How did the Belgrade Pride fail?

by Predrag M. Azdejković

A few among us remember that the Pride Procession was to take place in Belgrade a month ago. That’s not hot news any longer, neither for the media, nor for civil sector, nor for the state. The media are seeking new scandalous themes, the civil sector took a walk against violence and turned to some other oppressed minority, while the state swept the whole affair under a rug, exactly where the state wants it to stay. All of the events leading to, and the events happening after the time for which the Procession was planned, have shown that it was still no time for equality, contrary to the event’s motto. So, what now? Should the gay-lesbian movement (currently on the floor, knocked-out) give up, or should it gather enough strength to stand up and continue fighting? Let’s pause for a minute, analyse what happened and learn from our own mistakes.
Why do you say “Square,” when “Confluence” is what you mean?

The day before it was to happen, the Pride Procession was cancelled. During the press conference on Sept. 19th, it was announced that the police was not able to secure the gathering in the city centre, and, thus, proposed to move the Procession to the Confluence, i.e. the square in front of the Palace “Serbia”. Organisers rejected the proposal and announced that the event was, de facto, banned. One of the reasons behind the organisers’ rejection were the impossibility of rescheduling the event with the police, this time at another location proposed by the police itself, since the organisers were informed of the proposal two days before the event was scheduled. Also, the proposed location was deemed inadequate because of its low public visibility. The rejection opened space for the discussion whether the organisers actually cared for the Pride Procession to occur at all, especially after Svetozar Čiplić, Minister of Human and Minorities’ Rights, said in a TV show that the organisers had been informed of alternative locations a week ahead of the planned event. Also, the Procession’s visibility would be low even in the city centre, especially since five thousand policemen were to protect it. Yet, in either case, the Parade would be extremely visible in the media since more than a hundred journalists were accredited to cover it. The organizers yielded numerous times during the whole process in order for the Procession to happen, but the aforementioned case was too much for them? Or, was it just a good excuse?

Why do you say “Procession,” when “Parade” is what you mean?

Concessions and changes were many, while some of them threatened even the idea of Pride Procession itself. The public has been using the term Gay Parade, or Pride Parade, since 2001. Organisers decided to change the manifestation’s name into Pride Procession, since the word parade is of negative connotation in the public. Somehow, it’s naïve to think that the word parade would not be used any longer just because the Organising Committee decided so. Such a manifestation will be always be a gay parade, however it’s called. This cannot be evaded, and thus needs to be accepted as reality. Organisers were mostly worried about nudity being linked to the parade, so they requested from the domestic media not to show nude participants of gay parades in the West, since there would be no nudity in the Serbian one, and warned the potentially scantily dressed participants that they would be asked to leave the event. Beside the word parade, some also found the word pride problematic, since it’s often commented that it’s stupid to be proud of one’s sexual orientation. Organisers attempted to stifle these criticisms with an explanation that sexual orientation was not what was addressed, but pride with regard to the Stonewall Rebellion when members of the New York’s LGBT community rose against police repression and societal homophobia in 1969. You can only imagine how much the event which took place forty years ago in a country far away means to LGBT persons in current Serbia! Many of them are proud of their sexual orientation, as a reaction to perpetual scorn and belittlement due to their otherness. It should also be noted that some politicians and state officials conditioned their support with different demands, such as that there could be no talk of love, sex, or nudity, directly threatening the identity of the manifestation itself. The state’s and officials’ support was very important to the organisers, so they made concessions. That was their greatest mistake, since they were eventually deceived.

Size doesn’t matter, but numbers do

Vesna Pešić, while speaking in the weekly radio show „Peščanik“, said „that the Parade wasn’t well accepted even as an idea, there was no support, you saw the politicians’ reaction. They, more or less, distanced themselves from it, the citizens’ support also lacked, and, I must say this, not even the gay population intended to show up in a large number. If we consider the average size of a gay population in any state, here should be between two hundred and three hundred thousand of them. I wonder how ten thousand hooligans would handle half of Serbia’s gay population. Thus, the gay population wasn’t ready to come out, the state can’t take care of it all. If you recall the nineties’ demonstrations, there would be a hundred thousand of us protesting, our number is extremely important. One’s number is very important to the enemy.” Pride Procession had no support from the LGBT population from the start, and that support declined further with time. The first upheaval was caused by the Gay-Straight Alliance’s expulsion from the Organising Committee although that organisation initiated the idea. Next, Queeria Centre left in the beginning of September, causing an additional upheaval. Support also declined when the organisers announced that scantily dressed participants would be asked to leave, mobile phones and bottled water would be taken away, participants would be thoroughly searched and high heels would be forbidden.

