For New Generations, Pride is Something That is Implied

Younger generations demand to be treated as equal citizens and for the state to fully respect their sexual orientation

Belgrade Pride was held in Belgrade in early September. We spoke with Goran Miletić, from the non-governmental organization Civil Rights Defenders and one of the organizers of Belgrade Pride, about what has changed since the last Pride and what can we expect in the coming period regarding the rights of the LGBT community in Serbia.  

In what kind of social atmosphere did this year’s Pride take place in Belgrade? Are there any significant differences from previous Prides? What has changed?

Every year brings a new environment and always requires an extra effort to deal with the new problems that we have to deal with that year. Sometimes it was the fact that the Belgrade police and the city government did not want to meet with us, sometimes it was very hostile media and sometimes the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church commented on the preparations ahead of the event. Last year we had to deal with the announcement of the Pride being banned but this year there were very few negative media reports. There were not too many negative statements by the authorities or an announcement of a ban and the media even paid more attention to the demands of Belgrade Pride.

The key change that happened in the past few years is that Belgrade Pride was addressed when it came to the technical and logistic organization of the walk itself. Cooperation with the police and the city government in that area is usually good, although it also often depends on the persons who are in a certain position at that moment. Another key change is the media’s attitude whereby everything related to the LGBT community is now treated as an interesting topic, although some reports are still not good enough.

Of course, the most important thing is that ordinary people are now much more interested in joining the walk and there are several reasons for this. First, there has been a change of generations and there are now many more young people at Belgrade Pride for whom coming to Pride is something that is implied. Second, many citizens got rid of the fear of coming to Pride, even though in 2022, the issue of security was again raised in the weeks before the walk itself. Third, since the state is doing nothing to fulfil the demands, many people came because they wanted to protest.

It seems that the Pride Parade has become imperceptible to both the people in power and the opposition. Smaller groups oppose, the government does nothing to improve the position of the LGBT+ community and everyone uses this opportunity for populist performances. Can this event change anything in the near future?

Things won’t change just because of one walk a year or 70 events during Pride Week. However, in the period before every Pride, the media gives a lot of space to the LGBT community, there are many programmes and other content that talk about the problems the LGBT community faces, as well as the solutions. Research shows that people are becoming more understanding, although it doesn’t seem that way. Unfortunately, everyone sees much more of an aggressive and vocal minority that denies the human rights of the LGBT community. The truth is quite different – people are either neutral or positive, so changing their perception is possible. However, the other, important segment depends mostly on the government.

Our goal is to have full equality

A liberal view of the world, inclusion and understanding of others are interwoven into the basic values of the LGBT+ community. While the older generations had to win their freedom with great difficulty, today’s youth seem to be born with these values; yet they seem to lack awareness of the painful past and the need to continue the fight. What do you think?

Younger generations are indeed very interested in the history of the rights of the LGBT community in Serbia and the region, especially everything that happened in the last century and about which little is known. They understand that violence and discrimination are the main problems both then and now, but they grow up with the awareness that the state exists because of them, not vice versa. They demand to be treated as equal citizens and for the state to fully respect their sexual orientation. That’s a far cry from my generation, whose priority was to decriminalize homosexuality. Young people are very interested in what it was like to live in a period when you could get a year in prison for loving a person of the same sex.

Why is the fight for LGBT rights separated from the fight for other disenfranchised groups in society? Today, all the citizens of this country suffer a great injustice and their problems are at the same time the problems of the LGBT community, so why is there no mutual solidarity and joint fight?

That is an excellent question and we, at Belgrade Pride, constantly try to work as much as possible on solidarity with other civil groups (for example, Roma, people with disabilities, the elderly, etc.), since solidarity is one of our principles. However, we can always be more and do better. I think there is a lot more solidarity coming from the LGBT community, while there is a reluctance and fear from some groups to be associated with the LGBT community. A good example is the trade unions, with whom we have been in contact, but who hesitate to invite their members to Pride or to clearly support the LGBT community.

Will the LGBT community be satisfied if the same-sex partnership law and all its other demands in Serbia are accepted and at the same time, there is no freedom of speech, fair distribution of social wealth and equality and equality? What about the slogan “No one is free until we are all free”?

Of course, we will not be satisfied. Our goal is to have full equality and the laws and other requirements contain a detailed explanation of the urgent steps that the government must take in order to even slightly improve the position of the LGBT community. Most of these demands are Serbia’s international obligations. However, this certainly does not exclude freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and many other basic human rights that Serbia must guarantee for every citizen. One of the more important rights is certainly the legal right to a fair and just trial since access to justice for LGBT people in Serbia is more the exception than the rule.

Is there a road map for winning freedom? What can we expect in the next 12 months, i.e. until the next Pride takes place?

Unfortunately, everything we do is almost always related to the current political situation or external factors. This is also the biggest difference between Belgrade Pride and Prides in the West, where long-term planning, advocacy and dialogue with institutions is possible and they do not depend too much on who is in power. In Serbia, the focus in this period will certainly be on the passing of the Law on Same-Sex Partnerships and the implementation of the Law on Gender Identity, as well as meeting the requirements regarding curbing violence through faster processing of perpetrators of attacks on LGBT persons. I think that the announced elections will not help some of these demands to be met faster than usual, but after the regular local elections next year, we will insist even more on the inclusion of the LGBT community in the action plans adopted at the local level.

The government is not interested in improving the position of LGBT persons

 It is quite certain that the government is not interested in improving the position of LGBT persons and that there will not be any steps forward in the near future. Moreover, they use their members of the LGBT community who work in state bodies or are otherwise close to the authorities to spread falsehoods about how we do not need the law and how now is not the time to demand anything from the state. At the same time, they attack the activists and organizers of Belgrade Pride and no one reacts to that, which means that the government tacitly agrees with that.

All in all, in the next 12 months we will continue to insist on all of our requirements being fulfilled, regardless of the aforementioned obstacles.

How significant is the diplomatic support that the LGBT community in Serbia receives and is this support counterproductive in terms of the image that the misunderstanding majority community has about LGBT people?

Belgrade Pride has been facing populist attacks from the very beginning and one of the continuous and inappropriate spins is that there are too many members of the diplomatic corps attending the Pride. We have always replied to this that Belgrade Pride is completely inclusive and open to everyone and that goes against our principles that some categories of people are less wanted at Pride. Unfortunately, this year, such a spin was directed not only at embassy representatives but also at Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians living in Belgrade. Still, our reaction remains the same – we will never be ashamed of our cooperation with the international community.

On the other hand, Belgrade Pride has never been able to rely on its own resources and companies are still reluctant to financially support the event, although they do so more often now than before. That is why we were always instructed to ask for financial help from embassies and other foreign donors. We submitted projects following the launch of public calls that are accessible to everyone and were awarded funds. There is no secret in that and we are grateful to everyone from the international community who has supported us in this way or with their presence during all these years.

I think that the majority of people understand the diplomatic support we get because it is visible and transparent, but the problem is when conspiracy theories emerge, starting with those that the European Union is imposing the rights of the LGBT community and that foreign ambassadors are the ones who decide whether Pride will take place or not. Serbia is a member of the Council of Europe, along with 46 other countries, and human rights standards are exactly the same for every country in this organization, from Iceland to Turkey, including Serbia. Those standards are contained in judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and there is no imposition – Serbia has committed to incorporate the standards related to various rights into its legal system.

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