An eclectic mix. My holiday plans changed dramatically and I find myself in the middle of a Pride parade in Belgrade, an experience that I was not expecting.
I arrive in Belgrade after a night train from Bar, Montenegro. Whilst the views from the old train’s windows were something out of a movie, it was quite the contrary pulling into the derelict looking station in Belgrade. So begins my adventure of the Serbian capital. The first thing I notice is that everywhere I go there’s riot police. Inquisitive, I asked a few Serbian policeman. Unfortunately, even after finally finding one that spoke English, the only response I could find was ‘no’.
Slightly confused, I was later informed that Belgrade’s pride march was about to take place. I decided to try and join in as I know that in the Balkans countries the LGBT community is oppressed heavily by right-wing activist groups. A lot of this is due to a long orthodox Christian history. But joining in was not so easy. In Serbia marches for LGBT rights aren’t quite the same as in the U.K.
Police were not letting anyone in… This seemed a little odd, what’s the point in having a march if no one is to see it? Unfortunately this is due to safety. Pride marches have been organised in Belgrade since 2001, but every year since then up until 2014 it was either cancelled or met with organised violent protests against it, which included many injuries and some fatalities. After persuading an officer that I wasn’t a right-wing activist I was allowed to join in.
I was welcomed to join despite being a straight Christian and I was really happy about that. I must admit though, it felt a little odd. With more riot police protecting us then actual people protesting, it was a different ordeal to what I expected. But what I can say is the LGBT community are fighting for basic human rights here in Serbia and are facing an opposition lacking in acceptance and understanding, so I was very happy to be attending in support.
After Pride was finished some Orthodox christians came with their parade, holding signs condemning homosexuality. The protests were peaceful but unsurprisingly were met with unhappy reactions from the members of the Pride march. The police allowed both protests to take place. Being a Christian I felt a little confused as to how I should feel about the reactions of my fellow christians, but my opinion has since become clear.
Today I was supporting Pride, because I want the human rights of others to be upheld and that includes the rights of LGBT people. I want those rights to be upheld because I believe that to give someone rights is a step in the direction of loving and accepting them in the way that Christ calls me and others to. I do not believe that human rights is enough, nor is human rights explicitly contained in love, but it is a step.
From talking to people involved in both processions, it was evident that everyone thinks what they are doing is right. It is not purposeful hatred with intent of demonising the oppressing parties, it is a fight for what they believe is correct. For the LGBT community it’s human rights, for the Orthodox christians it is defending their religion. Yet what lacked was communication and I hope that in the future this will be possible.
For fellow believers in the human rights of the LGBT community I hope that we can give to others the same rights that is being asked for. To respect and to listen can be achieved without agreement. To respect and to listen makes it harder for the opposition to dehumanise LGBT people.
For fellow believers in Christianity I ask that we can love and accept others in the way that we are called to. The fundamental lesson of the Gospel is to love and this applies to everyone, there is nothing to exclude LGBT people in this. The theology of homosexuality within a Christian context is open for debate and it is not an easy debate at that, so I will not go into it here, but no matter what your views are about your neighbour, you are called to love them.
Like other European countries, the situation in Serbia is getting better for LGBT people. It is a long and slow process, but with the new Prime Minister attending the march this year, I’m hopeful of a happier future.
*I do not intend to convey the opinions of any group of people but myself in this article. Being my opinions, they claim no objective truth*