In a conference building in Belgrade, around 200 people waved rainbow flags and listened to speeches from the Pride Week organizing committee and international guests on Saturday. This, however, was as close as Serbia’s LGBT community came to holding a gay pride parade this year.
Three days earlier the Serbian government forbade organizers from holding a pride parade in Belgrade for the second year in a row. Prime Minister Ivica Dačić told local media that he made the decision because of safety risks, as hooligan groups threatened to attack the march if it was to take place. To protest against another ban on their parade, LGBT activists organized a “Pride Within Four Walls” gathering to protest the way they are treated by their government.
Boris Dittrich, Human Rights Watch’s LGBT rights advocacy director, condemned the cancellation of the parade in a press release, stating that by pointing “to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen [the government] is succumbing to threats of violence.”
According to the organizing committee for the Pride Week 2012, the decision was based more on politics than security. About 80 percent of Serbs are opposed to holding a gay pride parade, and politicians are dependent on their votes. Organizers also believe that the state is not making enough effort to track down and prosecute the hooligans who are responsible for making threats. Some even believe that important political figures are involved in extreme right-wing movements that recruit young people to go to the streets to riot. Weeks in advance, graffiti appeared in the city center, threatening, “We are waiting for you,” “Kill gays” and “You won’t walk.”
On Saturday morning, although there was no parade, the city was filled with riot police and soldiers. At 10 a.m. the alternative Pride Within Four Walls event began. After some speeches inside the conference room in the Media Centre in Terazija, organizers announced that they would try to go to the streets anyway. A few of them went outside but were immediately stopped by police. Eventually they gave up and sat down in the alley in front of the door. Banners were held announcing that the next pride parade in Belgrade would be held on September 28, 2013.
The last time such a parade did happen was in October 2010, and it was a bloody one. Around 5,000 police fought off a few thousand hooligans in order to protect a thousand parade participants. Hooligans stormed the city as if they were an army — throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and setting cars on fire. While none of the pride participants were hurt, over a hundred police officers were injured.
These hooligans are well organized, and they’re believed to be encouraged and even paid by church and soccer clubs. They belong to extremist right-wing movements — like Dveri, Obraz and 1389 — that burned the embassies of countries that recognized Kosovo as an independent country and barricaded the border between North and South Kosovo last year. How many people are involved in these groups is unclear, but according to analysts they are growing every year. Their apparent goals are to keep Serbia orthodox and patriotic, to retain Kosovo as a part of Serbia and to stand behind war criminals like Radovan Karadzic — mastermind of the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, who is now at The Hague standing trial for war crimes.