This week saw Montenegro’s LGBT community hold its first official Pride event despite a crowd of several hundred protesters chanting “Kill the Gays” and threatening violence.
It is estimated that around 200 demonstrators hurled various implements including bottles, stones and even torches as police in the coastal town of Budva attempted to protect the 40 or so rainbow-clad marchers.
Prior to the parade, it has been reported that some newspapers went so far as to publish obituaries of key gay rights figures, and during the parade many anti-gay protesters, some of whom were wearing ski masks, chanted “Kill the Gays.” This was answered, Reuters reports, by gay rights marchers chanting “Kiss the Gays.”
At one point the attending police, clad in anti-riot gear, were forced to push back protesters so the march could continue. Several arrests were made.
Police were able to hold the anti-gay protesters back long enough for some gay rights demonstrators to make a few quick speeches but, reports say, the marchers were later forced to flee the area by boat as police held back the anti-gay crowd.
You can watch a short video of events below. The sound is low, but the images speak volumes as to the level of antagonism shown by the anti-gay protesters:
“Unfortunately, in 20 years of transition Montenegro has not matured enough to tolerate differences,” organizer Aleksandar Zekovic is quoted as saying, adding that he believes this is the “real face” of Montenegro.
While that may be true of a strong proportion of public opinion, the Montenegrin government at least has recently made strides to improve its LGBT and wider human rights record.
Montenegro is a small coastal country in Southeastern Europe with a population of around 632,000. Until 2006, it was in a state union with Serbia, and its cultural emphasis on machismo and religious conservative ideology gives it a closer resemblance to Serbia than that of the other nearby nation Croatia. That isn’t to say Montenegro isn’t interested in improving its global position, though.
While a member of the United Nations, Montenegro is currently awaiting approval of its membership in the European Union.
Part of the membership criteria set out by the EU includes Montenegro improving its LGBT rights record.
This comes after significant concerns were raised in 2011 when the European intergroup on LGBT rights issued a scathing rebuke to Montenegro’s presiding administration that it had failed to protect the LGBT community when, at a music concert in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, held on the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, groups threw tear gas cans into the crowd, forcing much of the audience to disperse and seek medical help.
The Montenegrin government has, however, made some strides toward LGBT equality.
In 2010, the Montenegrin Parliament passed a non-discrimination law explicitly enumerating sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. This was part of the requirements set out by the EU for European Union membership.
More recently, the Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dusko Markovic stated in November of 2012 at an Out on the Street summit on LGBT global workplace rights in London, UK, that the Montenegrin government will prepare legislation for recognizing same-sex couples, though action on that is still pending.
Montenegro has a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage and any action looks set to only serve the minimum requirements set out by the European Union. Still, for a country that gives no recognition to same-sex partnerships, this would be progress.
Marmovic also mentioned at the time that the government was preparing for the country’s first Pride event, vowing to protect marchers. This, at least, appears to have been the case with the visibly large police presence at Wednesday’s event likely having prevented more widespread injury to LGBT rights marchers.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic appeared to reiterate the government’s support for the right to march, telling Parliament on Wednesday that the administration “supports protection of human rights for all people without difference.”
It is unknown whether the violence and intimidation shown at this week’s Pride march will cast a shadow on Montenegro’s progress toward full EU membership, but it does show that a government committed to ensuring its citizens are protected can help stem violence when flash-points arise.
Image credit: Thinkstock.