By Snezana Stanojevic
Belgrade, Sep 17 (EFE).- The first EuroPride march in the Balkans took place here Saturday thanks to the intervention of Serbia’s prime minister, who overturned a previous ban, and more than 5,000 police were deployed to forestall attacks by anti-LGBT+ protesters.
Belgrade has witnessed annual gay pride parades for the last eight years, but the interior minister said Tuesday that he was denying a permit for the EuroPride march because of the possibility of violence due to a large protest by far-right groups also planned for Saturday.
The United States and a score of European governments appealed to Serbia to reverse the ban, but the prohibition remained in effect until Saturday morning, when Prime Minister Ana Brnabic brokered an agreement for a smaller march along a shorter route.
“Today we arranged 5,200 police officers on the streets of Belgrade. We had two incidents and in both incidents, police members promptly reacted, solved the problem and ensured that the incidents don’t spread,” Brnabic told a press conference afterward.
Ten officers suffered minor injuries and 64 anti-LGBT+ militants were arrested, the first woman and first openly gay person to serve as Serbian prime minister said.
The EuroPride gathering in Belgrade began last Sunday and Brnabic expressed pride that during “this entire week, with more then 130 (LGBTQ) events, there wasn’t a one single incident. And that really is the right image of Belgrade and Serbia.”
While EuroPride participants had vowed to march Saturday with or without a permit, they welcomed the official authorization.
Kristine Garina, president of the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA), said she was “overjoyed” that Brnabic had “kept the promise she made in 2019 to support EuroPride in Belgrade.”
The procession began in front of Serbia’s Constitutional Court, which struck down attempts to prohibit gay pride parades in Belgrade on four separate occasions between 2009 and 2013.
The European Union’s commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, was present for the march, as was Vladimir Bilcik, a Slovakian member of the European Parliament.
“Belgrade and Serbia have shown us hospitality, acceptance and respect,” said Bilcik, the Euro Parliament rapporteur for Serbia, which is a candidate for EU membership.
“We need justice and freedom,” Pride event organizer Goran Miletic said, recalling that the chief demand of the LGBT+ community in Serbia is legalization of same-sex marriage.
The interior ministry had banned the anti-gay demonstrations planned for Saturday by right-wing groups and militant Orthodox Christians.
But some members of those factions did try to disrupt the EuroPride march, managing at one point to infiltrate the procession and trample on a giant rainbow flag. EFE