EuroPride march to go ahead despite government ban, organisers say
Serbian authorities banned the event in Belgrade after an intense campaign by religious and far-right protesters
Organisers of the EuroPride march have told openDemocracy they will continue with this year’s event despite an 11th-hour ban from the Serbian authorities.
Serbia’s Ministry of Interior banned the march yesterday. It was due to be held this Saturday as part of the EuroPride week in the country’s capital, Belgrade – the first time Serbia has hosted the annual pan-European event.
Determined organisers have spoken of their disappointment but said they will press ahead with an unofficial march.
“We stay with the walk, of course. The only thing that can be forbidden for us is the route, but not the walk,” EuroPride coordinator Goran Miletić told openDemocracy.
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An anti-Pride counter-protest due to be held at the same time was also banned.
In the statement announcing its decision, the ministry said: “After the security assessment, it was determined that there is a high risk that the safety of the participants of both walks on the announced routes will be endangered, as well as the safety of other citizens.”
The organisers of the EuroPride march have confirmed they intend to file a complaint to the Ministry of Interior, which will have 24 hours to confirm or change its decision. If the ban stays in place, organisers will appeal to the administrative court.
The only thing that can be forbidden for us is the route, but not the walk
EuroPride, a week-long event held in a different European city each year, kicked off on Monday with the raising of a rainbow flag in front of the Palace of Serbia.
Last month, Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić said the EuroPride march would be “cancelled or postponed”, following an aggressive and intense campaign led by right-wing political parties and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Thousands have taken part in religious walks (known as litije), carrying religious icons, crosses and nationalist flags while protesting against the West and LGBTIQ+ rights and declaring their support for Vladimir Putin and Kosovo. Bishop Nikanor Bogunović gave a speech in August cursing anyone who attended Pride, adding that “if he had a weapon, he would use it”.
Vučić announced the ‘cancellation’ of EuroPride on the same day he nominated prime minister Ana Brnabić – who is gay – to serve another term in office following the country’s election.
Reasons given for the ban included the “safety” of both participants and other citizens, ongoing problems with Serbia’s neighbour Kosovo and Russia, and soaring energy costs.
Prior to the ban’s confirmation, Goran Miletić, from human rights group Civil Right Defenders, told openDemocracy that organisers were in talks with government officials to find a solution. He said that even in the event of a ban “the police would certainly provide security for participants”.
Anti-LGBTIQ+ campaign worse than before
This is not the first time a Pride protest has been banned in Serbia, with the government cancelling Belgrade Pride’s parade in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Serbia’s Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled that past decisions banning Pride were unconstitutional.
The country was chosen to host EuroPride in 2019, but the event was postponed until this year because of the pandemic.
“At the beginning of 2022, we were getting support from all the relevant institutions – we even got a letter of endorsement from Ana Brnabić. But in the middle of the year, the situation changed drastically,” said Belgrade Pride director Marko Mihailović.
In July, Belgrade’s new mayor, Aleksandar Šapić, said he didn’t know EuroPride was happening in Belgrade, and objected to the fact it would bring in so many people from all around Europe.
“I will not raise any flag, let me tell you that right away. As for the call to ‘open’ the event, I’m not sure I will do even that. Actually, I’m sure I won’t,” Šapić said. He added that he would open the next ‘Family Day’ – a city-sponsored event held in May.
This triggered media attention, and the right-wing parties in Parliament began a campaign against EuroPride and LGBTIQ+ rights that Mihailović said was more intense than in previous years. “They were spreading so many lies, calling us evil, sick… I thought it would stop, but it only intensified,” he said.
On Sunday, there was a large-scale protest against EuroPride in the Serbian capital.
Da Se Zna, an NGO that monitors discrimination, hate speech and attacks against LGBTIQ+ people in Serbia, recorded more cases in August 2022 than in the rest of the year put together.
“None of the threats was condemned by institutions,” Mihailović pointed out. “There is a lack of concrete action against those who are threatening us, which is really concerning.”
Matija Stefanovic from Da Se Zna agreed: “We are facing an absurd situation in which EuroPride is considered unsafe and problematic, yet none of the people spreading homophobia in public spaces, or calling for violence against queer people, have been prosecuted or sanctioned in any way.”
Despite this background, Pride organisers expect that EuroPride will be peaceful. “Since Pride in 2011, there has not been a single incident in Pride Week. There is no reason to believe that it will be any different now. I am not afraid of any incidents,” said Miletić, in an interview before the ban was confirmed.
Initially, organisers hoped 15,000 people would turn up for the Pride march, but since the ban’s announcement, more people have said they are determined to come.
“We heard that a lot of people will come out in solidarity, which is something that we really need,” Mihailović explained. “We have to stand up and fight for a better society. It’s not only about LGBTIQ+ rights, this is for democracy in general, for human rights in general.”
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