They warned that they would oppose the ban. Thousands of members of the LGBTQ+ community marched on Saturday September 17 in Belgrade, under heavy police protection, despite the cancellation of the Europride march by the authorities.
The parade itself, which was supposed to be the high point of this pan-European event that takes place every year in different cities, passed without any notable incident. But according to local media, clashes pitted police against counter-demonstrators.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, an open lesbian, announced that 64 people had been arrested and 10 police officers had been injured on Saturday, while stressing that she “proud” that the day is over “no serious incident”.
The Serbian Interior Ministry banned the march on Tuesday, citing security concerns, as far-right groups threatened to stage their own protests after a series of anti-Pride rallies in the capital.
Nevertheless the demonstrators managed to travel a few hundred meters in the rain, between the Constitutional Council and a nearby park, a shorter journey than the Pride march had originally planned. The Minister of the Interior Aleksandar Vulin assured that the ban was implemented, and that it was people “accompanied by a concert”.
Same-sex marriage is illegal in Serbia
Several riot police were deployed around the rally and pushed back small groups of counter-demonstrators waving crosses and religious insignia, according to reporters from Agence France-Presse (AFP). The Home Office also banned counter-demonstrations, but users of far-right chat rooms vowed to protest Pride.
According to the N1 television channel, scuffles broke out between the police and counter-demonstrators, the latter throwing smoke bombs at the police, which damaged several vehicles. AFP journalists saw several counter-demonstrators arrested.
Marriage between people of the same sex is not legal in this Balkan country of less than 7 million inhabitants, where homophobia is deeply rooted despite some progress against discrimination. “This is about more than just gay pride. We are fighting for the future of this country”summed up Luka Mazzanti Jovicevic, a Serbian protester.
“I’ve been to a lot of Pride but this one is a little more stressful than the others”said Yasmin Benoit, model and activist. “I’m from the UK, where everything is more supportive and it’s more commercial (…). But here, it really deserves a Pride »he added, referring to the fight in society at the beginning of the movement.
The ban on the march has alarmed rights NGOs. This is a “shameful surrender, and total dedication to intolerance and threats of unlawful violence”according to Graeme Reid, director of the LGBTQ+ rights program at Human Rights Watch.
Serbia has been the subject of intense international pressure: more than 20 embassies, including those of the United States, France, Germany and Japan, called on it in a joint statement to reconsider its decision.
Serbia has been a candidate for EU membership for a decade, but member states have raised concerns about its human rights record over the years. At least fifteen members of the European Parliament joined Pride on Saturday to show their solidarity.
Pride marches in 2001 and then 2010 were targeted by the far right and marred by violence. Since 2014, Pride has been held without significant incidents, but under strong police protection.
Last weekend, thousands of people, motorcycle gangs, Orthodox priests and far-right nationalists, took to the streets to demand the cancellation of the parade.