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21st Sep 2019

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EU diplomats attend Belgrade march amid violent clashes

  • 'We are waiting for you': Anti-Pride graffiti appeared in Belgrade streets ahead of the event (Photo: anjči)

Several EU diplomats came out in support of Belgrade Pride on Sunday (10 October) as nationalist gangs battled police and vandalised property a few blocks away in the Serb capital.

The head of the EU delegation to Serbia (French diplomat Vincent Degert), the Dutch ambassador to Serbia, the German deputy ambassador and diplomats from the Austrian, Spanish, Swedish and UK missions all turned out to join the crowd of between 1,000 and 1,500 Pride marchers.

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Mr Degert opened the event in the Majek park with a short speech. "We are here to celebrate this very important day ... to celebrate the values of tolerance, freedom of expression and assembly," he said.

The march itself took place peacefully in a tiny three-block-large area of the city centre.

But the roughly 5,000 riot police deployed to protect it clashed violently with anti-Pride demonstrators in the nearby Slavia Square, Prince Michael Street and outside the Democratic Party headquarters.

The gangs of mostly young men hurled fire-bombs, rocks and bottles injuring around 120 policemen, three of whom seriously with wounds to the head. Around 20 counter-demonstrators were injured. One Pride participant was beaten up on the way home after the event. The crowd also started a fire at a garage belonging to the Democratic Party, smashed windows in the Austrian embassy, overturned a car outside the French mission, looted shops and tried to storm the parliament.

Police as of Monday morning had made over 300 arrests with the help of CCTV footage, with Belgrade authorities vowing to crack down hard on offenders, who face up to eight years in prison.

"Serbia will ensure the protection of human rights for all its citizens, regardless of their differences, and any violent attempts to deny them these freedoms will not be allowed to proceed," Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic said in a statement, with the violence occurring just two days before a visit by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to his country.

One of the event organisers, Lazar Pavlovic, told this website by phone on Monday that the upheaval is a show of strength by nationalist and anti-EU elements in Serbian politics as well as a sign of the high level of violence in Serbian society in general.

"This was a representation of their strength. If the state wants to go forward to the EU, it will have to struggle against this kind of nationalism," he said. "For the past 10 years the state has not taken seriously the problem of violence at all levels of Serbian society. It is not just about the gay parade - these people look for any reason to go out on the streets and to fight with the police, to smash up shops."

"The participation of people from abroad, from EU institutions and embassies, was very important to us. The fight for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights is the same as the fight for EU values," he added.

Linda Freimane, the co-chair of the Brussels-based campaign group, ILGA-Europe, who also attended the event on Sunday, noted in an op-ed for EUobserver that violence was also the norm at gay rallies in Western Europe not so long ago.

"Nowhere did Pride parades start out as the festive events we are now used to in cities such as London, Paris, Berlin or Brussels. Initially, it has always been the courageous few who decided to become visible and to demand equal rights and justice," she said.

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