5.10.2012, Balkan Insight, Serbia Between Four Walls

Author: Jelena Milić
Balkan Insight
, October 5, 2012

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

Serbia’s inability to fully control its security services and the ties between some officials and well-organised “extremists” are the main reasons behind the scandalous ban of the Gay Pride Parade.

Any attempt to organise the Pride Parade in Serbia is worthwhile. Even when the event itself is banned, the attempt grabs the attention of the public for at least a few days.

For the second year in a row, the state has caved in to the extremists' demands and banned Belgrade's Pride Parade citing security reasons.

Estimates suggest that 70 per cent of the population is against the event. But more importantly, this suggests that the remaining 30 per cent support the parade, or have nothing against it.

Imagine what this means for teenagers, even older people, perhaps somewhere in central Serbia, who are getting in touch with their sexuality.

They do not have the gay scene of Belgrade. Nor do they have that many civil society organisations that fight for the rights of the LGBT community. And they may not even have anonymity of social networks.

Despite the media spin, every attempt to organise the parade tells them they are not alone.
This alone makes the efforts made by the parade’s supporters worthwhile.

The attempts to organise the parade, both successful and unsuccessful, expose the public’s attitude towards the LGBT struggle.

It shows that Serbia is far from the secular state envisaged by the constitution. It reveals the real priorities of the government, and the strength of the parade’s opponents.

At the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, CEAS, we believe there can only be two possible reasons behind the scandalous decision to ban this year’s parade.

The first is that the Serbian state does not have complete control of its security sector. Thus, it cannot, through the chain of command, tell its security services to protect citizens who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to gatherings. This makes Serbia a weak state and a regional security threat.

The second possible reason is that some state officials use the service of assorted paramilitary groups, which are erroneously called extremists and hooligans, to fulfil a political agenda that they cannot publicly proclaim.

For example, the same groups were used in the violence during the Pride Parade in 2010 and in the protests in northern Kosovo in the summer 2011.

Based on our long-term monitoring of the security sector, we believe that the second scenario is more likely.

We believe the some state officials recruited the paramilitary groups to threaten the parade with violence this year. The state’s aim, in doing so, is to increase popular antagonism toward the LGBT community.

The beating of parade participants and the destruction of city property two years ago had a similar purpose.

Over the past few years, similar groups burnt the embassies of countries that have recognised Kosovo’s independence.

They were also implicated in the conflict with international forces in northern Kosovo in 2011. All these measures aim to lead to the partition of Kosovo.

Overall, these actions seek to steer Serbia away from the path towards European integration and towards a modern, liberal society.

They are designed to steer the country towards the Russian authoritarian model of government, in which the church plays a dominant role in determining desirable social, cultural, and social behaviour patterns.

This implies drastically limiting freedom of speech, and abandoning the secular model of the country.

Thus, the intention is to lock within four walls everything that differs from the Orthodox-national-conservative model of identity.

In that attempt, they have the support of the current Serbian constitution that envisages limits on human rights and freedoms in order to protect “morals of a democratic society”.

This is the very dubious notion that Dveri, the right-wing party that participated in the democratic election process, can easily exploit.

Serbia’s armed forces and intelligence services are traditionally close to Moscow. The lack of democratic control over them has strengthened the resistance towards joining the West, and pushed Belgrade closer to Russia.

But the Russia that our leaders have in mind is not the land of Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy. Rather it is the land of suppressed minorities, immigrants and LGBT communities, a place of brutal corruption and social stratification, where the citizens are oppressed and where the resources are plundered by a privileged few.

The international community bears part of the responsibility for the situation in Serbia. Its support for democracy has not been coherent, especially in its attempts to reform the security sector. Instead, the international community has been guided by their own particular interests.