We are primarily Serbs, although faggots

Decline in support was also caused by the conflict between LGBT groups which lasted throughout the organising process, and which became the media’s focal point. Instead of reporting on the Pride Procession and LGBT population’s problems, the media focused on the conflict. This fact is primarily the organisers’ failure, who showed no knowledge of the domestic media’s inner workings. The Organising Committee announced at the end of May that Gay-Straight Alliance was expelled since its president had announced that Parade would have been held on Aug. 23rd without consulting the others in the Committee. The Committee communicated that this act had seriously endangered the participants’ and organisers’ security and that Gay-Straight Alliance had shown that its political ambitions and self-promotion were of more importance than the whole LGBT population’s interests. Gay-lesbian Info Centre (GLIC) sent numerous calls for LGBT groups’ reconciliation, but these calls were ignored. Finally, Queeria Centre left the Committee (“cultural and art programmes’ deficiency leaves us with no space within which we could be engaged in this manifestation’s organisation.”) The LGBT activist scene, although weak in Serbia, divided and shaken by conflicts, decided to organise the Pride Procession which had no support from the majority of the LGBT population, and, thus, was doomed to failure from the beginning. The conflict is ongoing a month after the unheld Pride Procession, with no will for its transformation. A meeting, initiated by the Organising Committee, was held on Friday, Oct. 16th, with the goal of establishing the Platform for Fight for LGBT persons’ Human Rights, to which “unsuitable” LGBT organisations were not invited.

You don’t say!

The Pride Procession’s cancellation and beatings of foreigners in Belgrade was perceived in the public as the state’s capitulation against hooligans. In response, two events directed against violence were organised, Walk against violence (Youth Coalition Against Violence) and Citizens’ Response To Violence.   Although the Pride Procession’s cancellation was one of the reasons for these events, this becomes irrelevant after Brice Taton’s death. No media reports mentioned Pride Procession, although its cancellation was discussed in the aforementioned gatherings. It should be noted that the Walk’s route was similar to the cancelled Pride Procession’s, while the Citizens’ Response To Violence was almost cancelled and moved to the Confluence, but, after Ivica Dačić intervened, it was still held in the Park of Pioneers. Why does the police approach differ with regard to these similar events which were held subsequently? The answer is quite simple. Youth Coalition Against Violence comprises of, among others, junior organisations of parties in power. These organisations walked and protested against state officials (who come from those parties!) who were not capable of protecting foreign and domestic citizens from violence. Simultaneously, the initiative for banning of organisations which promote violence (Obraz, Serbian National Movement “1389”, certain football fans groups – Serbian Unity “Dveri” disappeared from the list overnight) was kicked off. But, will these walks against violence and banning of these groups repel violence from the Serbian society enough so that Pride Procession becomes a possibility, or was it just a show for the EU eyes?

None of this would have happened if we left for Holland right away

So, when will Belgrade have its own gay parade, Pride Parade, Pride Procession, call it what you want? When the Organising Committee wins a gold medal at a sports competition and becomes a select group of national heroes? When we collectively join a party and thus win a right to walk the city centre? When we finish fast-paced martial arts courses, or when we finally leave gyms beefed up enough to disseminate enough fear and terror?
LGBT population and LGBT groups are not currently capable of carrying out such a task. This will be possible only when we become strong and courageous enough to walk the streets massively, and when domestic politicians stop being ashamed of protecting basic human rights. Most importantly, the Serbian society should not glorify and promote violence as an acceptable behaviour. Whether we will ever reach this point depends on all of us, citizens.

This text was nominated for Lorenzo Natali 2010 Award