Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has canceled the international EuroPride festival scheduled to be held in the country’s capital, Belgrade, from Sept. 12-18, but organizers of the event say they will proceed as planned.
This past weekend, Vucic acknowledged that the rights of sexual minorities are threatened in Serbia, but said the government is facing intense pressure from social conservatives and religious leaders within the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the event, saying the time is “not right” to hold the six-day-long festival.
“It is not a question of whether [those pressures] are stronger,” Vucic said during an August 27 press conference. “It’s just that at some point you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it.”
Vucic left open the possibility that the event could be held at a later date.
Vucic’s announcement came on the heels of demonstrations by religious and social conservatives and Serbian nationalists. Earlier this month, the far-right Zaventnici (Oathkeepers) party held a protest in which tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Belgrade demanding the government refuse to permit EuroPride — and in particular, the event’s signature Pride parade, scheduled for Sept. 17 — to take place in the city.
The demonstrations followed comments by a Serbian Orthodox bishop, Nikanor Bogunovic, vowing to “curse” all EuroPride attendees and saying that if he had a gun, he’d use it against people taking part in the event.
Serbia has previously held other LGBTQ events and pride parades in 2001 and 2010 that became the target of violent attacks at the hands of social conservatives and right-wing radical groups. The government banned Pride events from 2011-2013 over fears of violence, but, beginning in 2014, Pride parades have been held in Belgrade each year, without large-scale violence.
While announcing the cancellation of EuroPride, Vucic expressed support for Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, an out lesbian, who was targeted by Bogunovic’s remarks. But Vucic also said that the Serbian government is currently fighting “bigger problems” — notably its long-running and ongoing dispute with Kosovo — and must take into account “many people who sincerely feel threatened” by a Pride event, according to Bloomberg News.
Despite Vucic’s announcement, organizers vowed to press on by holding both the overall festival and a Pride parade to promote LGBTQ visibility and advocate for LGBTQ rights and protections.
Kristine Garina, the president of the European Pride Organizers Association, which organizes EuroPride, issued a statement saying the event would not be canceled.
“The right to hold Pride has been ruled by the European Court of Human Rights to be a fundamental human right,” Garina said, according to Radio Free Europe. “EuroPride in Belgrade will not be canceled and will bring together thousands of LGBTI+ people from across Europe.”
Marko Mihailovic, an activist with Belgrade Pride, echoed Garina’s comments, tweeting that the cancellation of the parade was “a clear violation of the constitution, as well as the verdict of the Constitutional Court declaring the bans of the Pride in 2011, 2012, and 2013 unconstitutional.”
Mihailovic promised that the event’s Pride parade would proceed as scheduled.
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