A peaceful walk for equal rights replaces the controversial Pride Parade in Serbia.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 03/10/13
Serbian riot police guard the entrance of a park where the Pride Parade was to be held in Belgrade on September 28th. Authorities banned the parade for the third consecutive year. [AFP]
Despite a ban by the government on this year's Pride Parade in Belgrade, hundreds of citizens and human rights group representatives held a peaceful walk supporting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community last week.
The walk started in front of the government building and finished in front of parliament on Friday (September 27th), and took place without incident.
"I have mixed feelings," Dragana Mihajlovic, 33, an architect from Belgrade who took part in the walk, told SETimes. "I'm disappointed since the state couldn't manage the parade, but I'm also very proud on this walk since it is truly peaceful and it could be a sign that Serbian citizens have changed something in their mindset and that some smaller radical groups are causing problems."
The spontaneous walk took place as Belgrade officials were cancelling the following day's scheduled Pride Parade for the third consecutive year, citing security concerns.
This year's parade – and its cancellation – carried heightened importance because Serbia is attempting to earn a start date for EU accession negotiations. Establishing and implementing an anti-discrimination strategy is a key component of Serbia's efforts on its path towards EU accession. Two of the 35 EU accession chapters cover fundamental rights and justice issues.
"The banning of the [Pride] parade, which occurred for the third time, will certainly be reflected in the report on Serbia's progress towards European integration, which should be released in mid-October," Michael Davenport, head of the EU delegation in Serbia, told the daily newspaper Politika.
A September survey by Ipsos Strategic Marketing showed that 63 percent of Serbian citizens support the LGBT community's right to hold the walk, while 31 percent were against it. The remaining 6 percent had no opinion.
"Once we realise that all people are equal in their rights and that the LGBT gathering is not much different than some workers union gathering, Serbia will be ready for the Pride Parade," Valerija Nikolic-Jovanovic, 64, a retired accountant in Belgrade, told SETimes.
Goran Miletic, Civil Rights Defenders programme director for the Western Balkans and one of the parade's organisers, said citizens' opinions and support is very important and should not be swayed by official's talk of massive disorders and possible deaths.
"We were shocked, surprised and disappointed. The spontaneous gathering is protesting against the prohibition. It passed peacefully and we didn't disturb anyone," Miletic told SETimes.
President Tomislav Nikolic said that Serbia should start preparing to hold the Pride Parade next year in order to keep the country on its EU path.
Nikolic noted that under the constitution, all citizens are guaranteed the right to assemble, and that is one of the principles for which Serbia has been advocating as part of the fight for human rights.
"All citizens, regardless of their sexual or other orientation, should enjoy equal rights, and the state should commit to that in an adequate way," Nikolic said.
The first and only Pride Parade in Belgrade was held on October 10th 2010. The event was marred by violence, leaving 57 people injured in a clash with anti-gay protesters.
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