Thousands of religious and right-wing activists marched through Serbia’s capital on Sunday, calling for authorities to ban EuroPride, which is scheduled for next weekend despite being cancelled by the government.
The protesters – who carried a massive Serbian flag – included groups who also shouted slogans backing Serbia’s long-term ally Russia and nationalistic and far-right causes.
“They want to desecrate the sanctity of marriage and the family and impose an unnatural union as a substitute for marriage,” the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Patriarch Porfirije, told the crowd, adding that EuroPride threatens traditional family values.
A column of bikers who support the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine revved their engines in support of the crowds who marched to Belgrade’s St Sava cathedral for prayers.
EuroPride takes place in a different European city each year, with 2022 being the turn of Belgrade. But following outrage from the right, Vucic banned the event earlier this month but blamed it on the “significant crisis in Kosovo.”
Organisers, however, said the event would go ahead regardless.
Vucic said on Saturday there had been threats against the march, and it was up to the police whether it should be stopped.
Homosexuality is legal in Serbia, but same-sex marriages are not allowed, and activists say LGBT people face hostility and discrimination. Furthermore, the rhetoric from politicians and church leaders is discrimination and antagonism.
Serbian governments have banned Pride parades, and some events in the early 2000s were marred by violence.
Many in Sunday’s crowd waved Russian flags, a show of support for Moscow in a country where the government is trying to balance its ambition to join the European Union with its longstanding ties with Russia and China.
Political analyst Dusan Janjic said he believes Russian intelligence is behind the anti-pride movement this time.
“With the Night Wolves and the bishops, it is obvious that GRU was behind it,” he said about a protest over a week ago.
The Night wolves bikers were involved in the invasion of Crimea in 2014, and their members fought on the Russian side in Ukraine. They have branches in Serbia and the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, yet the group’s Russian leaders were banned from entering Bosnia four years ago.
Brussels has said Serbia needs to make a string of reforms to become an EU member, including improving the rule of law and its human and minority rights record.
The Commission has spoken out against the actions of the Serbian authorities, calling on them to respect human rights.
“For years, EuroPride has advocated for equal rights for LGBTI+ citizens throughout Europe, giving voice to those who are often discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. These are fundamental rights for the EU, and we expect our close partners to respect them as well”, said the spokeswoman for the European bloc, Ana Pisonero.
The situation has also been condemned by MEPs from across the political spectrum, including the EPP, Socialists & Democrats, Renew Europe, The Left, the European Greens, and many from the centre-right.