Serbian gay rights campaigners are suing a far-right organization after it claimed they were being indirectly funded by America’s CIA.
The Serbian National Movement Naši (SNP Naši; Naši means ‘ours’ in English) put Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) on a ‘blacklist’ of ‘foreign agents’.
The on-going hate campaign peaked on 13 January when they displayed posters in public spaces in several Serbian cities, naming those on the blacklist.
But GSA (Gaj Strejt Alijansa in Serbian) says it is made up of ‘honest and uncorrupted people who love their country’ and want to strengthen Serbia.
They are now taking SNP Naši to the courts to get one million dinars ($12,000 €8,500) compensation. And they want the public prosecutor to pursue criminal charges too.
A GSA statement released today (22 January) says: ‘During an inflammatory campaign in the past couple of months, SNP Naši has stated a lot of shameless lies about GSA and its work, by which SNP Naši consciously and in the crudest way tried to deceive the Serbian and international public.’
Their ‘blacklist’ named a range of organizations that SNP Naši claimed were working against the Serbian Constitution and Serbian laws and advocating the fragmentation of Serbian territory, ie the independence of Kosovo.
They also claimed the organizations – mostly human rights groups and media – are involved in organized crime, are foreign agents financed by the US, involved in spying and represent pro-American interests.
SNP Naši issued a statement on 7 December last year claiming: ‘All organizations and media from the blacklists are financed by American government through NED [National Endowment for Democracy] foundation directed by the CIA and the White House.’
In their statement GSA respond: ‘Naturally, GSA does not think that being financed by NED or any other foundation automatically means that somebody is a foreign agent.
‘But GSA would like to emphasize it has never been financed by NED as SNP Naši claim, it has never asked for funds from this foundation, nor has it established contacts or talked with its representatives concerning financing and cooperation.
‘Furthermore, neither USAID or the US government have ever financed Alliance, and so the claims of SNP Naši are completely false.’
They say they do cooperate with the American and other foreign embassies, international and LGBT organizations but feel this is useful to society.
The Alliance explains its money comes from private donations, the Serbian government and the same places that Serbia raises money itself; the European Union and member states.
They insist volunteers have to do a lot of its work due to a shortage of funding. The statement counters public perceptions that non-governmental organizations are cash-rich, fed by foreign donors.
The Alliance also denies having a view on Kosovo.
The statement says: ‘GSA has never, since its inception, had any sort of policy regarding Kosovo, and there is no official statement or attitude of GSA that is related to the status of Kosovo or similar topics.
‘GSA deal exclusively with promotion and protection of human rights of Serbian citizens, especially human rights of LGBT people, as well as the reduction of violence and discrimination.’
They add they are is lawfully registered with the Serbian Business Registers Agency and act within the constitution.
The statement continues: ‘For the lies that they have stated about GSA, and we believe about other organizations and media as well, SNP Naši have received a wide media coverage, which was not the case with their previous activities.
‘The damage done to Gay Straight Alliance in an attempt to destroy its reputation is therefore enormous and so GSA will seek protection in the court.’
Lazar Pavlovic, acting president of the GSA, told Gay Star News SNP Naši’s campaign against them had done damage. But he believes Serbians' attitudes towards LGBT people was improving and would continue to get better in the long term.
He also called on the public prosecutor to take legal action against the far-right extremists.
GSA lobbies politicians for improved legislation for LGBT people, supports victims of discrimination, produces an annual report on gay people in Serbia and measures public attitudes on sexuality.