Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pride and Prejudices

The second ever Serbian Gay Pride Parade was scheduled for Sunday, October 2 in Belgrade, but it was cancelled by the government at nearly the last minute.

Back at home, the Pride parade is no big deal. We have a few counter-protesters, but they were always peaceful, quiet, and holding up signs misinterpreting select passages of the Bible. My mayor, my friends, and I marched last year.

But there's nowhere like Chapel Hill here in Serbia. Most of the Serbians I've met here were ambivalent about gay rights, or even supportive, but I have to remember that I have the mother of all sampling biases: I'm talking to English-speaking people who have the patience to deal with an American, many of whom are affiliated with NGOs working for other minority rights. The graffiti, as always, shows a rougher side: I remember that during our first week here, I passed some graffiti that read "Ово није земља педера": "This is not a country of faggots."

Last year in Belgrade, six thousand hooligans and right-wing counter-protesters attacked the parade and their riot police protection. They trashed much of the city, and over one hundred cops were injured. This year was expected to be just as bad, and the police were extremely hesitant to provide protection again.

Officially, all major public events in Belgrade this weekend were banned, both the Pride Parade and its several peaceful counter-marches, for Family Values and similar ideologies. In reality, the government caved in to the threat of anti-gay violence.

I haven't faced much prejudice against myself personally as an American. I look plausibly Serbian (enough to fool a few Serbians here) until I attempt to speak the language, but even then, the default assumption is that I'm British. People here seem surprised that an American would visit Serbia, let alone Novi Sad. The most negative reaction I've gotten was from a bus driver, who said to a group of us that he likes us but doesn't like our government. I can respect that. If I mention that I'm from Северна Каролина (North Carolina), they generally respond by either hiding their nonrecognition or by eagerly replying, "Ah, Michael Jordan!"

No one has even attempted to associate me with the NATO bombings during the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. Everybody I've run into has, like the bus driver, clearly been able to separate American bombers from American individuals. I've run into several Bosnian Serbs who were eager to set the record straight for me about the war. One, who identified himself as a refugee, told me that his father, uncles, and grandfathers all served under General Mladić, who is now spending some quality time in The Hague. Mladić was a hero, said the refugee, who is now in his early 20s and studies computer science at a local university. "Do I look like a war criminal?" his friend asked. Standing together outside a hole-in-the-wall fast food place, we all looked like we could have been Princeton students. 

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