How Serbia stole back Pride from the jaws of defeat: ‘No one gave up’
On 17 September 2022, thousands marched defiantly for Belgrade EuroPride in Serbia, after weeks of tension, violence and hate.
At least 5,200 police officers crammed LGBTQ+ activists into the unconventional EuroPride route, haphazardly plotted by Serbian authorities just days prior.
Belgrade was selected to hold the week-long pan-European Pride event in 2022 by the European Pride Organisers Association (EPOA). It was a gesture of good faith towards Serbia after previous Pride parades had gone off in the country without a hitch.
The idea was to help Serbia present itself as a welcoming, amicable nation on the world stage and to help drive its journey towards EU membership.
But, as widely-circulated videos of bigots throwing stun grenades at the parade and yelling “kill the fa**ots” suggest, things still have a long way to go before the country can call itself safe for queer minorities.
EPOAs shaky negotiations with Serbian authorities
The EuroPride event is an annual international celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride, with European cities invited to submit bids to host which then go to a vote. In recent years, organisers have used their selections to push for change.
“I think when you look at the development of EuroPride over the years from 1992, it started out with London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm – it was very safe cities,” EPOA communications and media board member Steve Taylor told PinkNews.
“There was a change about 15 years ago when Warsaw was selected.”
After the Warsaw event went remarkably well, EPOA began allowing countries with archaic laws on LGBTQ+ rights to bid for EuroPride in an effort to promote tolerance, respect and reform.
This was exactly the thinking behind Belgrade’s inclusion in 2019’s ballot. Currently, same-sex marriage is not recognised in the country and, according to Equaldex, 75 per cent of Serbians believe society should not accept homosexuality.
“I’ve been involved in the EPOA for seven years and this was by far the most difficult EuroPride I’ve ever known,” Taylor said. “But I think, consequently, it’s also the most important EuroPride there’s ever been.”
He explained that the difficulties came from a mixture of government mishandling and anti-LGBTQ+ groups who marched through the city with members of the Orthodox Church.
Organisers also had to deal with Serbian president’s Aleksandar Vučić constant declarations that the Pride march would either be postponed indefinitely or outright banned – despite him not having the power to ban it.
Orthodox Christian believers carry a 500m long Russian and Serbian national flags banner while protesting EuroPride. (Getty)
“He can’t cancel an event that he’s not organising,” Taylor explained. “He was playing internal politics with Kosovo and he needed to distract people from that, so he used EuroPride.
“And it worked, because our social media just went into meltdown, as did the social media for Belgrade Pride.”
The event would eventually go ahead, but not without continuous meddling from the Serbian government, who cited “security concerns”.
The backlash coming so long after Belgrade was announced as hot struck Taylor as odd.
“We always knew that there would be significant backlash. What we all expected was to get that backlash a lot sooner than three weeks before the event.”
Tensions were high during Belgrade Pride
Despite all the fuss, Belgrade’s EuroPride festivities went ahead on the scheduled date, the route lined by police officers who held back far-right protestors hurling flares, stones, and stun grenades.
Belgrade Pride director Goran Miletic saw it all first-hand, having attended.
“In one way, I saw a lot of solidarity because no one gave up due to the ban,” he said. “But at the same time, I was unhappy because it was not what we initially planned.
“We planned for more fun – it’s still political, but it’s more fun. Things were different, so I had mixed feelings.”
Despite the mass of far-right protestors attempting to attack activists, the proceedings remained predominantly safe – save for minor clashes between the two groups.
“It was still important for the people that police were there,” Miletic added. “It functioned, not perfectly, but it functioned. At the end of the event, we had a concert and some activists were attacked on the way to their hotels and homes.”
What’s next for Serbia?
The event’s shaky proceedings have left the LGBTQ+ Serbian population in a confusing void of what to expect for the future.
Additionally, the mistreatment of the situation by the Serbian government has added another layer of consideration to EU membership negotiations.
Serbia has been petitioning to join the European Union since lodging an official application in 2009.
One of the biggest issues preventing accession is the country’s shaky history on human rights.
Steve Taylor believes that it will “undoubtedly” affect Serbia’s membership candidacy, adding that the campaign had caused “huge national embarrassment.”
“It’s really just shown that they’re not truly a democratic country,” Taylor added. “They do not live by European values and they shouldn’t be welcome in the EU until they have true equality.
“I just hope it’s not going to affect it for those neighbouring countries that are also in the accession process at the moment.”
He hopes that the resulting chaos from anti-LGBTQ+ protestors will show people who were on the fence about the event that Belgrade Pride attendees were nothing to worry about.
Taylor added: “Nobody was arrested in the Pride march – not a single person. Every arrest was of these idiots who are choosing to attack the police.
“I hope that others have seen that – even if they disagree with us – they now realise that we were entirely peaceful and so when Belgrade Pride happens next June, it should happen peacefully and with the protection of the police.”
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