Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on August 27 that the international EuroPride parade due to take place in Belgrade on September 12-18 has been cancelled.
Speaking at a press conference, Vucic said the government had been under heavy pressure from right-wing groups and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the parade, which would have been Europe’s largest Pride event.
“It is not a question of whether those pressures are stronger. It’s just that at some point you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it,” said Vucic as quoted by the FoNet agency.
At the same time, the president admitted that the rights of sexual minorities are under threat in Serbia, and said it was possible that the event could be held later.
However, EuroPride tweeted in response that the event will go ahead as planned.
“Cancelled? No! #EuroPride2022 is from 12-18 September and on Saturday 17 September we WILL march with @belgradepride,” said a post on Twitter.
“Pride is the most important manifestation for the rights and freedoms of lgbti+ people, but also for all those who believe we deserve a free society,” said Belgrade Pride.
The organisers received numerous messages of support from within and outside Serbia.
“We stand with @belgradepride and the @EuroPride organizers, they have our sponsorship and support,” said a post from the dating app Grindr.
“As we celebrate in Cardiff, we stand in absolute solidarity with our family at @belgradepride. Pride is an internationalist movement. We will fight for our rights around the world,” said a post from the Welsh organisation Pride Cymru.
As reported by bne IntelliNews, LGBT and alternative lifestyles in general remain a very difficult subject for the people of the whole former socialist bloc, where a large majority of citizens retain conservative values rooted in the Orthodox Church or Islam. Homophobia and even random violent attacks on gays are widespread and common. Discrimination is institutional and few countries have adopted anti-hate speech laws or legislation to support same-sex partnerships.
The EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans have made more progress on reforms positively affecting LGBTI people than the EU members from the region. Montenegro has the best legal and policy environment for LGBTI people in the emerging Europe region, according to the Rainbow Europe Map and Index from International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe). Montenegro was the top ranked country from the emerging Europe region and is only outperformed by 10 West European countries (Malta, Belgium and Luxembourg top the list).
Serbia also stands out as having the first openly gay prime minister in the region, Ana Brnabic, who has just been nominated to serve a new term.
At the time, the only other openly gay ministers in the region was Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, who came out on Twitter in 2014 with the hashtag #Proudtobegay. Even the ministers in Latvia’s progressive Baltic neighbours reacted by saying it was still “too early” for gay ministers in their countries.
While several Pride marches have been held in Belgrade, the events always arouse controversy. The march in September 2018, for example, was peaceful but took place amid an extremely heavy police presence, with around 5,000 police on the streets according to media estimates, and helicopters flying overhead.
Previously, Serbia failed to hold gay parades for several years after the first two events ended in violent clashes. There was a 10-year hiatus after the first attempt in 2001 ended in brutal violence on streets. There were also clashes in 2010 when around 6,000 right-wing extremists and hooligans, mainly football fans, caused damage in the town by burning and vandalising cars, and breaking windows and other public property. Over 140 people were injured, including many policemen.
For the next three years the government banned the march, which it assessed as a “high level risk” event. However, Pride resumed in 2014.