Photo: Vesna Lalic
IT’S THE BALKAN’S TURN TO SPARKLE AS BELGRADE HOSTS EUROPRIDE 2022
By Nicholas Chisha
Pride at its core is meant to celebrate the LGBTI+ community’s rights, self-acceptance, and achievements. At the same time, it can also be a demonstration for the recognition of legal rights that are being withheld from this group. For many decades now, the LGBTI+ communities in the Balkan region have struggled for many of these rights. Serbia is at the fore of this ongoing fight. While same sex activity is legal in Serbia, LGBTI+ persons are not accorded the same legal protections available to their heterosexual counterparts. For example, same-sex partnerships are not yet legally recognized. In May 2014, Amnesty International identified Serbia as one of several countries where there was a marked lack of will to tackle homophobia and transphobia, as public authorities had repeatedly banned Pride marches based on violent threats from homophobic groups and had failed to protect the LGBTI+ community from discrimination, physical and verbal attacks, and social media threats. Five years later, however, the capital Belgrade won the bid to host EuroPride, the biggest LGBTI+ event in Europe.
They have certainly come a long way. Belgrade Pride director Marko Mihailović explained the process of Belgrade being selected as EuroPride 2022 hosts, what significance this momentous occasion holds for the Balkan region, and the current situation in Serbia.
Marko says: “We had submitted our application one year before the selection date. One week before, my team and I traveled to Bilbao, Spain, for the actual selection of the city that would be hosting EuroPride 2022. There were five contenders: Dublin, Barcelona, Maspalomas, Lisbon/Porto, and Belgrade. Initially, we were intimidated by Barcelona due to how developed and famous their Pride is. However, we also realized during the bidding process that Lisbon and Porto (who had put in a joint bid) were our closest rivals because their presentation was just beautiful.
Eventually, our turbulent past worked in our favor. After the cancellation of the eponymous and violent Pride in 2001 (the first Pride in Serbia, ed.), Belgrade could not hold a Pride parade for a period of 9 years. Though the 2nd Pride parade went ahead in 2010, it required 6000 police officers to protect a crowd of 600 activists. Even then, it was still met with anti-gay protesters and extreme nationalistic views. This led to Pride being banned from 2011 to 2013, though the courts had declared such a ban unconstitutional. A group of activists had decided that we had had enough as a community. They then held what they called ‘The Midnight March’ in protest. Since 2014, Pride has taken place every year in Belgrade successfully.
It is of such paramount importance that the EuroPride is being held in the Balkans for the very first time. Especially since most of the Balkan countries are not in the EU. The LGBTI+ community in this region suffers from a lack of visibility and a lack of recognition of fundamental human rights. It is with this hope that we can have as many visitors as possible from all over Europe in order to show solidarity with our community and hopefully be able to exert more influence at a political and social level within the Balkan region.
We have chosen ‘Solidarity’ as the theme for EuroPride 2022. Solidarity not only within the LGBTI+ community in Europe but solidarity with all other minorities. It must be understood that an uplifting of the LGBTI+ community is an uplifting of the society. When one is in a position of privilege, it is their responsibility to do something for others that are still underprivileged. It is not for one to sit back and enjoy their privilege alone.
In the last eight years since the 2014 Pride, Serbia has experienced some improvements with regards to LGBTI+ issues. While it seems like there has been some goodwill and determination from the political front to come to our aid, most of this will has been only verbal, with very little action and effect. We had high expectations once our first openly gay Prime Minister Ana Brnabić assumed office, with her being in such an influential position and living with her partner. That wasn’t the case, unfortunately. Discrimination still exists on many levels.
There has been significant improvement from the time of the first Belgrade Pride to where we are now as EuroPride 2022 hosts. As late as 2008, it was common to have hooligans waiting for you outside gay bars or nightclubs for them to beat you up as you left. That doesn’t happen anymore. And don’t get me wrong; though most of Serbia is still deeply homophobic, tolerance has been growing steadily. It is better for people living in Belgrade, and to an extent, Novi Sad. The rest of Serbia is very much conservative. In 2017, we launched the ‘Pride Info Centre’. Initially, the plan was to have it run for a month. To our surprise, we had such a large number of people coming in daily that we realized it was a much-needed space for our community and that it had to be sustained long-term. It has been in existence ever since. The space offers counseling, advice on health and sexual health issues, different activities such as the arts, and other events that benefit the community. It is also simply a safe space. The Pride Info Centre has been attacked 14 times since its inception. Windows have broken and graffiti sprayed on the walls. Fortunately, no one has been injured while on the premises. After the 14th attack, the mayor came in to show his support.
Finally, to the Danish readers, both from the LGBTI+ community and our heterosexual friends: I’d like to say you are welcome to Belgrade from the 12th to the 18th of September. We have planned a lot of exciting events during the EuroPride week. The highlight will be the 2-day concert running from the 16th to 17th. The parade itself will take place on the 17th. Belgrade is beautiful and at the same time affordable. Come and let us show as a united front that the local LGBTI+ community is not alone. We haven’t achieved equality until everyone is equal. The world needs to realize that the LGBTI+ community transcends race, nationality,and color.”
EuroPride 2022 takes place in Belgrade from the 12th to the 18th of September. Read more about the event program, the history, and how you can support the Pride movement in Serbia on www.europride2022.com.