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Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, the country’s first openly gay leader, joined Belgrade mayor Zoran Radojcic at the Belgrade Pride parade on Sunday. They were among several hundred participants who marched from Slavija Square to Students Square, where a pop music concert closed out a week of activities.
Others marching in the rally included the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Scott, as well as ambassadors from France and Italy and the head of the EU Delegation to Serbia.
A kilometer away, a few dozen anti-LGBTQ protesters held Christian banners and sang religious songs. Though no major incidents were reported, authorities told Radio Free Europe three protesters were detained shortly before the event began.
Belgrade Pride has been overshadowed by violence in the past: The first rally, in 2001, saw participants attacked by ultra-nationalist groups and football hooligans. In 2010, rioting and clashes between authorities and right-wing counter-demonstrators led to dozens of arrests and more than 100 people being injured. After that, the government banned the parade from 2010 to 2013.
The event returned in 2014, with thousands of police officers assigned to prevent another tragedy.
This year the slogan for Belgrade Pride was “Reci da!” or “Say Yes!” with organizers calling for civil unions, anti-hate crime legislation and more protections for trans people, among other demands.
Some activists wanted to ban Brnabic from the parade, which she attended last year, claiming she’s come up short in her commitment to Serbia’s LGBTQ community. At the 2017 parade, Brnabic said gay rights would only be addressed after important issues like the economy were dealt with.
Predrag Azdejkovic of the Gay and Lesbian Info Center (GLIC) called the statement “scandalous.” He actually helped organize a separate Pride event in June, “to bring the gay march back to ordinary people and away from politicians.”
“They say: ‘You have a gay prime minister, two parades, you should be content,'” he told the BBC. “But it’s all just made up.”
Homophobic and transphobic violence is all too common in Serbia, especially outside the capital. Marriage equality is still not recognized, and 90% of the population opposes the right of gay couples to adopt. (Some 70% are against even allowing gay people to inherit their partner’s estate.) Advocates hope Serbia’s desire to join the EU will lead it to at least approve a domestic-partnership law in the near future.
“It is not exclusivity, it is not a luxury,” said Belgrade Pride organizer Goran Mileti. “The law does not harm anyone because no one will lose if I or someone else can register their union and protect their rights.”
Conservatives filed a criminal complaint with Belgrade prosecutors, alleging the Pride parade constituted a “gross abuse of minors.”
“We invite the competent state authorities to respond to our application … and demonstrate that pedophilia and other forms of sexually deviant behavior will not be allowed,” said Third Serbia politician Miroslav Parovic in a statement.