Pride Parade demonstrated the high level of homophobia in Serbia.

“An atmosphere of fear, threats of violence and various severe forms of discrimination… have reached their peak… with this decision,” Petrusic said in a statement.

Jelko Kacin, EU Rapporteur for Serbia, said he deeply regretted that Pride was not being held, and added that such a decision had deprived citizens of their constitutional and legal rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

“Instead of unambiguously backing the Pride Parade, the National Security Council transferred the responsibility for the ban to the police and the Interior Minister,” Kacin stated.

Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, said that the ban had showed up the weakness and political cowardice of the authorities.

“This way it [the state] sent the message that the police are not able to guarantee life in accordance with the laws of this country,” he said.

But many believe that a ban was the only solution to prevent the threat of violence, which has been growing for some days, with some far-right groups threatening a day of “Belgrade in flames”.

Boris Milicevic, member of the Gay-Straight Alliance and member of Central Committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia, a partner of the ruling coalition, said it would not have been safe to hold the parade, given that “militant group have been announcing for a month now not only violence but a coup d’etat”.

Milicevic said that the EU and the international community in principle supported the parade “but in this case the international community will look first of all at how the state acts against all those who threaten the constitutional order”.

Milan Markovic, Human and Minority Rights Minister, said that the authorities had no obligation to allow the Pride Parade to be held out of fear of criticism.

“It’s untrue that the state has capitulated and that hooligans are more powerful than the state, that’s complete nonsense,” the minister said.

According to him, the authorities reacted the only way they could in order to save human lives and property.

Dragan Markovic aka Palma, mayor of Jagodina, well-known for his anti-gay stances, hailed the decision to ban the “parade of shame,” as he called it.

“Finally, we [Serbians] have showed that we respect traditional values​​, rather than something that is not recognized by the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, or Muslims, or by any normal people,” Markovic said.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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