Metro Weekly

EuroPride March Proceeds Despite Arrest of 64 Protesters

Right-wing agitators and social conservatives previously led weeks of demonstrations demanding parade's cancellation.

EuroPride participants marching in the rain Photo: BelgradePride, via Instagram

EuroPride’s official Pride parade proceeded as scheduled in Belgrade last Saturday, with organizers prevailing after weeks of back-and-forth debate over whether it was safe to hold a large-scale LGBTQ march in the socially conservative country of Serbia.

Hundreds of LGBTQ activists holding rainbow Pride flags marched through a portion of the city that had been sealed off by nearly 5,200 police wearing riot gear, who put up metal fences to keep anti-LGBTQ protesters at bay. The march route was shortened due to pouring rain, but the weather did not dampen the celebratory atmosphere. Participants then headed to a concert.

As parade participants marched by a church, bells constantly tolled, reflecting the Serbian Orthodox Church’s opposition to the Pride events. 

Christopher Hill, the U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, was among the participants in the Pride march, hailing the event as “an important day for equality and an important day for this country as well.”

During the parade, riot police clashed with some right-wing protesters and soccer hooligans, who tossed stun grenades, stones, and flares at police, who repelled the attack with batons and riot shields. Sixty-four people were detained as a result of their actions, and 10 policemen sustained sight injuries, reports The Associated Press.

EuroPride organizers and LGBTQ supporters celebrated the fact that the parade was held without large-scale violence as a success, given that opponents had tried to exert their power by compelling authorities to cancel the parade.

The European Pride Organizers Association had originally chosen Serbia’s capital as the host city for EuroPride three years ago, in the hope that — like past EuroPride celebrations held in Poland and Latvia, two former Eastern bloc nations known for their social conservatism, in 2010 and 2015, respectively — a successful event would signal that Serbian society was more accepting of LGBTQ progress.

Organizers had also hoped that a successful EuroPride would show the country was distancing itself from the more hardline anti-LGBTQ forces in the country, including church leaders, and could draw attention to the need for additional rights and protections for LGBTQ people in the country, including legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Although several Pride marches have been held in Serbia over the past few years, they have not all been advertised to the extent that EuroPride was, and some of those events — especially the 2001 and 2010 Pride parades — had devolved into violence.

Serbian police had banned the parade last week, citing concerns over potential violence from far-right activists and whether local police would have enough officers on hand. In the weeks prior to EuroPride’s opening ceremonies on Sept. 12, right-wing and church-affiliated groups had held several demonstrations demanding the event’s cancellation, with one right-wing bishop even promising to “curse” EuroPride attendees

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had also expressed concerns that police would be overwhelmed by possible riots, and suggested the parade needed to be canceled to allow the country to focus on larger geopolitical issues such as the country’s energy crisis — which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine — and Serbia’s ongoing conflict with the neighboring breakaway state of Kosovo.

But on Saturday, EuroPride organizers said they had received guarantees from Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, an out lesbian, that the parade could proceed as scheduled.

Afterwards, Brnabic said she was proud that during the 6-day-long celebration of EuroPride, which included more than 130 LGBTQ-themed events, there wasn’t a single incident of violence directed against participants.

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