Belgrade Gay Pride Parade Committee: Capable to Deliver, or Not?

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Guest Commentary by Vlatko Salaj
Coordinator of LGBT Vojvodina

Regarding all the Belgrade Pride Parade sensationalism yet again this year, I cannot hope not to show my full reservation, just like the last time.

Unfortunately, years are passing by, but nothing is changed, and the whole LGBT thing in Serbia just seems like a trendy way to make a quick buck, not only for activists coming from LGBT flavour, but also many straight men and women, selling their “liberal” viewpoint for some nice foreign funds, while “representing” our gay community.

What is even more disturbing is that there are some conflicts of interest present also, so, while they work on Pride, they make governmental policies, which are not so gay friendly.  Just insane and lovely.  Like Serbia.

Such a negative attitude coming from a human right activist, especially a member of an ethnic minority and a gay, does sound strange, I am absolutely aware of that.  Critique of one’s own movement usually doesn’t end well for the critic in question, but I've been there and done that, so I don’t care much.  What I care more about are the facts and the lameness of the whole thing.

In short, if one really takes some time to research the entire process and scratch a bit deeper than skin-deep approach international NGOs usually take, one could, at least to a part, grasp my reluctance to the whole Belgrade Pride idea, at least the way it is done.

I will try to be short and summarize my thoughts in a few points.  Please, take notice that I am in a full support for various human rights, and I long for time when true equality will finally come. So, while my colleagues, who may even be receiving your funds as we speak, will call me a freak, lunatic or whatever they can think of hoping to silence me, my words speak for themselves.

In general, my reservations are highly technical in nature.  So, I am not trying to deny the parade doctrine.  I was involved into staging a Pride Day in Novi Sad in 2007, so I do believe a pride parade has its place in our fight.

That being said, these words should be read simply as a base helping to find an answer to the situation one could summarize into one simple question:

“Why, after 15 years of internationally boosted funding of LGBT rights in Serbia, there have been no change in prevailing social attitudes towards LGBT population, which is still a ghettoized scape-goat, either when hiding in their rooms, behind an armoured strong-wall while taking a short street-walk, or during a political fight and European promises?”

My answer: wrong leadership – and addressed in 15 points:

1. Pride 2009 was a ‘mocumentary’ of great fun: many organisations were announcing the Pride Parade, months before happening; it all seemed like a devised PR campaign for an official contractor, the one winning a money chase, and “getting the girl”.

2. Pride 2009 was also a great dividing: just a few weeks after it finally formed, the pride committee was sacking members; even the organisation, initiator of the entire thing, was banned from the committee.  Seems they had the leadership problem.  A surprise?  Not really.

3. The official spokesperson of, well the final [once they finished their quarrels and sacking] Pride 2009 committee, was straight.  Other than that, the board had 10% men, and very little experience with anything public, yet alone a pride parade.

4. Pride 2009 had many issues with the official name of the event, adding to the confusion: it was “Belgrade Pride” first with no translation to Serbian, then “Povorka ponosa” [Pride March], which was highly unwelcome to the Serbian public, starting a general outcry, and finally “Parada ponosa” [Pride Parade], which wasn’t loved by organisers because it sounded ... well, I guess, too gay.

5. As for the Pride’s declaration?  Well, there was no call for LGBT rights what-so-ever, no marriages, nothing ... the entire declaration had no LGBT wording at all, it was highly generic and uninspirational.  In short, like a summary of communist manifesto.

6. Finally, Pride 2009 was cancelled one day before the event.  It wasn’t banned, it was cancelled by the organisers, since the ban never officially came, only the so-called “ultimatum” did [does it sound a bit unreal, cancelling the whole thing so easily?]; many international activists considered cancellation a very bad move, and thought that the entire thing could have been handled better, or at least, could had been done at proposed location [which is, in fact, next to the Palace of Serbia], and not some outskirts.  In my opinion, this was a true uniquely identifying evidence that people doing the entire thing have their hearts in their sleeves, and should do something else.

7. Pride 2010 started in almost the same way: a few fake announcements, never adequately dealt with by organisers; a committee nobody wanted to be part of and a complete lack of transparency.

8. Pride 2010 brought us new people; the organisers from Pride 2009 were not involved in it at all; and this time previously-sacked people were having a committee chair; it was a time to change fund-raisers, I guess, after last year's total embarrassment.

9. However, new people, but no new wisdom.  All the previous mistakes have been repeated: bad PR, late planning, rushing, bad organisation, quarrels... it almost looked like a kid’s play, not handling of a serious event.  If it hadn’t been for the pro-EU government, trying to please the world by providing a war-like protection, we would be talking about body counts now, I'm quite sure.  But this is not really about what government did... let me just say god bless the EU.

10. Were straight people leading Pride 2010?  Of course.  The final committee had their share of straight “professionals”.  And what about Pride’s official declaration?  Well, let me summarise – it was all about how LGBT people have a right to walk a street.  Other things, zipp.  No marriage, no real-life equality, not even a call to government to start a dialogue on those things ... it was a way of insuring government will play ball, by not requesting too much.  “Nice” compromise.  We got our walk, and they got our “silencio”.

11. In any case, the result was absolutely devastating for Serbian LGBT people: it showed that not only we are hated by the majority, but also that we need greater protection just to conduct a walk on a street; approximately seven policemen for a every individual LGBT person; the city were riots, and the HQs of regime’s party burned.  Fact: the same society as in 2001, only under different rule.

