For the first time since 2010, the Serbian government has given the green light to a gay pride march.
In response to mounting pressure from the European Union, the Balkan state demonstrates its commitment to protecting the freedom and human rights of its citizens.
Arguably, the Serbian government has reason to exercise caution. Serbia’s last gay pride march ended disastrously in 2010 when organised right wing and anti-gay movements attacked the parade, hurling, bricks, fireworks and even Molotov cocktails at participants. The 5000 armed police providing security for the event responded with liberal use of tear gas and rubber bullets, but were unable to prevent rioters from setting both the government headquarters and the state television building ablaze.
Days later, Jelko Kacin, the official responsible for the EU’s evaluation of Serbia judged that the Serbian government’s failure to control the situation would undoubtedly impact negatively on their country’s EU membership bid.
In contrast to these past events, the recent September 2014 march transpired to be an entirely peaceful affair, despite still being characterised by an intimidating armed police presence.
Hundreds of Pride marchers took to Belgrade’s streets and the event passed without incident. The completion of a successful march is a sure sign of progress in Serbia, even if the event was staged primarily to garner favour with the EU ahead of Serbia’s renewed attempts to attain membership.
Unfortunately, there is compelling evidence which suggests homophobia is still rampant within Serbia’s borders. A survey conducted in 2010 suggested that 67% of Serbians still view homosexuality as a disease, whilst only this week, Serbia’s religious leader, Patriarch Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Church condemned homosexuality as being akin to incest or paedophilia.
Despite the march receiving government approval, Serbia’s prime minister, Aleksandor Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned pro-western reformer was not in attendance, stating ‘”It is my democratic right not to participate in Pride, nor do I have any intention of doing so.”
Last week’s march constitutes a welcome and much needed step in the right direction for Serbia. However all evidence points to it being a tenuous step taken with great reluctance on the part of the Serbian government and it remains to be seen whether Serbia’s recent attempts to safeguard the freedom of all its citizens will be sustained.