By Lydia Aroyo, Europe and Central Asia Press Officer at Amnesty International
Belgrade Pride 2010 began this morning in beautiful weather with a call for tolerance. The violence that erupted outside the venue of the march proved that tolerance is yet to be achieved.
The first march in nearly 10 years in central Belgrade was against discrimination in all its manifestations. It came a day after nationalist organizations and representatives of the Serbian Orthodox clergy led demonstrations calling for the government to ban Belgrade Pride 2010.
Members of the Serbian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their supporters were crossing police cordon after police cordon, passing by police in combat gear, mounted police and police in armoured vehicles in order to get to a quiet park in central Belgrade. There the aim was to be with friends, express solidarity, and call for a stand against all forms of discrimination. A helicopter was circling above.
More than 1,000 people gathered in this park before going on their march around the neighbouring streets. Among them were LGBT activists from neighbouring countries, Amnesty International activists and activists from other international organizations, EU ambassadors, Serbian politicians, representatives of Serbian civil society.
Boban Stojanovic, one of the organizers of the event was very happy with the high turn out and the support that the parade got from the state and civil society as well. As to the elimination of discrimination against LGBT people, he was more cautious. “There will always be certain circles in society who are not going to accept us. This is the beginning of the dialogue.”
Young Bulgarian activists with several pride events in their country under their belts were enthusiastic. “The parade is great. So many people have come! And most importantly, government members have expressed their support for the event and they are here with us today. That is much more than can be said about the Bulgarian authorities.”
Linda Freimane, from the Latvian LGBT organization Mozaika is a veteran of a number of marches against discrimination in the Baltic countries. She finds similarities in the challenges that LGBT activists have to overcome in their fight against prejudice and intolerance. “In the beginning it was the same in the Baltic countries, too much violence and too many police to protect us. Gradually, both the police and society in general started to accept us and our demands as well. I am sure the same will happen in Serbia.”
At the same time, extremists were hurling stones and explosives at the police, injuring scores of police officers and setting buildings and vehicles on fire. Central Belgrade became a no-go zone.
As one of Serbia’s LGBT activists Majda Puaca said, “The authorities are reaping the results of their policies,” – a reminder of the lack of support for the LGBT community until now.
However, the importance of Belgrade Pride 2010 cannot be underestimated, as Amnesty International’s David Diaz- Jogeix said: “Today was a historic moment in Serbia – the first time in a decade when the LGBT community and its supporters could freely gather – with full and proactive protection from the police – and celebrate diversity. We hope this will be a benchmark for future dialogue and tolerance in Serbia.”