Kristine Garina, President of the European Pride Organisers Association, reflects on EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade earlier this month.
A week ago we marched in Belgrade at EuroPride 2022. It may be too soon to fully comprehend the importance of this event, what it meant for the LGBTI+ community in Serbia and in the region, what it exposed about the opposition the LGBTI+ community in Serbia faces and what it teaches us about Serbia as an EU candidate country.
It will take years if not decades to disclose, analyse and understand the political games and manipulations that the event was met with at the highest level of the Serbian government and the authorities. But what we can learn and understand now is that this is the struggle that LGBTI+ community and activists in Serbia are facing every day. Every civil society leader, every politician, every influential decision maker on the European scene, every diplomat, every political official that marched at EuroPride 2022 or observed it from the sidelines had a chance to witness with their own eyes the fierce resistance people fighting for their (and our!) rights experience on the ground. This was the test in democracy and the true, real-life commitment to the European values – and downplaying the importance of this test is a big mistake.
Was EuroPride 2022 a victory? I do not know. It was never up to us to decide. Belgrade Pride did some monumental work to ensure that the march went ahead and their dedication and persistence only confirm once again that the resilience of Pride organisers and activists on the ground is endless. Pride itself is not the goal. Pride a tool to achieve change and we know it is effective because we’ve been doing it for 50 years. The Pride movement is the biggest and the most visible civil rights movement in the world. It is also a very powerful movement, and last week in Serbia we saw that once again – the President and the Prime Minister both resisted it with all they had, and I can only assume the overdue last-minute support from the Prime Minister came after the huge international pressure from the European leaders and diplomats.
The support from the international LGBTI+ community also made a difference. The protest by the activists that took place at the International Human Rights Conference when the Prime Minister was opening it was a very powerful display of outrage, anger and commitment to the cause – LGBTI+ people in Serbia will not be silenced, I am sure of that.
Supporting activists on the ground is the only way we can ensure success. The ‘victory’ was never going to be ours anyway. It belongs to the people who we came to support, and my personal view of success is in the hope that we did not fail them. I know that EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade was a different experience to different people. Several people were attacked and hurt after the march. Some people are ‘under investigation’ from the Serbian authorities for what they wore and for how they looked at the march. The Minister of the Interior still insists there was no march at all. From the injuries that our own people suffered when the police failed to protect them to a government minister who doesn’t know what a march is, to being placed on the Civicus human rights watchlist – if this is overlooked in Serbia’s assessment of the EU accession and not used as a reason to demand rights to LGBTI+ people in Serbia, we are all in much bigger trouble than we think.
The historic significance of this event taking place in Belgrade was even more evident in the face of the resistance that it was met with. For the Belgrade Pride organisers, activists and volunteers, for the LGBTI+ community in Serbia and in the Balkans marching at EuroPride2022 despite all the obstacles took huge courage and determination. Standing up to the Prime Minister, literally and metaphorically, was a victory for activism and showed the very spirit of Pride.
In the environment where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are normalised and where LGBTI+ people are dehumanised and expected to be invisible, Pride is crucially important for change. And it will come not thanks to international organisations and institutions who arrive for EuroPride and then quickly leave again but thanks to the people in Serbia and elsewhere who will keep going on the streets and marching at Pride every year, even when it’s difficult, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and often threatening. They’re fighting for all of us and for the future of Europe.
The least we can do is to acknowledge their incredible courage and determination and continue to listen and support them where support is needed.