Belgrade Stages Gay Pride Amid Heavy Security

Several hundred gay rights supporters marched through the Serbian capital after riot police shut down the city centre to ensure security and senior officials warned that violence would not be tolerated.
 Pride parade participants.  | Photo: Twitter. 
Police closed off the centre of Belgrade | Photo by BIRN.

Around 300 people marched through Belgrade from the government building to the Serbian parliament on Sunday after riot police closed off the city centre to ensure the safety of the Pride parade, which has been attacked by right-wingers in previous years.

The gay rights supporters marched behind a truck decked with balloons and blasting music from a sound system, waving rainbow Gay Pride flags and carrying banners with slogans like  “My rights, my demands” and “Let me love the one I want to, not the one I have to”. 

“This is a great day for the LGBT community and for human rights,” said one of the marchers, the well-known Serbian playwright Biljana Srbljanovic.

Police deployed armoured vehicles and a helicopter circled overhead to deter potential attacks. A small group of priests and Orthodox Christias protested against the parade near Tasmajdan Park in the centre of Belgrade but did not disrupt the march.

Police officers told BIRN that there were no major incidents. However, according to the Blic newspaper website, 54 people were arrested. 

After the march finished peacefully, the organizers told participants to conceal any Pride symbols in order not to be attacked on the way home. They were also told that police could even drive them home if they were worried about their own security.

Jelisaveta Blagojevic, a professor and gender rights activist, said that because the march still needed riot police protection, it showed that progress still needs to be made.

“The huge police presence indicates that the event is still not what it supposed to be,” Blagojevic told BIRN.

Police in Belgrade ahead of the Pride parade.

Serbia’s European integration minister Jadranka Joksimovic, culture minister Ivan Tasovac and Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali joined the march, as well the head of the EU delegation in Serbia, Michael Davenport, and the US ambassador to Belgrade, Michael Kirby.

Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic praised the state institutions that successfully guarded the participants before, during and after the event.

“Bearing in mind that the Pride parade in 2014 was also peaceful, we can cautiously say that LGBT people’s right to gather has been won, which is a major symbolic step on another long journey to abolish the discrimination against them,” Jankovic said in a statement.

Bojan Stojanovic, one of the organizers, also expressed satisfaction that the parade passed off without incident and said the authorities had showed that they could ensure the safety of such an event if they wanted. He suggested that the absence of attacks by right-wingers also showed that “right-wing groups have no political foothold as they had in previous years”.

The authorities in Serbia, which is seeking to prove its human rights credentials as it bids to join the EU, had issued stern warnings that they would not tolerate any attacks on the event, which has been repeatedly targeted in the past.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday he would not join the parade but promised that the authorities would ensure security for the march because all the country’s citizens have the right to safety.

“As far as I am concerned I will not attend those parades. It is my right. I was not there last year, I will not attend it next year as well, neither as a Prime Minister nor as a citizen. I have something else to do at the time. But state institutions must ensure that every citizen feels secure and that is a European standard,” said Vucic.

Police armoured vehicles in Belgrade. | Photo by BIRN/Gregorie Huet

Before the main march, there was also a Trans Pride meeting in Pionirski Park in the centre of Belgrade attended by dozens of activists urging legal changes so transgender people can define their own gender, name and other data in official ID documents.

“We just want to live as ordinary people. Nobody is free until we all are free,” said Helena Vukovic, one of the Trans Pride organizers.

Some media outlets reported that eight of the people who were detained had been held by police because they wanted to approach the Trans Pride without showing identity documents, although this was not immediately confirmed by the authorities. 

News website Blic reported that one of them was well-known Red Star Belgrade football fan Uros Misic, who has previously served a jail sentence for seriously wounding a police officer at a match.

The Pride parade organizers also called on participants on Sunday to help the refugees who are passing through Belgrade on their route to Europe.

“We in Serbia know very well what it’s like to be a refugee waiting for a visa for a better life,” Stojanovic said.

Photo by BIRN.

Ahead of Sunday’s Pride march, the organizers said they believed the event would be peaceful this year and confirmed that activists had received no serious threats.

Goran Miletic, one of the organizers, said that the “atmosphere in the entire society” was also much better than in previous years.

“This is the first year that Pride was announced normally. Media reports were just as we wanted them to be, there were no stories on bloodshed or similar things,” he said.

He also praised cooperation with the police.

“The police were also more relaxed. It is becoming easier, more routine, and better for all of us,” Miletic said.

European integration minister Joksimovic sent a letter of support to Belgrade’s LGBT community ahead of the march.

According to the organizers, Joksimovic wrote that last year’s successful Pride parade was a good step towards securing the human rights of LGBT people establishing a more tolerant society.

Last year the parade was held amid heavy security which deterred any serious attempts to attack the participants.

The only major incident happened when Andrej Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister’s brother, was beaten up by police after he tried to breach the cordon which was securing the event.

In 2010, the parade was also held but several thousand young people cause mayhem on the streets, throwing stones and missiles, injuring police officers and setting buildings and vehicles on fire.

The first ever Belgrade Pride Parade in 2001 was disrupted by a large group of far-right nationalists who attacked and beat up the participants.

Belgrade Pride Week 2015 ran from September 14 and ended with the parade on Sunday.

During the week, activities including debates, cultural and entertainment programmes were held with the aim of making the general public more aware of the situation for LGBT people in Serbia.