LGBTQ activists vow to march in Belgrade despite EuroPride ban

More than 20 embassies issued a joint statement urging Serbian authorities to lift the ban on the EuroPride march.

LGBT Activists hold banners
LGBTQ activists hold banners in front of the government headquarters in the Serbian capital, Belgrade [File: Oliver Bunic/AFP]

Tensions mounted in Belgrade as LGBTQ activists promised to stage a EuroPride march on Saturday in the Serbian capital despite a government ban.

The event had been intended as the cornerstone event of the EuroPride gathering. But the interior ministry banned the march earlier this week citing security concerns after right-wing groups threatened to hold protests.

The Balkan country, a candidate for European Union membership, had been under intense international pressure to allow the march. More than 20 embassies – including from the United States, France and Britain – issued a joint statement urging authorities to lift the ban.

Gay marriage is not legally recognised in Serbia, where homophobia remains deep-seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.

“We, as activists, will use our democratic right to civil disobedience and will protest,” the Belgrade Pride organisers said after a court rejected their appeal to overturn the ban.

The interior ministry also barred any counter-protests, but some far-right groups promised to rally and gather in front of churches.

The US embassy urged its citizens to avoid the event “because of the potential for unruly crowds, violence, as well as possible fines”.

‘Shameful surrender’

Human rights groups and the EU have called on the Serbian government to rescind the ban.

“The Serbian government’s decision to cancel EuroPride is a shameful surrender to, and implicit sanctioning of, bigotry and threats of unlawful violence,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBTQ rights programme at Human Rights Watch.

At least 15 members of the European Parliament announced that they will join the Pride march in a show of solidarity, although the route will be much shorter than originally planned.

Belgrade Pride marches in 2001 and again in 2010 were marred by violence and rioting after far-right groups targeted the event.

Since 2014, the parade has been organised regularly without any notable unrest but was protected with a large law enforcement presence.

The formal ban came just days after thousands took part in an anti-Pride demonstration in Belgrade, with biker gangs, Orthodox priests and far-right nationalists demanding the EuroPride rally be scrapped.

Source: AFP