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Serbian Police Clash With Anti-Gay Rioters at Belgrade Pride

Jim Burroway

October 10th, 2010

Anti-gay extremists and neo-nazis clash with Serbian riot police.The first major Gay Pride parade in Serbia since 2002 triggered massive riots as anti-gay extremists clashed with thousands of Serbian riot police who were deployed to protect the marchers in downtown Belgrade today.

Rioters chanted “The hunt has begun!” and “death to homosexuals!” as they set fire to parked cars, smashed store windows and overturned garbage dumpsters in several of the repeated clashes with thousands of police officers, who had sealed off the streets around the march.

According to the Associated Press, rioters also fired shots and threw Molotov cocktails at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party. Rioters also attacked other political party headquarters and the state television station, as well as other unrelated targets in other parts of the city. Gangs of skinheads also reportedly hijacked a bus, ordered the passengers and drivers out, and pushed the bus down a steep street where it crashed into a pole at a main square. Looting also broke out in several shops downtown. Most of the violence took place after the Pride march had ended.

Dragan Djilas, the mayor of the Serbian capital, put the estimated damage at more than one million euros.

According to police, 78 police officers and 17 civilians were injured, 101 were detained and 53 remain in custody. Police say that at least one gay rights activist had been beaten unconscious. According to UK Gay News’ Andy Harley, who was in Belgrade to attend the march, a participant from Switzerland has been taken to a hospital with injuries after being attacked in the street two hours after the Pride march ended.

Pride participants march behind a banner reading, "Together we can!"

Pride participants march behind a banner reading, "Together we can!"

Pride organizer Lazar Pavlovic called the Pride march a “historic event,” and noted that the violence and immense security measures illustrated the dangers that gay people in Serbia face every day.

“It is a shame for me to march, to stand for what I am, and to have thousands of cops protect me from hysterical nationalists,” said Milena, 36, a lesbian activist.

Susanne Simon-Paunovic, a German married to a Serb who attended the rally said: “It was more like death march. The atmosphere was terrible.”

According to AFP, about a thousand people took part in the Pride march. The parade participants included several international observers as well as a well-known Serb actress, Mirjana Karanovic. Speakers at the event included the European Union’s delegation chief in Serbia Vincent Degert and Human Rights Minister Svetozar Čiplić.

One participant identified only as Nikola, said, “After the beatings, after living in fear, this is what we needed, to become visible.” That visibility continues to be a source of danger for LGBT people. Serbian ultra-nationalist groups threatened to photograph those taking part in the march and post them on a website for retribution.

Belgrade’s B92 radio and television reports that after the Pride march ended, police escorted participants safely out of the area. UK Gay News’ Andy Harley said that the area cordoned off by police was peaceful, “with most of the Pride participants unaware of the battles going on.”

Serbian Riot Police follow as the Gay Pride Parade moves along a street in Belgrade

Serbian Riot Police follow as the Gay Pride Parade moves along a street in Belgrade

The Serbian Orthodox Church condemned the parade in a statement on Friday, warning that such a move would “provoke others to act violently“:

“Behind this verbal triumphalism and boastful public appearance and the gay marchers, is actually internal anguish, despair and grief of the marchers, a clown cry for lost moral and spiritual balance and existential insecurity,” [Metropolitan] Amfilohije told weekly Pečat.

“One should never lose sight of eternal symbolism of Sodom and Gomorrah: all towns and people in them were destroyed, burned in sulfur and fire precisely because they turned natural use of male and female into perverted and unnatural,” he pointed out.

Orthodox priest speaking to anti-gay rioters.

Orthodox priest speaking to anti-gay rioters.

Amfilohije also condemned violence, saying that “”violence does not cure or triumph over evil, but instead multiplies it.” B92 has published a photo of an Orthodox priest speaking to rioters surrounded by police. B92 does not indicate whether the priest was trying to calm the situation or inflame it.

The parade, which was the first one held since 2002, was seen as a test of Serbia’s readiness to become a more modern and open society after years of warfare in the 1990s that was fueled by nationalism and ethnic hatred. The 2002 event, which drew 300 participants, was also marred by massive violence. Unknown attackers beat up Mario Kovač, the Croatian theater director who was to serve as Master of Ceremonies. Skinheads also attacked a club popular with the gay community, beating several of the patrons before police arrived to break up the fighting.

Smaller pride gatherings were held with little fanfare in 2003 through 2005. Last year’s attempt at a more prominent parade was canceled after the government said it could not guarantee the safety of participants.

Serbian president Boris Tadic condemned this year’s violence and vowed, “Serbia will guarantee human rights for all its citizens, regardless of the differences among them, and no attempts to revoke these freedoms with violence will be allowed.”

If there is an encouraging sign, it is that the police were vigorous in protecting the rights of LGBT people to hold a peaceful march in the capital. Serbia has aspirations for joining the European Union, and its observance of human rights and protection of minorities is a crucial element to its possible acceptance into the Union.

