Belgrade Fights to Celebrate Pride
Mine is a story about resilience, activism, persistence, and the fight for freedom and equality in Serbia and the Balkans. It revolves around my perspective of organizing Belgrade’s now infamous EuroPride 2022 celebration.
The story begins three years earlier, in 2019, when Belgrade Pride activists dared to ask the city to host EuroPride. Surprisingly, at European Pride Organizers' Association annual meeting, Belgrade won by a landslide, indicating a growing recognition of the need for change and securing LGBTI+ rights in Serbia.
With limited resources and little city or state support, EuroPride preparations began. High expectations envisioned rainbow flags adorning the city, LGBTI+ flags on prominent buildings, and a massive Pride Walk through Belgrade. However, challenges arose as the country faced the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and growing euroskepticism, which fueled conspiracy theories and social distrust.
In late August, news broke that Serbia’s president had canceled EuroPride. Panic, sadness, anger, and despair ensued. But we decided to fight back. We declared our determination to march regardless of the ban. Activists from across Europe joined Pride Week, and we made it clear despite the ban that the rally would take place. We decided to stand up for the rights of LGBTI+ individuals in Serbia and beyond.
The much-anticipated day arrived, accompanied by heavy rain and gloomy weather. The police allowed a gathering in front of the Constitutional Court, and a 500-meter march to the Tasmajdan stadium followed. Hooligans encircled us, but we persisted and managed to hold a few speeches from a small truck. As the march proceeded, we were redirected through a park due to safety concerns. Extremists greeted us near a church, creating an eerie atmosphere while bells rang out from the steeple. A concert went off well, despite the cold and wet weather. But violence erupted afterwards, demonstrating that the struggle for equality is far from over. Hooligans attacked several people simply for attending Pride, regardless of their gender or nationality. Unfortunately, none of the perpetrators faced consequences.
After a week of sleep and recuperating from the flu, I had time to reflect on my journey. Despite personal exposure through appearances on billboards and in media interviews, I felt satisfied knowing I’d helped at least one person in the country feel empowered. That outweighed all the challenges faced and overcome. The fight for change continues, with a long road ahead, but the desire for a better future has never been stronger.