EuroPride parade continues in Belgrade after 11-hour reprieve – POLITICO


BELGRADE – Gloomy weather and pouring rain – coupled with weeks of institutional obstacles and nationalist threats – did not stop the EuroPride parade from filling central Belgrade with rainbow-colored umbrellas and brightly colored raincoats on Saturday evening.

“This is the most important EuroPride that has taken place for 30 years. The banning and non-banning of Pride, the terrible opposition it has faced from government, ministries and political parties in recent days clearly shows its importance,” said EuroPride President, Kristine Garina, at POLITICO Europe.

It was not until Saturday morning that the Serbian government gave the green light for the parade, after weeks of controversy and international pressure after President Aleksandar Vučić canceled the event last month.

With rainbow flags tied around their shoulders – or even used as rain shields – march participants hugged and spoke in elated voices as more and more people gathered outside the Constitutional Court in Belgrade. The decision to start the parade outside the court was emblematic of the decades-long struggle of LGBT activists in Serbia to secure legal rights for their events.

“With EuroPride, our aim is to attract more international attention and involve European Commissioners and Parliamentarians,” said Garina.

At least two dozen European politicians attended the parade, including EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli and MEP Vladimir Bilcik. — who said in his capacity as European Parliament rapporteur for Serbia that the challenges faced by EuroPride in Belgrade will leave a significant mark on the country’s annual report.

In late August, President Vučić announced his intention to cancel the pan-European pro-LGBT event due to continuing political tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, sparking outrage among Serbian society as well as EU officials. Vučić then attempted to counter criticism of the cancellation by claiming that he had a lesbian family member and would never disown her despite those who want to beat her up.

Far-right groups staged protests and Eastern Orthodox religious processions – known as litigation — ahead of the scheduled parade date and protested en masse on Saturday, chanting “Kill the gays” and hurling flares at police on one of Belgrade’s main boulevards.

In a joint prayer last Sunday, Patriarch Porfirije, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said EuroPride “profane traditional family values” and promote “unnatural unions as a substitute for marriage”.

The parade itself had to be heavily cordoned off by riot police. At one point, hooligans and anti-Pride protesters charged at police with sticks and truncheons as clashes were witnessed along the road.

The government said 5,200 Home Office staff, mostly police officers, were at the scene to provide security. More than 60 people were arrested and 10 police officers were injured, he added.

During Saturday’s parade, upbeat music from moving loudspeakers was mixed with threatening chants from the sideline, where a combination of nationalist and religious protesters gathered and held up anti-Pride banners as well as wooden crosses and images of Serbian Orthodox religious icons.

Church bells rang in opposition to the parade of St. Mark, the main Orthodox church along the route.

“We always knew it would be difficult, but what we witnessed is beyond the level we expected. It was the first time we faced such intense conspiracy theories and opposition,” Garina said.

Serbia has been the subject of continuous criticism since Russia’s new invasion of Ukraine in February, in particular for refusing to apply sanctions against Moscow despite being an EU candidate country and for allowing the dissemination of rhetoric similar to that promoted by Putin in the mainstream media.

The leader of the far-right Zavetnici, or Guardians of the Oath party, Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski, who is currently part of the Serbian parliament, said the president’s last-minute decision Vučić and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to allow the Pride Parade to take place is “proof that foreign ambassadors are above the laws of our country”.

The organizers of the parade were accused by many in Serbia — including pro-government media — to act under the influence of the West. Garina said “organizers and activists have made a monumental effort” in the face of such opposition.




POLITICO

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