12. The accomplishment: a LGBT bell jar, walking through a ghostly street.  What I find most disturbing is that organisers called this a success.  Well, for a ruling pro-EU political party, maybe it was.  They managed getting some people from point A to point B, while showing they “care”.  For most LGBT people in Serbia, it was a mockery, a lame excuse for a pride parade.

13. Pride 2011 started with the same mistakes again: quarrels who will be and who won't be a member of the committee marked the start of the whole thing this year again [truly secretarial people I guess], and it all seemed like history repeating itself; last year’s organisers dropped out, yet again.

14. Results, so far, are simple: again, we have new people on the committee [experience anyone?]; again, we have postponed, late and unfortunate announcement of a Pride Parade with many PR failures, and the public is stressed out.  Again, we have no transparency [there's only a single working page on the official Website.  – I find this just embarrassing, since it’s September already]; and again, the entire work on the event is done in a rush and with little adequate planning – what did they wait for?  Let me guess – funds? Let all the activism shine like gold!

15. Unlike the previous year, government is not so interested into making the whole thing work again.  Having repeated brutality on streets of Belgrade, while talks about Kosovo are at their fullest will only show the world how barbaric we are, especially since they have only a few months left for ruling before upcoming elections; and the whole thing “we support human rights but have nothing to say more about pride” approach just makes me wonder what we'll have this year.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if they opt to Moscow’s “public security over human rights” approach.  Considering that the reactive forces are in their fullest [hoping to win on upcoming elections] and their tendency to make everyone pay for last year’s inability to stop the event, the whole pressure-cooker could just blow up, right into our faces.  Well, at least, we can’t say it’s a boring time to live.

So, where is the wisdom?  No where.  It didn’t even exist in the first place.  It’s all just a copy-cat’s trial and failure.  Well, at least, they get paid.  And somebody gets beaten.  And world reacts in astonishment.  Not really what I find necessary for a decent, domestic life with the man I love.

It looks like we need to go back to the basics: the story of the fisherman and the beggar.

I’ll leave you decide who’s who.

■ Read the original article on LGBT Vojvodina HERE

This commentary, part of our occasional ‘Opposing View’ series, is virtually as written, in English, by the author.  A handful of words have been changed, and grammar/spelling has been corrected.  The commentary was originally published on the Website of LGBT Vojvodina and is republished here with permission.


Serbian Authorities Urged to Ensure the Necessary Protection, Support of Belgrade Gay Pride.   With prominent Serbian politicians questioning whether the police should protect October’s Belgrade Gay Pride, the International Lesbian and Gay Association – Europe (ILGA-Europe) has today called on the Serbian authorities to provide the necessary protection and support for the event.  (UK Gay News, August 29, 2011)

Belgrade Pride Unaffected as Anti-Gay Protesters Battle Against Police. By Andy Harley in Belgrade. There was tight security at Belgrade Pride today – the first since 2001 which saw participants violently attacked by far-right homophobic elements.  And the result today was that Gay Pride went ahead peacefully, with some 1,000 taking part in the march through a small part of the centre of the Serbian capital.  However, there were violent clashes elsewhere in the city.   (UK Gay News, October 10, 2010)

Belgrade Gay Pride: The March Went On.  Photos from Belgrade Pride 2010.  (UK Gay News, October 10, 2010)

Belgrade Gay Pride: Serbian Government Must Take a Stand Against Exclusion and Intolerance – Amnesty.  The Serbian authorities must ensure that the 2010 Belgrade Pride – the first in nearly 10 years – goes ahead unobstructed on October 10 in central Belgrade, Amnesty International said this afternoon.  (UK Gay News, September 27, 2010)

Authorities in Belgrade Pledge Protection for Gay Pride as Hate Graffiti Appears in City.  Within hours of last week’s announcement of the date for Gay Pride in Belgrade, hate graffiti started to appear in the Serbian capital.  “We are waiting for you” is one such example reported by Belgrade television station B92.  (UK Gay News, September 13, 2010)

Gay American Avoids Belgrade Thugs in City Street. The chairperson of InterPride’s committee on International LGBTI Human and Civil Rights spoke today of how he was followed on the streets of  central Belgrade yesterday evening and how it brought home to him just how Serbian society had to  live “in a constant state of fear of thugs”.  Openly gay William Urich, who was attending Belgrade Pride as an official “observer” for InterPride, told UK Gay News that he decided to go out and explore the downtown area around 6pm. (UK Gay News, September 21, 2009)

Belgrade Gay Pride Off, But Sweden Hosts ‘Mini-Pride’ at Ambassador’s Residence.  There was not a gay person, let alone a banner, in sight in the square in front of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade city centre at lunchtime on Sunday.  The Gay Pride Parade had been banned by officialdom, or cancelled by the organisers, depending on which ‘spin’ one subscribes to.  (UK Gay News, September 21, 2009)

Belgrade Gay Pride Cancelled 24 Hours Before Event Because of “Security Concerns”.  Nikolai Baev, a co-organiser of Moscow Pride, arrived in Belgrade at lunchtime looking forward to taking part in his very first Pride march.  But when he got to his hotel his excitement turned to sorrow when he learned that tomorrow’s Belgrade Pride march had been suddenly cancelled by the organisers when the Serbian Government announced this morning that the parade in the city centre could not go ahead but offered an alternative location in the suburbs.  (UK Gay News, September 19, 2009)

Gay March Plan Tests Serb Feelings.  By Mark Lowen.  A gay parade planned to take place in Belgrade on Sunday has been cancelled, due to security concerns (BBC News, September 19 2009)




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Posted: 1 September 2011 at 18:30 (UK time)


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