Serbia banning EuroPride 2022 shows hard-won progress for LGBTQ+ rights is under threat
Four days before the streets of Belgrade were to host EuroPride 2022, LGBTQ+ activists received a letter from the Serbian Interior Ministry informing them that the proposed route for the pride march had been rejected and asking them to submit a revised itinerary. The problem? The request had to have been given to the police the day before to be taken into consideration. This therefore amounted to an effective ban.
Serbian LGBTQ+ activists told me that despite this, they will follow the original route as planned. In more ways than one, it feels like history is repeating itself.
In 2019, Belgrade was elected by members of the European Association of Pride Organizers to host EuroPride, a pan-European Pride event held annually in a different European city. This was a major first for EuroPride: the first time the event would be held outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and a major recognition of how Belgrade Pride has overcome a history of violence and violence. bans to become a regular and safe occurrence every year since 2014.
The decision to effectively ban the march echoes 2009, when Belgrade Pride was first banned. Then – as now – the Interior Ministry informed the activists that they would not be allowed to march through central Belgrade, but could use a route through Ušće Park at the outskirts of town.
The march was authorized the following year but was met with rioting and extreme violence from homophobic protesters, leaving over 100 people injured. The violence was later used as an excuse to ban the event between 2011 and 2013.
The political tension between Kosovo and Serbia was also used as an excuse. But after the Brussels Accord was signed between the two countries in 2013, the EU lobbied Serbia on LGBTQ+ issues, warning the ban could affect the country’s bid for membership and Belgrade Pride resumed in 2014.
Prohibition as a delicate political game
But this year Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić called for the event to be canceled, again citing tensions with Kosovo as well as food and energy shortages as reasons. Vučić insists that he is not homophobic, citing his choice of an openly gay Ana Brnabić as prime minister and a gay family member as evidence of his good faith:
If I thought Ana Brnabić was evil, she wouldn’t be where she is. I have a wife in my extended family who is gay and I would never trade her for anything else, I don’t think there’s any harm. A lot of my colleagues are gay and they help me so much that I can’t tell you.
Vučić also blamed the anti-Pride marches of recent weeks for his decision, saying: “It’s not the question of whether they [extremists] are stronger, but you just can’t do it all at once, and that’s it. I’m not happy about it, but we can’t.
What happens now?
EuroPride organizers said they would “use all legal means available to overturn this decision”, insisting that whatever the outcome, activists would gather outside the parliament building on Saturday. This will effectively pose to the Serbian police the thorny question of “when does a rally become a march?” And no doubt any LGBTQ+ gathering will be met with counter-protests and the threat of violence.
The intense levels of public homophobia in Serbia and the decision to effectively ban this year’s march are a setback for LGBTQ+ activists who have worked hard to make Pride an annual event in Belgrade since its reinstatement in 2014.
As I explained in detail in my book: Coming in: Sexual Politics and EU accession in Serbia, this fight came at a cost, where activists felt they had to essentially set aside pro-LGBTQ+ political reforms, because the battle of just being able to openly declare their sexual identity at a Pride event took all their effort.
For the government, meanwhile, the issue of LGBTQ+ rights means more in terms of Serbia’s bid for EU membership – a form of “pinkwashing” to present the country as tolerant and fully accepting of minorities without improving basically their rights. But critics say that while having an openly gay prime minister gives the impression that Serbia is becoming more open and tolerant, Brnabić herself has said she doesn’t want to be “called a gay prime minister.” of Serbia” and said that she wanted to give priority to other policies. equal rights reforms for LGBTQ+ people.
There is also little evidence that anti-discrimination legislation – passed in 2009 as part of the EU’s visa liberalization process – is taken seriously. Implementation of the law remains minimal with very few court cases and LGBTQ+ people are still reluctant to report. Moreover, little is being done to improve court practices regarding non-discrimination cases or to improve police treatment of LGBTQ+ victims.
Since the reinstatement of the annual Pride march in 2014, activists have worked hard to bring LGBTQ+ rights and politics to the forefront. Now the ban has undermined that. And if there is violence when activists come together to challenge the ban, it gives political opponents an excuse to ban it again next year, if politically convenient.