They had warned that they would defy the ban. Thousands of members of the LGBTQ + community marched on Saturday, September 17, in Belgrade, under high police protection, despite the cancellation of the Europride march by the authorities.
The parade itself, supposed to be the high point of this pan-European event which takes place each year in a different city, passed off without notable incident. But according to local media, clashes pitted the police against counter-demonstrators.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, an open lesbian, announced that 64 people had been arrested and 10 police officers injured on Saturday, while stressing that she was "proud" that the day is over “without serious incident”.
The Serbian Ministry of the Interior had banned the march on Tuesday, citing security concerns as far-right groups threatened to stage their own protests after a series of counter-Pride in the capital.
The demonstrators were nevertheless able to travel a few hundred meters in the rain, between the Constitutional Council and a nearby park, a much shorter journey than the Pride march initially planned. Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin assured that the ban had been implemented, and that it was people "escorted to a concert".
Same-sex marriage banned in Serbia
Large riot police had been deployed around the rally and repelled small groups of counter-protesters brandishing crosses and religious insignia, according to Agence France-Presse journalists. The Interior Ministry had also banned all counter-demonstrations, but in far-right discussion forums, users had promised to protest against the Pride.
According to the N1 television channel, scuffles occurred between police and counter-demonstrators, the latter throwing smoke bombs at the police, several of whose vehicles were damaged. AFP journalists saw several counter-demonstrators being arrested.
Marriage between people of the same sex is not legal in this Balkan country of less than seven million inhabitants, where homophobia is deeply rooted despite some progress against discrimination. “It's about much more than a gay pride. We are fighting for the future of this country”summarized Luka Mazzanti Jovicevic, a Serbian protester.
“I have been to several Prides but this one is slightly more stressful than the others”said Yasmin Benoit, model and activist. "I'm from the UK where everyone is more united and where it's more commercial (…) But here, that's really what a Pride should be"she added, in reference to the societal fight at the origins of the movement.
The march ban had caused consternation among rights NGOs. It's a “shameful surrender, and implicit consecration of intolerance and threats of unlawful violence”according to Graeme Reid, director of the LGBTQ+ rights program at Human Rights Watch.
Serbia has been the subject of intense international pressure: more than 20 embassies, including those of the United States, France, Germany and Japan, had called on it in a joint statement to reconsider its decision.
Serbia has been a candidate for EU membership for a decade but member states have raised concerns over its human rights record over the years. At least 15 members of the European Parliament took part in the Pride on Saturday to show their solidarity.
The Pride marches of 2001 and 2010 were targeted by the far right and marred by violence. Since 2014, the Pride has been held without notable incident but under strong police protection.
Last weekend, thousands of people, motorcycle gangs, Orthodox priests and far-right nationalists, took to the streets to demand the cancellation of the parade.