Update: One Pride marcher praised Belgrade police, saying, “The police were without question the heroes of the day. It makes me angry that some of them were injured, some of them seemingly seriously hurt.” Linda Freimane, a co-chair of International Gay and Lesbian Association (IGLA) Europe’s Executive Board, also praised Serb authorities: “Today, the Serbian authorities proved they are serious in their respect for everyone’s right to exercise their fundamental rights, and for European integration.”

Comments

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Joe in California
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

Serbia has applied to be part of the EU. This is where the pressure needs to be put.

Tom in Lazybrook
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

Joe, Thats the only reason the pride parade even took place. We are putting pressure on the EU.

I’ve sent a note to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s press office to see if they can clarify the photo and explain the following:

1) Who is this man?
2) What is he doing at the protest?
3) As he doesn’t appear to be telling the protesters to go home (the only acceptable reason for a priest to be at a violent protest on the same side as those comitting violence), what is he doing. It looks like he is leading them in prayer. I sincerely hope that he was leading a condemnation of the protesters actions. I seriously doubt that.
4) As the newscasts and stories clearly state that many of the participants believed that they were serving the ‘religious nationalist’cause (which in a Serbian context can only mean serving the interest of the Serbian Orthodox Church), what concrete steps are they planning to better communicate the Serbian Orthodox Church’s condemnation of the violence and those participating in it. Russia Today has more religious iconography by the protesters in its’ webvideo. (not priests, but certainly evidenciary of the fact that whatever statement made by the SOC, it wasn’t properly communicated)
5) A request that the Serbian Orthodox Church order its’ priests to not be present at any protest of Gay pride next year, citing the massive levels of violence that the perpetrators believe to be tacitly endorsed by the church.
6) A request for an investigation of the individual priest involved and if warrented, a public condemnation and sanction by the church publicized in a forum widely seen by football hooligans and Serbian nationalists.
7) A review of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s links and pastoral care practices to the skinhead, nationalist, and football communities. The objective should be to stress non-violence and human dignity, not imflammatory rhetoric.

Tom in Lazybrook
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

In addition, I think that another route to employ would be to determine what football team slogans’ the violent protesters are singing and attempt to bar the team from international competition through UEFA unless the team and its’ players actively and forthrightly condemns homophobia publically and bans those participating in the violence from attending their matches or events. EU travel bans (which would be devastating for any Serbian, even those who are poor as they frequently need to go to the EU for basic necessities) should be applied to anyone convicted of violence at this event. I think a Buju Banton style campaign of ‘stop the violence’ etc. might be in order to embarrass the Serbian football teams in Europe. But that would take some research that I don’t have access to as of yet.

Rob San Diego
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

“The Serbian Orthodox Church condemned the parade in a statement on Friday, warning that such a move would “provoke others to act violently“”….

Well ya, if you tell people to riot and be hateful bigots, then what else do you think they are going to do, go home and bake a cake?

It’s the same problem we got here in America. When these religious nutt-heads go out spouting their hatred towards us to their flock of sheep, it leads to gay bashing and teen suicides.

How is this for a proposal, let’s play wife swap on a national level. We will take all of our LGBT brothers and sisters from over there, and in return they can have all of our bigoted idiots from over here. Win-win right?

I’m curious what their teen suicide rate is over there. I think the ethnic cleansing went the wrong way over there.

Tom in Lazybrook
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

Rob,

While I am very upset with some segments of the Serbian community, I think the larger point is that there were 5000 policemen trying to protect LGBT rights in Belgrade today. many of them were injured, several seriously.

The government is trying to do the right thing. It isn’t trying hard enough, and we will give them another chance next year. I think I’m gonna go to Belgrade next October.

Ethnic cleansing is bad period.

I think the proper thing to do is to put pressure on those who appear to be cheerleading the hatred of Gays in Serbia. And the good news is that they appear to be readily identifiable.

So lets concentrate on the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian football team’s role in this. Lets make them accountable for their supporters or those who think that they are acting in their interest. Lets make the Serbian Orthodox Church defend its actions.

Look, Serbia is going to have to solve its ‘religious nationalist’ problem before it can gain EU membership. Fact.

Tom in Lazybrook
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

Furthermore, Gay pride in Bosnia didn’t go over very well either. And Kosvars and Albanians have serious problems too.

The key is to hold everyone to the same basic standard so that Gay rights doesn’t become some sort of Balkan nationalism issue.

I would suggest having a Gay Pride parade in Pristina the weekend prior or after the Belgrade event next year. That way, if one nation misbehaves and the other doesn’t, it can be a major embarassment to the nation that misbehaves in EU and international circles.

Regan DuCasse
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

Selma, Lord…Selma.

‘Nuff said.

TampaZeke
October 10th, 2010 | LINK

The upside-down rainbow flags may be unintentional but they really seem appropriate for the occasion. I can’t imagine a community being in greater distress and crisis.

These people are heroes! My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

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