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Monday 08 November 2010

Grotesque Serbia

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 22nd October 2010

Over fifteen years after the Balkan Wars ravaged Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbia is still a no-go area for LGBT and other human rights.

Earlier this month, there were violent clashes in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, between neofascist antigay protestors and Pride marchers, with more than one hundred arrests. What's wrong with Serbian society? Why is it so homophobic?

The former Yugoslavia was not a friendly place for lesbians and gay men, even if it had some degree of ethnic and religious pluralism. Indeed, male homosexuality was criminalised in 1977, apart from within the liberal Serbian province of Vojvodina, where it was decriminalised from 1978, until 1990. As Yugoslavia disintegrated into antagonistic warrning Balkan states, fuelled by the growth of Serbian militarism, nationalism and Serbian Orthodox religious xenophobia, Serbia decriminalised gay male sex with an unequal age of consent (18 for anal sex) in 1994, although it introduced age of consent equality (14) in 2006. In 2005, it introduced comprehensive antidiscrimination laws on the basis of employment, which were extended to other forms of discrimination in 2009. Its legislation includes sexual orientation and gender identity and has an (unenforced) hate speech ban.

Despite this, Serbia is still dogged by endemic homophobic violence, racist and sectarian hate crimes. Pride marches had to be cancelled in 2001, 2004 and 2009, partially because the LGBT organisations involved couldn't get their act together, but also because police couldn't guarantee their safety.

Organisations such as Obraz, 1389 and Stormfront are the active and ugly face of Serb skinhead neofascism, and rioted against the Pride parade on October 9th this year, throwing petrol bombs and firecrackers at participants. Of these organisations, Obraz is an Orthodox-sanctioned neofascist organisation that targets lesbians and gays, Muslims, Croats, Jews, anarchists and pacifists as "traitors to the Serbian people" and has not been disavowed by the Serbian Orthodox Church hierarchy.Movement 1389 appears to consist mainly of football hooligans and skinheads, while Stormfront is a homegrown neofascist sect.

Civic authorities, European Union authorities and the Belgrade mayor all deplored the ugly displays, which won't help Serbia's ongoing quest for European Union membership. Predictably, the Serbian Orthodox Church was equivocal, condemning the march but also weakly condemning violence against its participants.

LGBT rights in Serbia:

Craig Young - 22nd October 2010

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