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The attackers were mostly young men from two right-wing ultra-nationalist groups, and nationalist skinheads.

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A Serbian police officer guards a lesbian activist who was beaten during the first gay pride march in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, June 30, 2001. Darko Vojinovic

Violence Stops
Yugoslavia Gay Pride

by Ana Simo

JULY 5, 2001. Two days after Slobodan Milosevic was summarily shipped to The Hague to stand trial for genocide, a violent, well organized Serb ultra-nationalist mob vented their anger on a small group of people who had gathered in Belgrade's central square for what would have been Yugoslavia's first public Gay Pride March.

The mob, which some eyewitnesses say eventually swelled to one or two thousand-strong, surrounded and brutally beat up, kicked, and chased would-be marchers and several local journalists for about two hours last Saturday, June 30.

The few local police present seemed unsure about what to do. Some shot in the air, trying unsuccessfully to disperse the attackers. Dozens of people were injured, including at least four members of the lesbian group Labris and some cops. About a dozen attackers were arrested.

The attackers were mostly young men from two right-wing ultra-nationalist groups, nationalist skinheads, and what the Yugoslav press euphemistically describes as "soccer hooligans." Some chanted, "Serbia is not a homosexual country" and "Serbia for Serbians. and not for homosexuals," and waved WWII Serbian nationalist flags. Others carried posters that read, "Orthodox For a Morally Clean Serbia," and "No to Immoral Homosexuality and Depraved Orgies." Zarko Gavrilovic, a Serbian Orthodox Church priest, was at the head of one of the groups.

After destroying the Gay Pride March, the mob stoned the nearby Students' Cultural Center, where a public forum about gay rights and other events were to have taken place after the march, and assaulted several gay men and lesbians there. They also stoned the offices of the Social Democratic Union, a centrist political party that supports gay rights, smashing its front window. Fearing more violence, and still lacking adequate police protection, organizers canceled all remaining Pride events.

Belgrade police chief, Bosko Buha, questioned by the independent Radio B-92, explained that he had only deployed fifty police officers without riot gear to protect the Pride March because he had not expected the anti-gay forces to be so large or aggressive. He also blamed the marchers. "As a society, we are not mature enough to accept such demonstrations of perversity," Buha said.

Buha's remarks were contradicted by human rights groups, which said that the police knew full well about the violent threats against the Pride events, but were unprepared or unwilling to act. According to Radio B-92, plans by extremist groups to attack the Gay Pride March had been covered in the press.

Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Center slammed Buha for calling Gay Pride a "demonstration of perversity." The group, which sent monitors to the Pride March, also said that the police "must know that it is their duty to ensure the right to peaceful assembly, irrespective of the political, sexual or any other affiliation or preferences of the participants."

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said that Belgrade police "failed to intervene and protect those being attacked" because "the authorities obviously think the police should protect only certain types of citizens." It also charged the Serbian Orthodox Church with "leading a call for gay people to be lynched."

The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) demanded "that the authorities conduct an exhaustive investigation" to find out who is behind the anti-gay violence and also behind two other recent attacks against journalists on the streets of Belgrade. "This society continues to face the consequences of a decade of fascist conditions, and the induction of fear and hatred towards anyone who differs from society's norms," ANEM said in a statement signed by its chairman, Veran Matic.

Serbian authorities show no signs of taking responsibility. President Vojislav Kostunica has not condemned the attacks. And, much like Chief Buha, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic seems to blame the victim. "I think it's too early to stand this test of tolerance in a country that has been in isolation for so long, and which has had a repressive patriarchal culture," he told Radio B92. "I'm afraid it will take us some time to reach..." that "...highest level of tolerance."

Just the day before gay people were brutalized in the heart of Belgrade, Djindjic was in Brussels, raking in 1.25 billion dollars in aid to Yugoslavia from 15 European countries, the U.S., Canada, Japan, and other countries, and promising them that his government would respect human rights. The purse strings were loosened after Djindjic shipped Milosevic to The Hague Tribunal.

ILGA-Europe (the regional branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association) believes that European aid to Yugoslavia ($530 million) is conditional on respect for human rights, and that failure to protect the Belgrade Gay Pride March was a serious breach of these condition. It is taking up the matter with the European Union and has launched an emergency letter-writing campaign to pressure the Foreign Ministers of Serbia and its 15 European donors on the issue.

Related links:

For the ILGA-Europe campaign.

For the foul mood in Belgrade on the eve of Gay Pride read "Milosevic Is Sent to U.N. Tribunal" (L.A. Times).

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

For Complete Coverage Europe

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