Serbian officials have banned a gay pride parade and all other public gatherings scheduled for the same day, saying they fear a repeat of violent attacks that injured scores of marchers two years ago.
The decision comes after the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church called for the government to prevent both the pride march and a planned photo exhibit called “Ecce Homo” at a Belgrade cultural center, which the Orthodox patriarch argued was insulting to Christians. Right-wing and ultranationalist groups also pushed to halt the parade, one calling it “a manifestation of totalitarian ideology.”
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters the government was also stopping gatherings of groups that wanted to attack the march from gathering and canceling soccer matches that might draw hooligans, in an attempt to avoid bloodshed. The move, Dacic insisted, was not a blow to civil rights.
Unconvinced, parade organizer Goran Miletic decried the government decision as “an open coalition with hooligans,” complaining that Serbian officials “completely adopted the arguments of extremist organizations, and even their demands," Serbian radio and television outlet B92 reported.
The parade was also banned last year over threats of violence. A year earlier, the event went forward in Belgrade but opponents attacked participants with stones and Molotov cocktails. As police clashed with rioters trying to disrupt the parade, more than 100 people were injured.
The fate of the pride parade, scheduled for Saturday, was seen as another such test for the Serbian government. In a March resolution, the European Parliament credited Serbia with convicting some of the extremists behind attacks on gays, but was worried by a sluggish investigation and light sentences.
By canceling the march last year, Serbia seemed to lack the political will to ensure the marchers were safe, the resolution added. If Serbia were to join the European Union, it warned, the country would have to respect the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Parade organizers have put forward a list of demands for the Serbian government, including the criminalization of hate crimes and the prosecution of extremists behind the planned riots that led Serbian authorities to ban the parade last year, after which “not one person was arrested,” they lamented.
Miletic had earlier pledged that if the parade were banned, the organizers would still do something to mark the day, but had yet to announce what was planned.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: In this Oct. 10, 2010, file photo, Serbian riot police gather to protect a gay pride parade as it moves along a street in Belgrade. Credit: Darko Vojinovic / Associated Press