Belgrade officials have banned a pride parade amid security concerns, as police continue to manage threats from ultranationalist groups.
By Lily Lynch for the Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 04/10/12
Security forces deployed in front of the US Embassy in Belgrade. [Lily Lynch/SETimes]
Serbian authorities mobilised 2,000 riot police in Belgrade and stood guard at the US Embassy on Wednesday (October 3rd) as threats from hooligans and ultranationalist groups forced the cancellation of a gay pride parade for the second consecutive year.
Security forces took places around a cultural centre hosting a photo exhibit organised as a part of the pride week activities, as well as in central Belgrade and in front of the American embassy.
A small group of protestors gathered near the cultural centre to sing hymns in protest of the controversial exhibit, which some said was offensive to Christians. Despite threats from ultranationalist groups, there was no violence.
Officials canceled a parade scheduled for Saturday and all other public gatherings that day, citing security concerns. In his announcement, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said the government feared the event would turn violent. The 2010 parade resulted in clashes between ultranationalists and police in which more than 100 people were injured. Last year's planned parade was also canceled.
Goran Miletic, one of the organisers of the parade, said that the photo exhibit went smoothly despite the controversy because the government committed security to ensure its protection. "It was not difficult at all to secure this event," he told SETimes. "For the police it was the kind of normal work they do, and they did it very well because there was political will."
The cancellation of the pride parade has drawn criticism from human rights groups, and is expected to come as a disappointment to the EU, for whom the pride parade was seen as a test of Serbia's commitment to human rights and the political will to protect vulnerable groups from violence.
More than 2,000 police and security forces were called after threats from hooligans and ultranationalist groups. [Lily Lynch/SETimes]
Some claim that the Serbian government's decision to ban the parade had more to do with political maneuvering than with public safety concerns.
"The key reason behind such a decision was not a security assessment but a political one," Filip Edjus, a security studies lecturer at the University of Belgrade, told SETimes. "Security-wise, right-wing groups that were threatening with large scale violence could easily be neutralized. Most people in Serbia don't look favourably at the gay march and the government in Serbia simply didn't want to be associated with something so unpopular."
While the police have been successful in containing any violence during this week's pride activities, some have criticised the police union for its political stance on the pride parade. The union released a statement saying that the parade should be banned, and some security experts have questioned whether or not the police should decide who they will and will not protect in the line of duty.
Sonja Stojanovic from the Belgrade Centre for Security Studies said that politicians are responsible for communicating the necessity of protecting all citizens to the police.
"The police know best what they can do and how they can do it, but politicians should be the ones to tell them who they should be protecting and for what reason," she told SETimes.