BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia will not allow a pan-European LGBTQ Pride event to be held in Belgrade next month, the president said Saturday, citing threats from right-wing extremists and fears of clashes.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced the decision to cancel the EuroPride celebration from September 12-18 at a press conference where he also offered to extend the term of the Serbian Prime Minister, who identifies as a lesbian .
Members of the European Association of Pride Organizers chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event. Vucic said a crisis with neighboring Kosovo and various economic problems were among the reasons authorities in the Balkan nation did not believe they could handle EuroPride, which includes a pride parade.
“This is a violation of minority rights, but right now the state is under pressure from many issues,” he said.
EuroPride organizers say Serbian authorities must provide security against “bullies” who threaten the march and seek to discredit it. President of European Pride organizers Kristine Garina has urged Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to honor her 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 the police had to strictly ban the march to prevent it from happening. If they issue a ban, the organizers will file a complaint with the Constitutional Court of Serbia. He insisted that indoor events planned as part of the week-long celebration could not be banned.
“The only thing that can happen is that the police ban the (pride) march,” Miletic said. “However, such a hypothetical decision would be unconstitutional.”
Serbia has pledged to protect LGBTQ rights as it seeks EU membership, but increasingly vocal right-wing supporters harass and sometimes attack people because of their sexual orientation or identity of gender.
Serbian right-wing and pro-Russian groups have grown in strength in recent years, and some won seats in parliament in April’s general elections. Several thousand people recently joined a march in Belgrade against LGBTQ pride.
“It’s not about whether they (the extremists) are stronger, but you just can’t do everything at once, and that’s it,” Vucic said. “I’m not happy about it but we can’t make it happen.”
Vucic won another five-year term in the first round of voting in April, and his Serbian Progressive Party won the general election in a landslide victory. The president said on Saturday that Brnabic, who led the two previous governments in Serbia, is expected to lead the new cabinet expected to be formed in the coming weeks.
Brnabic became Serbia’s prime minister in 2017, in what was seen as a major change for the largely conservative and male-dominated country. Brnabic lives with his female partner, but LGBTQ groups have criticized the prime minister, saying she has done little to improve the position of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in Serbian society.
After the 2010 Belgrade Pride march produced clashes, subsequent marches took place with heavy police protection.
EuroPride was first celebrated in London in 1992 and Belgrade was to be the first city in southeastern Europe to host the event, according to organisers. 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 ahead for energy issues slated for winter, in part because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Serbian government condemned the Russian invasion but refused to join 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 the authorities.
Tensions soared last month over a dispute over travel documents and license plates, and raised concerns about instability in the Balkans, where multiple wars have been fought amid of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Serbia counts on the support of Russia and China to continue to assert that Kosovo is part of its territory.
Washington and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence. US and European envoys visited Kosovo and Serbia earlier this week in a bid to ease tensions.
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