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Serb Pride May Get Violent, Police Warn

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Sep 29, 2011

The chief of Serbia's police said that Pride organizers ought to reconsider putting on the event scheduled for the coming weekend, a Sept. 29 Associated Press story said.

Police chief Ivica Dacic expressed concern about the potential for right-wing anti-gay violence targeting Price marchers, and said that he wanted those behind the event to cancel so that "bloodshed does not happen in Belgrade," the Serbian city where the event is scheduled to take place.

Already, an extremist organization has organized a gathering of its own in Belgrade for the same day as Pride, the AP reported. And there is a precedent for anti-gay violence turning into general havoc.

"Last year, more than 100 people were injured, cars were burned and shops looted during a similar pro-gay march," the AP article noted.

The article said that Serbia is hoping to join the European Union. But in order to do so, the nation has to demonstrate a commitment to human rights and equality. The Pride march would serve that need.

To the police, however, the ideals of the EU are somewhat removed from the practicalities they must deal with in trying to protect the marchers from anti-gay violence at the hands of right-radical extremists.

"While we speak about human rights, we have to repair our water cannons," Dacic said.

Pride celebrants and radical anti-gay extremists alike "have the right to protest and be protected" by the police, a spokesperson for the government, Slobodan Homen, said.

The 2009 Serbian Pride march was canceled due to threats of violence. A Sept. 7, 2010, AP article on last year's then-upcoming Pride event said, "Gays and lesbians often face harassment and pressure in predominantly conservative Serbia.

"Extremists broke up the Balkan nation's first gay pride march in 2001 and beat up several participants," the article added.

Gays in many Eastern European nations face oppressive social conditions, even when the laws are nominally gay-friendly. Often, right-wing extremists such as Neo-Nazis and skinheads threaten Pride celebrants, but in some cases the police also pose a hazard.

Pride demonstrators in Minsk engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse with police and anti-gay protestors during a 2010 Pride Event in that nation. Bloggers reported on the impromptu Pride marches that took place in the city, which is located in the former Soviet nation of Belarus.

Though sexual activity between consenting adults of the same gender is not a criminal offense in Belarus, there are not legal protections for same-sex families there.

Pride marchers also face general social bias. According to a blog that appeared at UK Gay News, authorities in Minsk tried to ban the march, saying that it would pass too close to thorough fares such as pedestrian crossings and subway stations. The authorities sought the cancellation of other Pride events, as well, at the last minute, but canceling the events was not seen as practical.

Pride marchers had to revise their plans on the spot, the blog said, in order to evade the police; also, groups of anti-gay protesters were looking for Pride participants, the blog said, in order to beat them.

In Russia, Pride organizers have butted heads with authorities for years. Pride in Moscow was denied permission throughout the tenure of former mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was fired earlier this year for, among other things, refusing to give Pride organizers permission for the event. But life after Luzhkov remained just as unfriendly toward gays: Despite initially giving permission for Pride this year, Moscow authorities then reversed themselves and banned the event, in defiance of an EU court ruling.

Organizers went ahead anyway, and as soon as the event began anti-gay religious extremists attacked. The police also pounced, placing about 30 Pride celebrants under arrest, including several GLBT rights advocates, including several Americans, Dan Choi among them.

Pride celebrants also have come under extreme threat and even violence in Jerusalem, where Ultra-Orthodox Jews have condemned and attacked Pride events, rioting and burning tires in the streets.

In 2010, Jerusalem Pride met no such violence, though the subdued procession, which was toned down considerably compared with other celebrations in more accepting places, did meet with Ultra-Orthodox protesters carrying signs with slogans such as, "Gays Play in Hell, Not Jerusalem."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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