Bella Peacock

BEL-GRADE-NO-GAY-PARADE

September 27, 2014 -

Shrouded by the dark of night a battalion, uniformed in grey hoodies and black sweat-pants, flocks to Republic Square in the centre of Belgrade; they are armed with crucifixes and Serbian flags. From the sea of bodies 5,000 voices swell into the darkness and form one cohesive message:

Kill, kill, kill the faggots

Two children, no older than four, play in the grimy shrubs on the outskirts of the square as their mothers look on. Among the main throng of people a young girl is perched on her father's shoulders. Nearby smoke flares ignite in intervals. It is the eve of Belgrade's planned Gay Pride Parade, (Pride? What are they proud of?) and thousands have rallied together to demonstrate their vehement opposition.

The crowd briefly hush their impassioned chants to put their hands to their hearts and sing the national anthem. An old man with a thick wiry mustache wearing a pseudo-traditional hat (the kind made for tourists) waves the traditional red, blue and white rigorously, as if it would be blasphemous for the flag to appear anything but erect, glorious. An adolescent girl with electric pink lipstick and a heavily gelled quiff declares: God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Exceedingly satisfied with her recycled wit, she laughs with jubilation before the camera.

An authoritative figure appears on the podium- the crowd subdues. He wears a matching beige jacket-pant combination, and has a strong head of black hair, his forehead distinguished by grays. He is Vladan Glisic, leader of the Social Conservative Party, or Dveri. He commands the legion here tonight. In a spirited address he denounces the faggots in parliament, and tells the people that it is they who have taken their wages, stolen their pensions, disgraced their dollars to pay for this godless gay parade! They are stabbing us in the heart with the Serbian flag.

Eruption! Roars! The crowd march towards the Government of Serbia building, where the fate of the parade is being decided. This protest has become an annual routine for the far-right sect of Serbia, so they are well versed in the waiting game they must play with the riot police who know to expect their visit.

Yes, this is all part of the game, and their waiting has a certain smug confidence in it because for the last three consecutive years this ritual protest has successfully smothered eventuation of the Pride March. In fact, since the first Pride March was organised for Belgrade in 2001 protesters have failed to stop it only once: 2010. And while they lost that battle, they certainly won the war, ensuring that Serbia's sole Pride March was a violent catastrophe that left officials licking their wounds for years. So with only one minor setback in an otherwise impeccable record, the midnight protesters embark on this routine battle as clear match favourites.

But, despite the haunting memory of 2010 and precedent of abandonment, there is something different about this year. An illustrious force has arisen within the government; a force for tolerance, for liberty, for modernity: for Serbian acceptance to the EU. Soon, at a summit in Brussels, Serbia will be asked to prove itself to the international community- and oppression of the LGBT community will clearly be an indelible black mark against their name. Officials inside weigh up priorities and obligations as, outside their window, a Christian Orthodox priest with a heavy beard holds an impromptu sermon to young girls with bowed heads and hoop earrings. Their fingers cling to wooden crucifixes and metallic images of Jesus so tight that it seems they are trying to will an incarnate God Almighty to come and set Serbia straight.

For six hours now the protesters have been waiting, they haven't moved; stedfast in opposition. But they grow restless: the officials have not yet admitted that they have sided with faceless international officials, against the will of the people outside their doors; against their own countrymen. Finally the courage is plucked and the call is made....The gays will parade!

Shocked and horrified the crowd scurries away to seek the refuge of the dejected: darkness. Tomorrow the LGBT community will claim these streets.

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The sun reigns nobly in the sky, its rays dancing with the sea of colour that scantily adorns the bodies of those preparing to march, instilling in them flamboyant life that looks decidedly out of place next to the grey concrete building that reflects only a monochromatic glare. It is a new world that is found before the Government of Serbia today: their presence announced by the lively voice of Kylie Minogue, the fresh scent of cologne and glints of glitter.

While many officials have shunned the event, the Mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, stands among the crowd, painfully overdressed in a blue collared shirt and tie. Amid the sea of skin and loud hues he broadcasts in neatly enunciated English: this is Belgrade's chance to show the international community it is an open city, a city which understands differences and a city which is safe. Look - the rainbow balloons soaring proudly in the sky proclaim it!

However, to drop our eyes from the heavens reveals the excessively armoured police force standing below. They can't help but betray how disputable Serbia's liberalism is. Their heavy black riot gear stationed beside bright balloons playing with the breeze looks absurd. The scene balances uncertainly on the cusp between hilarity and tragedy. Police tanks, bodies, trucks, horses form a physical shield around the march for tolerance, and it plays a little like a bad joke.

A few hundred people have turned out to march: the police outnumber them five to one. But here we go...

Five, four, three, two, one

PRIDE FOR EVERYBODY

Leading the march is a man sporting a fluorescent yellow vest, sailors hat and three black studs in each ear. Head held high, he sounds his trumpet, announcing that yes! He is indeed loud and proud!

Consolidated by a long pink banner, the liberal procession is a rainbow marching down the city's main boulevard. A girl with cropped blue hair holds a handwritten sign that reads in English: we're made in Serbia. Another, written first in Serbian, then English says: equality and human right for all. The rainbow presents is words defiantly, perhaps desperately, to the streets which had tried to silence them.

As March descends from the crest of a hill it becomes apparent that the body of the parade is painfully undernourished. From afar the parade appears like a handful of vibrantly dressed ants walking down an abandoned footpath. They are parading for nobody. The streets are deserted. There is not a single fellow Belgradian to present their proud march to.

Still the small group move forward with assertion, blowing their bright party whistles to compete with the ominous thud of the police helicopter over head. But neither the racket nor the demanding stream of colour, can fill the void left by the absent crowd. The devoid streets express a message as clear as the thousands of voices from the night before.

Out of the window of his third story apartment a pink-faced elderly man sees the march approaching. He leans out and shouts: fucking gays.


by Bella Peacock