Belgrade Gay-Bashers

Short of enemies to persecute, Serb extremists now turn their bigotry on gays and lesbians.

Belgrade Gay-Bashers

Short of enemies to persecute, Serb extremists now turn their bigotry on gays and lesbians.

Fourteen civilians and a dozen police injured; 32 people taken into custody; shop fronts and the windows of the Social-Democratic Union smashed; several passers-by assaulted; traffic blocked in the centre of Belgrade. This was the depressing tally of Belgrade's Gay and Lesbian Pride celebration last Saturday.

The fracas showed just how allergic Serbia's fractured society remains to any expressions of 'difference'. Unfortunately, the hundred or so gay and lesbian participants at the parade failed to cotton on.

Carrying their brightly coloured balloons, they trusted that Mother Serbia, a mere 48 hours after Milosevic's extradition to The Hague, had miraculously rediscovered the virtue of tolerance.

In Belgrade's Republic Square, the Love Parade's venue, gangs of hard-core football hooligans - supporters of the Red Star club known as 'Delije' - and supporters of another football club, called Rad, were waiting.

Among them were members of the Fascist organisation 'Obraz', the men of the nationalist Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj and an assortment of bearded types from the Ravna Gora Chetnik Movement.

Several priests were present, including Father Zarko Gavrilovic of the St Sava Party (named after Serbia's patron saint), a former show business star Olivera Katarina, and various macho local criminals.

At the start, they confined their protests to shouting slogans about an "epidemic of pederasty that threatens Serbian youth". "Vaseline Boys', they roared. "We'll beat the shit out of you."

But as their patriotic enthusiasm got into its stride, they started attacking anyone who happened to be in the square, even elderly women and passers-by who had never heard about lesbianism.

A couple of bus passengers were assaulted because, "you could see in their eyes they were gay". The frenzied defenders of 'straight' Serbia, included several women. "They should all be killed," one told the daily newspaper Danas. "Lesbians are all whores."

An angry Father Gavrilovic explained that he was fighting "to protect the children of Orthodoxy from the plague coming from the West". Katarina, who as a singer in the 1970s used to cavort half-naked in front of the television cameras all over Yugoslavia, and sometimes do much more, now insisted she had also seen the light of the Church.

"I am proud of the way the youth of Belgrade has reacted," she said. "This just shows Belgrade has the strength and the wisdom to say no to Western influence." One conclusion to be drawn from the affair is that the much admired 'Chetnik youth' of Belgrade have become frustrated by a shortage of enemies.

When ethnic cleansing was all the rage, every fighter in the militia of the paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic 'Arkan' could boast of having kicked the corpses of dead Muslims.

Groups of his 'weekend-killers' on the Serbian side of the Drina river would travel over to Bosnia for a bit of slaughter during their free time. They continued the same activities in Kosovo, raping women and girls.

But then it was clear who were the Serbs' centuries-old enemies. Now the Serbs can no longer attend their blood-stained folk festivals in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, they are turning on themselves.

Gays and lesbians in Serbia have taken on the role formerly accorded to such supposedly low and criminal races as the 'nasty' Croats, 'dirty' Albanians and 'primitive' Bosnian Muslims.

Macho Serbs, backed by their beloved Orthodox Church, which lectures us to take no pleasure in sex, and regard it purely as a means of reproduction, now fears the enemy lies within.

First they intend to deal with gay men. Then it will be time for the lesbians. At the end, it will be the turn of people who can speak English and use the internet.

The official explanation - that the assaults were the work of a 'group of extremists' - is unconvincing.

What was billowing down the streets of Belgrade last weekend was the same force that is on show daily at rallies held in support of Milosevic. It is an ideology which is very much alive in Serbia, and still growing.

The only difference is that this ideology now focuses on pitting Serbs against each other - now the Croats are out of reach.

The demonstrators may have been infuriated by Milosevic's extradition to The Hague. But their rage is completely irrational.

They dream of a homogenous, pure Serbia, in which Jews, gays, traitors, 'Croat-lovers', foreign agents and atheists will have no place.

Then, they hope, the land will be free for millions of little copies of their patriotic president, Vojislav Kostunica.

At the moment they cannot believe their eyes: Is it possible, they ask, that there are gay men in Orthodox Serbia? Fortunately, it is.

Petar Lukovic is IWPR's Project Manager in Serbia.

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