To whom the Belgrade Gay Pride is useful?

This year, I covered the 2017 Belgrade Gay Pride for Hajde. A pretty interesting experience as a photographer, which however raised a lot of questions about the conditions it is held. I wrote an article in French about it, here’s the rough translation, with some pictures I took.

Fourth in a row: the 2017 Gay Pride was a success… At least it is to be. Seen from the outside, definitely seems so: the participation was higher (at least according to the organisers), no troubles were reported, and overall, the Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic took part in the parade, for the first time in the history.

Shortly before departure

Well, that’s actually a nice story, definitely. However, seen from the inside, things are not that simple, let’s have a look at them.

2017 was my second Belgrade Pride cover, after 2016. While it’s hard to determine precisely the amount of people, the 2017 edition definitely did not seem to be bigger than its past one. Based on the volume occupied by the demonstrators at the beginning and at the end of the procession, the crowd looked way less compact… But, well, let’s give the NGO’s the benefits of the doubt, and let’s assume there were 800-900 people, as they claim.

Rainbow flags facing the St Sava temple, a big symbol

Let’s question then the issue of the violences. For these 900 people, there were between 2000 and 5000 policemen (according to sources) deployed in the city. It was not just a question of diverting the traffic to make space for the procession. The police was literally everywhere, the whole center was blocked, hours before the beginning of the pride, paralysing the whole activity. With 2 to 5 policemen per demonstrator, any violence was therefore materially impossible to be performed. Any satisfecit on this point is thus completely absurd.

Policemen standing, just in case
On this picture, three rows of policemen can be seen. In the back. plain clothed policemen, in the middle, anti-riot units, and finally, in the front… the men in black. No ID nor badge, but always in group, with walkie-talkies.
Let’s had to this the private security, operated by a company named KGB, protecting here the famous local dancer Elektra

And finally, let’s talk about the Prime Minister, and more globally about the numerous“VIPs” of the pride, because that’s actually the main issue about it. Who is Ana Brnabic? Well, if you hear and look at what is told and written about her, she’s the first woman, and first LGBTQ communities member to become a head of government in Southeastern Europe. Apart from this? Very little is said about her past, present and future actions. In a nutshell, most of her image is based on what she is, and not what she does. Therefore, it would have been surprising not to see her during the parade, as most of her PR (on purpose or not) is built on her gender and sexual orientation.

Ana Brnabic talking to journalists. Right behind her, very visible, Sinisa Mali, Belgrade mayor, will not move during the whole session. Local elections will be held in March…

But she wasn’t the only one to take part to the pride, a few other politicians, like Sinisa Mali, or the LDP leader Cedomir Jovanovic, but as well a lot of foreign diplomats. To summarise, it was the place to be for any representative of the “liberal democracies”.

Sem Fabrizi, Head of the EU delegation in Serbia, waiving the rainbow flag. The scene will last less than 30 seconds

I guess you see now the link between the huge police deployment and the participants. It was unconceivable to let the Pride fail, at any price, because a big part of the international community has the eyes on it. In 2010, when the pride ended in a bloodbath, the critical LGBTQ situation in Serbia became obvious to foreign eyes. The Parade, and more generally Gay issues in Serbia were suddenly transformed into indicators of the “progresses” of the Serbian State towards a liberal society.

In such a context, resuming the yearly Gay Pride was seen as a huge step forward. “You see, this Serbian government is doing something for the gays, we have to support them in their path towards a modern society”, some diplomats, political analysts, and external LGBTQ supporters could say…

The only EU flag I could found in the Gay Pride

But then, there’s an issue. Let’s take off from the participants’ list the diplomats, the politicians, their bodyguards, the foreign delegations… From a total of 800-900 demonstrators, that a big share of people that are actually not connected to the issue!

Thus, we can deduct that only a few hundred LGBTQ members and/or supporters from Serbia are participating in the Parade. Just as a reminder, let’s not forget that the city of Belgrade, alone, has an estimate of 1.3 million inhabitants, and that no other city in Serbia organises a Gay Pride. It’s pretty easy to see that the participation of the population to the pride is nearly non-existent.

A lot of reasons can explain the situation. The main one is the fact that a huge part of the population is homophobic. Sorry to disappoint some analysts from the outside, but it’s still a huge reality in the country: various polls reveal that 40 to 50% of the population considers homosexuality as an illness. The other fact is that a few actions from the Serbian state do not change the situation. Yes, there’s a lesbian PM, yes, there are yearly processions, but the evolution is pretty hard to see. The legal framework may evolve slowly, its implementation does not follow. Discrimination and defamation towards the LGBTQ community is virtually not prosecuted. Reading the EU progress reports every year, you can see there are very little progress. I would actually be curious to know what Ana Brnabic thinks about the covers of Informer, a tabloid close to President Aleksandar Vucic (you know, the guy who appointed her), who actually uses the “faggot” word repeatedly without being bothered by the authorities…

“faggots are walking, Serbs are paying”… the “lovely” cover of the tabloid Informer… Noby was condemned about it…

In such a scheme, it’s pretty painful to listen to some external observers, like for instance the representative of the Amsterdam Gay Pride this year, when they talk about the LGBT situation in Serbia. “the progress is huge”, “we never got our PM in the Pride”, “it needs time to make minds evolve”, he claimed this year. Even more, he dared to make his own analysis: “you sometimes need to do steps backwards to go forward”. Such lessons being taught are definitely shocking in the current situation. What is actually a step backwards in the case of Serbia? Making things happen like in the 2010 Gay Pride?

I thus left the pride with the feeling that it was a good communication plan for the people who invested money in the project: the government of Serbia and a part of the international community. They got their nice pictures with rainbow flags in a perfectly managed parade. However, with almost no participants, hundred of thousands of euros (maybe millions) spent, and a procession materially disconnected from the city, due to the security plan, this makes the operation a pretty disputable tactic.

What to do then? It’s pretty hard to give an answer. Regarding the pride, however, there are already other solutions: an “alternative Gay Pride” has been for instance organised in June by some NGO’s dissatisfied by the main pride. A much less media hype event, but which did not resulted in an armed forced display, nor provoked violence. Per se, it’s definitely not an ideal solution, given a division is usually highly detrimental to any social movement, but it should certainly be an inspiration to start a reflexion over the way public actors took over the Pride…

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