North Macedonia's Capital Holds First Gay Pride Parade

SKOPJE, North Macedonia -- Hundreds of people have marched through Skopje as the Macedonian capital hosted its first gay pride parade

Police estimated that nearly 1,000 people participated in the June 29 event, with the crowd carrying a large rainbow banner, blowing whistles and cheering and dancing to music playing from a truck with loudspeakers.

"All of us are fighting for the same cause, and all of the Balkans: it's for equality," said Marko Mihailovic, one of the parade's organizers. "We're still far from it, but this is a huge step forward."

One of the country's best known pop stars, Tamara Todevska, performed her hit Proud, which was featured in this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

"We want to send a message that we are here, that we are going to fight for our rights no matter what," said one participant who gave only her first name, Maria. "And the whole Balkans is gathering together here, to fight for equality everywhere."

No violence or similar incidents were reported.

A smaller demonstration was held a few blocks away that included several hundred people and some Orthodox Christian priests attending a church prayer and then marching through Skopje's streets playing drums and carrying banners that read "For The Family."

Macedonian society is relatively conservative, though attitudes toward gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people have eased somewhat in recent years.

The country recently took a major step toward membership in the European Union and NATO when it reached a compromise with neighboring Greece, and agreed to formally change its name to North Macedonia.