Serbian leader says EuroPride will not take place due to threats

Belgrade, Serbia — Serbia will not allow a pan-European LGBTQ Pride event to take place in Belgrade next month, the president said on Saturday, citing threats from right-wing extremists and fear of clashes.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced the decision to cancel the September 12-18 EuroPride celebration at a press conference where he also proposed to extend the term of the Serbian prime minister, who is a lesbian.

“It’s not a question of whether they (extremists) are stronger, but you just can’t do it all at the same time, and that’s it,” Vucic said. “I’m not happy about it, but we won’t make it.”

Members of the European Pride Organizers Association chose the capital of Serbia three years ago to host the annual event. Vucic said a crisis with neighboring Kosovo and economic problems were the reasons why the authorities of the Balkan countries thought they could not handle EuroPride, with a Pride parade.

“This is a violation of minority rights, but right now the state is under pressure from many problems,” he said.

EuroPride organizers said Serbian authorities must provide security against “bullies” who threaten and try to discredit the march. The president of European Pride Organizers, Kristine Garina, urged Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to keep a pledge to support the event.

“President Vucic cannot cancel someone else’s event,” Garina said. “The right to hold Pride has been ruled by the European Court of Human Rights as a fundamental human right.”

An organizer in Serbia, Goran Miletic, said police must formally ban the march to prevent it from taking place. If they issue a ban, the organizers would file a complaint with the Constitutional Court of Serbia. He insisted that indoor events scheduled as part of the weeklong celebration cannot be banned.

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However, the government later said “there are no preconditions to keep the EuroPride 2022 safe”, adding that “certain extremist groups could use and abuse the event and Serbia’s will to organize it, to heighten tensions and attack Serbia.” into instability.”

The statement did not provide details about the alleged extremist groups.

Serbia has pledged to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in its pursuit of EU membership, but increasingly vocal right-wing supporters harass and sometimes attack people based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Opponents of the pride are also the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

The church greeted Vucic’s announcement on Saturday, saying the pride serves “to promote the LGBT ideology being imposed on Europe and the so-called Western world in general.” The church also said holding the event would only fuel divisions during a crisis over Kosovo.

Serbia’s right-wing and pro-Russian groups have gained momentum in recent years, with some taking seats in parliament in the country’s April general election. Several thousand people recently took part in a march in Belgrade against LGBTQ Pride.

Vucic won another five-year term in April and his Serbian Progressive Party won the general election in a landslide. The president said on Saturday that Brnabic, who has led Serbia’s previous two governments, must lead the new cabinet expected to be formed in the coming weeks.

Brnabic first became Prime Minister of Serbia in 2017, in what was seen as a major change for the predominantly conservative and male-dominated country. Brnabic lives with her female partner, but LGBTQ groups have criticized the prime minister, saying she has done little to improve the position of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers in Serbian society.

After the Belgrade pride march led to clashes in 2010, the subsequent marches took place with strong police protection.

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EuroPride was first celebrated in London in 1992 and Belgrade would be the first city in Southeastern Europe to host the event, according to organizers. Next month’s event was expected to attract thousands of people from across Europe.

Vucic said the celebration could be postponed for “happier times”. He insisted that state authorities should instead plan for energy problems expected before winter, partly as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Serbian government has condemned the Russian invasion but has refused to join the Western sanctions against Russia.

Vucic said tensions with Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose independence the government in Belgrade has refused to recognize, was another source of pressure on authorities.

Tensions rose last month over a dispute over travel documents and license plates, and have raised concerns about instability in the Balkans, where multiple wars were fought during the breakup of Yugoslavia. US and EU envoys visited Kosovo and Serbia earlier this week in an effort to ease tensions.

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