Belgrade Pride Activists Conduct Scaled-Down March As Far-Right Opponents Clash With Police

BELGRADE -- LGBT pride supporters conducted a scaled-down walk in central Belgrade on September 17 after a larger parade was barred by Serbian authorities and as far-right opponents clashed with police on the city’s streets.

Several minor incidents were reported in capital, with right-wing activists and religious groups opposing the international EuroPride event gathering.

Police said 64 people were detained for various offenses after anti-gay activists threw bottles at police and tried to cross police cordons.

An estimated 1,000 LGBT pride supporters walked a few hundred meters on a route from the Constitutional Court to the nearby Tasmajdan Park in the center of Belgrade after authorities barred a planned longer march.

Even as the walk began, it remained unclear what the scale of it would be or how the authorities might react amid conflicting signals from government officials.

Police had blocked off pedestrian areas around streets where organizers had scheduled events and had also banned counter-protests scheduled by pro-Serbian Orthodox Church conservative groups and others.

As of early evening, some participants began walking a route that organizers had changed and shortened after the previous one was blocked by police.


National populist President Aleksandar Vucic last month suggested that the EuroPride march would not be allowed to go ahead but said the final decision lay in the hands of the Interior Ministry.

On September 13, the Interior Ministry officially announced the ban on the EuroPride Week's culminating march through downtown Belgrade and said it had similarly denied permission for a counterdemonstration the same day.

It concluded that there was a “danger of violence, destruction of property, and other forms of disruption of public order on a larger scale."

On September 15, local organizer Marko Mihailovic told an Instagram livestream with RFE/RL's Balkan Service that his group had filed an appeal with a Serbian administrative court against the Interior Ministry's decision to block the event.

"The question is whether it will be a short walk or whether we will stand in one place, but we will go out into the streets," Mihailovic said. "It is important that we go out and that our voice is heard."

After the ban was announced, gay rights activists at a human rights conference jeered Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is openly lesbian but has been accused by the Serbian gay community of abandoning their cause.

Despite an official ban on a march, Brnabic earlier told prospective participants that "no one can stop you [from walking], because that is a fundamental human right."

The European Pride Organizers Association on September 17 said it had received guarantees from Brnabic that “she can guarantee that the streets of Belgrade will be safe this afternoon.”

"Serbia did not organize EuroPride because someone blackmailed it to stay on the European path but for the sake of Serbia, our people and society, as well as for the well-being of the entire region," she told a reception for foreign diplomats on the occasion of EuroPride Week.

Still, Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin on September 17 said police would not tolerate any violence on the streets of Belgrade and that it will strictly implement the law and the decisions of authorities and courts.

“All means permitted by law will be applied to anyone who violates public order and peace," he said.

Following the event, Vulin insisted that the ban on a march had been enforced and that the people were only being "escorted to a concert."

Also after the event, Brnabic told reporters that “the police did a great job” and that she was proud that “we managed to avoid more serious incidents.”

She added that the matter was now closed and that “it's time to focus on things that are more difficult and important."

Officials said 64 people had been arrested for various offenses.

EuroPride Week celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex pride at the pan-European level and has been hosted by a different European city nearly every year since 1992.

A 2010 Pride rally in Belgrade descended into violence that injured dozens of police and civilians when anti-LGBT mobs, including some clerics, swarmed and attacked participants, but subsequent Pride events took place without major incidents.

The Balkan country, which is bidding to eventually join the European Union, had been under intense international pressure to allow the march to take place.

The U.S., French, and British embassies, among others, issued a joint statement urging the authorities to lift the ban.

With reporting by AP and AFP