Serbian police arrested more than 64 people on Sept. 17 as thousands of LGBT+ activists showed up for Belgrade’s EuroPride march despite pouring rain. There had been a government ban on the march, which was scheduled to mark the end of EuroPride week, an event that is held in a different European city each year.
Serbia’s interior ministry and police had banned the march several days prior to the scheduled event over security concerns. Serbian right-wing groups had threatened to disrupt the event with protests. The interior ministry had also banned all counter-protests.
Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that his agency “will not tolerate any violence on the streets of Belgrade and that it will strictly implement the law.”
This ban had come after thousands of ultra-nationalist Orthodox Christian protesters had clashed in an anti-Pride demonstration in Belgrade. That protest included biker gangs, Orthodox priests and far-right nationalists all demanding that the EuroPride rally be banned.
Serbian MP Bosko Obradovic, leader of the far-right Dveri party, said on Twitter the parade had an “anti-Christian agenda” serving as a “precursor to the complete NATO occupation of Serbia.”
“We, as activists, will use our democratic right to civil disobedience and will protest,” the Belgrade Pride organizers said after a court rejected their appeal to overturn the ban.
Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, who is an out lesbian, purportedly assured march organizers on Saturday that the event could go ahead despite the ban.
Various international news reports said anti-LGBT+ protestors engaged with police near the march, attacking a police cordon in riot shields and armed with batons. Protestors used smoke bombs, stun grenades, stones and flares against police.
Brnabic said at a news conference late Saturday that 64 of those people were arrested and 10 police officers “lightly injured” in the counter-demonstration, but insisted that despite that conflict, she was “proud” that the day ended with “no major incidents,” like harm to LGBT+ attendees or to police. “I am very proud that we managed to avoid more serious incidents,” Brnabic told reporters.
“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 said.
Serbia is a candidate to join the EU, but it must first meet demands to improve the rule of law and its record on human and minority rights. Serbia had been under international pressure to allow the march. More than 20 embassies, including those from the U.S., France and Britain had issued a joint statement urging that there be no ban and that the EuroPride march continue as planned. Human rights groups and the EU had also demanded the Serbian government revoke the ban.
“The Serbian government’s decision to cancel EuroPride is a shameful surrender to, and implicit sanctioning of, bigotry and threats of unlawful violence,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.
Over a dozen members of the European parliament had said that they would join the Pride march in a show of solidarity. The U.S. ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, and the European parliament’s special rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, joined the march.
ILGA Europe tweeted that “around 10 #LGBTI activists were attacked and several injured in front of police officers who did not react during the beating,” and issued a statement about the incidents.
ILGA Europe said, “We both highlight and denounce the fact that anti-LGBTI narratives from Serbian political and religious leaders contributed to fuelling a climate of hatred that led to this brutal attack, and firmly urge Serbian authorities to ensure prosecution of the perpetrators, mount a full inquiry into how the police acted, and ensure prosecution if they are found to have failed to ensure the protection that was their duty.”
Anti-LGBTQ march in Istanbul draws thousands
Thousands of members of a right-wing anti-LGBT+ group marched in Istanbul, Turkey on Sept. 18 demanding that LGBT+ organizations be closed and their activities banned. It was the largest anti-LGBT+ demonstration in Turkey.
The demonstration was titled “The Big Family Gathering.” More than 150,000 Turks had signed a petition to demand a new law from Turkey’s parliament that would ban “LGBTQ propaganda,” which anti-LGBT+ groups assert pervades Netflix, social media, arts and sports.
The group held banners that read: “Protecting the family is a national security issue.”
Prior to the anti-LGBT+ march, organizers circulated a video using images from past LGBTQ Pride marches in Turkey. The video was included in a public service announcement list of Turkey’s media watchdog. But LGBTQ parades have been banned in Turkey since 2015.
LGBT+ rights groups and Istanbul Pride demanded the event be banned and that authorities take down the video, arguing both were hateful.
ILGA Europe, which works for LGBTQ equality, said it was extremely concerned about the risks of violence to LGBT+ people due to stirring up outrage through the video and march.
“The Turkish state needs to uphold its constitutional obligation to protect all its citizens against hate and violence,” it said.
Amnesty International’s Turkey office said public service announcements listing the event violated Turkey’s equality and non-discrimination principles.
Top Turkish officials have called LGBTQ people “perverts” who aim to hurt traditional family values.
Gay Israeli parliament member backs Netanyahu
An openly gay member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has defended his Likud party’s leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Netanyahu pushed for the inclusion of the anti-LGBT Noam party in the conservative bloc.
Amir Ohana, who is openly gay, asserts that while he doesn’t agree with the ultra-conservative stance of the Noam party, it is a price he is willing to pay to see his party form a coalition in the Knesset.
In an interview on Sept. 18, Ohana said he was willing to give up some progress for the LGBT+ community, if it meant getting Likud back in power. “I hope that we’ll have enough seats to establish such a coalition.”
As Times of Israel reported, “Netanyahu brokered a deal to see Noam join forces with the far-right Religious Zionism party ahead of the election, with a view to avoid wasting right-wing votes, even though it would mean including the ultra-conservative homophobic faction in a possible coalition.”
Ohana said in the interview with Walla News that he “obviously does not agree with Noam MK Avi Maoz,” at present the party’s only lawmaker. But Ohana said the options for Likud are limited and that he prefers Moaz to the Islamist party Ra’am’s anti-gay MK Waleed Taha. Ohana said, “With Taha, there are other problems too, like his opposition to the idea of a Jewish state.”
The interview adds to the conflicts that have arisen in the Knesset over anti-LGBT+ representation and policy. Ohana admitted that a coalition including Noam would also mean that there would not be any chance of his party arguing for legalizing same-sex marriage.
But Ohana insisted, “I can promise that there will not be any anti-gay legislation, nothing that sends us back in time,” adding that “No matter what Noam may demand, it won’t happen… I have some pull as well.”
MK Eitan Ginzberg of the National Unity party, which opposes the Likud-led bloc, argued that a government under Netanyahu that includes extremist parties would be “a danger” to the LGBT community.
“The fact that there won’t be any anti-LGBT legislation shouldn’t be a goal, but a basic premise,” said Ginzberg, who is also gay. “In 2022, the LGBT community is striving for full equal rights and not for maintaining the status quo.”