Following bitter violence at last weekend’s Belgrade Pride event, the Associated Press reports that an investigation has been opened by Serb authorities who are keen to examine the actions of one of the regions far-right groups under suspicion that they orchestrated violent clashes with police.
From the Associated Press:
More than 150 people were injured on Sunday in running battles with police as thousands of far-right demonstrators tried to disrupt a gay pride march by hurling Molotov cocktails and stun grenades.
Mladen Obradovic of the Obraz, or Honor, group is suspected of “violent conduct” during the clashes.
The state prosecutors’ office said another 130 people are under investigation for trying to disrupt the pride march and 66 of them were on Tuesday ordered to 30 days in prison each as a pretrial detention measure.
Should Obradovic be convicted, he and others arrested during the investigation could face up to 12 years in prison.
Sunday’s event, the first in nearly a decade, was attended by an estimated 1000 LGBTs and straight allies. They were heavily outnumbered by protesters that one news site reports may have numbered as high as 6,000. An estimated 5,600 police helped to maintain a barricade to keep Pride attendees safe, but it was at a heavy cost:
In the aftermath of Sunday’s parade, 159 people were injured, many of them police officers, and 249 others were arrested, B92 Radio reported.
“Policemen who took part are saying that they perhaps have not faced this amount of hatred and conflict for as long as they’ve been doing their job,” said Interior Minister Ivica Dacic, who visited injured police officers in a hospital.
Authorities said 11 police vehicles and three fire trucks were damaged at different locations in the city, and that demonstrators started assembling long before the parade took place.
Protesters set fire to the Democratic Party’s headquarters; junked offices occupied by the Socialist Party, and attacked the Belgrade mosque and several embassies, the report said.
The Associated Press further details: “The anti-gay rioters also fired shots and threw Molotov cocktails at the headquarters of the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party, setting the building’s garage on fire. In addition, the state TV building and the headquarters of other political parties were attacked, with many windows shattered by stones.”
A clear message of unity and solidarity was offered during the event despite the overt violence Pride attendees faced and the overall hostile climate to homosexuality in the region.
From The Irish Times:
When Vincent Degert addressed a 1,000-strong gay-rights demonstration in Belgrade on Sunday he was sending out a number of important messages to Serbia. Protected by more than 5,000 police from an even larger stone-throwing counter-demonstration, the EU ambassador told the crowd waving rainbow flags: “We are here to celebrate this very important day . . . to celebrate the values of tolerance, freedom of expression and assembly”. It was an unusual forum for a diplomatic démarche which should help to put a human face on the often-remote union, a practical personal gesture of empathy and solidarity which should be applauded.
Serbia remains deeply hostile to homosexuality – recent polls showed 67 per cent believe it an illness and 49 per cent say they would not tolerate a family member coming out as gay. On Sunday that prejudice fuelled the rage of football hooligans looking for a fight in a riot of unusual intensity, the first such in the capital since July 2008 when former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested. It saw over 120 people injured and €1 million damage done. Police detained 188.
While some officials have warned that Serbia’s perceived failure to prevent the riots might hinder the county’s bid to join the EU, the police effort has been praised, with First Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic reported as saying, “I would like to congratulate all police officers and units on successfully performing one of the hardest duties. You demonstrated a high level of preparedness by reacting in a professional manner to the violence on the streets.” More here.
Similarly, Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, has said:
“The European Parliament affirms its strong opposition to homophobia, no matter whether it takes place inside or outside the EU. The violence in Belgrade has nothing to do with the Pride Parade, but rather was committed by groups of hooligans who wanted to cause damage. Homophobia is a breach of human dignity that questions fundamental rights, and thus it must be strongly condemned.
The perpetrators of the clashes with their acts go against a number of central values of the European Union. Those marching were there to celebrate the values of tolerance, freedom of expression and assembly.
I would like to thank the authorities and the police in particular for preventing further violence. The perpetrators of this violence must be held fully accountable.”
On a visit to Serbia, U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton also praised officials yesterday, commenting:
“I especially want to commend the bravery of the police who provided security for the event at last Sunday’s Pride Parade,” Clinton said during a visit to Belgrade.
“It was not easy, and yet we watched as the official law enforcement forces demonstrated unequivocally your support for the rights of all,” Clinton told Serbian President Boris Tadic.
Addressing reporters together with Clinton, Tadic said, “my personal attitude and my political attitude is that by protecting the rights of every single individual … only then can we defend the foundations of democracy, only then can we have a free society and a prosperous society.”
While the Serbian Orthodox Church opposed to the Belgrade Pride event, the Church, heeding that there would likely be violence should the event go ahead, issued a warning: “Violence, allegedly in the name of God or the Christian church is absolutely inadmissible and contrary to Christian values. Violence does not cure or defeat evil, only helps spread it.” The Church views homosexuality as a social evil that runs contrary to perceived Serbian values.
Extremists broke up a pride event in 2001 and, with a threat of violence, managed to have last year’s event canceled. Threats were not enough to stop this year’s Belgrade Pride, but the test will be whether the arrests of those who organized the violence will be enough to ensure an event next year or whether, yet again, the risk of violence might stifle this emerging freedom of expression.