Serbia’s president has promised Belgrade will have a pride next year – but LGBT organizers remain skeptical.
Speaking at the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, Tomislav Nikolić claimed the event was banned this year because people might have been killed or injured.
But Nikolić also promised to allow Belgrade Pride to go ahead this year and failed to deliver.
And his comments come after Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, who is also Minister of Internal Affairs, said ‘homosexuality is not normal and natural’.
Dačić banned this year’s parade for security reasons but has said ‘if that is a requirement for entering the EU – we will do our best to secure the parade’.
The Republic of Serbia is currently trying to join the European Union and Nikolić was put under pressure on LGBT issues at the Council of Europe meeting.
He told them: ‘Serbia should not be judged too harshly because it did not allow, owing to the security threat posed to many of its citizens, an LGBT pride parade to be held in Belgrade, and that must not be used as a reason for wasting a year and a half’s effort to meet European standards.
‘We will very soon be ready to express such differences freely. You must understand that it would have been inhumane to have anticipated in advance the number of victims, and to have the number of people injured or killed, on whichever side, be the basis on which the decision on whether to hold the parade was or was not justified.
‘Many extremist groups were prepared to use the parade as a pretext for dealing with a situation in Serbia that they do not favor; there are still many xenophobes, false patriots and dangerous criminals.
‘We will co-operate with everyone, including LTGB groups, the media, non-governmental organizations and government agencies, and we will proactively promote equal rights for all.
‘We will change the laws, introduce stricter penalties and prosecute all organizers of orchestrated, brutal showdowns with those who think differently, as such acts must not happen.’
Under questioning, he went on to say that he was worried Belgrade Pride would have impacted their efforts towards EU membership whether banned or not.
Nikolić said: ‘I was afraid that such an event might jeopardize that, whether it took place and there were victims, or whether it did not take place. On the security level, Serbia was not ready.
‘As I have announced, we will begin preparations for next year’s event. Next year, we will hold it. I thought that we would be ready this year, but our country is in a difficult economic situation. We are doing our best to stabilize the situation in Kosovo and Metohija.
‘The event is not well received by many people. Many people do not think that members of the LGBT population should have an opportunity to present their position. People want to prove publicly that they are not members of that group.
‘We also have to deal with football fans and such groups. This is not only about the LGBT parade; the situation in Serbia remains insecure when it comes to big gatherings, including those revolving around football and sports. We will do our best to prevent such occurrences.
‘I am convinced that by working with all the people I have mentioned, we will be able to prepare Serbia for the fact that it will be just a normal day on which people who are the same among themselves, but different from the rest of the population, take to the streets.
‘As is the case throughout the world, nobody should be mistreated because of that. I promise that there will be no need for you to ask that question next year.’
In fact Belgrade Pride went ahead as a protest on 27 September, despite the ban.
Around 200 LGBT people and supporters gathered in Knez Milos Street, in front of the Government of Serbia building carrying banners saying ‘This is Pride, This is Serbia’ and ‘Long Live Love’ and chanting ‘We have pride’. There was no violence.
Milan Djuric, of Belgrade-based Gayten-LGBT, warned the government was not sincere in its promises.
Djuric told Gay Star News: ‘For the last 13 years they haven’t been able to secure the rights of citizens to march at the pride parade.
‘The main duty of the president is to secure the constitutional rights and ensure the rights of the citizens are protected. If they are not capable of dealing with these extremist groups, what does that say about their politics, their duties, their responsibilities?
‘On what basis am I supposed to have trust in his official statements or any kind of statement from him?’
And he criticized Prime Minister Dačić for his remark that the parade was something they should do to secure EU membership.
‘LGBT rights are not something that should be considered in the context of entering the EU but as something that is good for the country,’ Djuric told us.
He also said Dačić’s comment homosexuality abnormal demonstrates he is not committed to the country’s own non-discrimination laws, championed by Nikolić in his Council of Europe speech.
Djuric said the 'bottom line' was the government was 'cohabiting with extremist groups'.
Nikolić himself is a former long-term member of the very right-wing Serbian Radical Party who left to form the more moderate, center-right Serbian Progressive Party five years ago.
Dačić, meanwhile is leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia but his relationship with disgraced former leader Slobodan Milošević casts a long shadow over his international credibility.