If successful, it sets a dangerous precedent for the region and beyond. Europe must act swiftly to support EuroPride 2022 to ensure that the progress made for LGBTI+ rights in the region is not lost.
When the European Pride Organisers Association (EPOA) announced in 2019 that Belgrade would host EuroPride 2022, Kristīne Garina, president of the EPOA articulated clearly why it represented a breakthrough for the LGBTI+ community in the region, stating that “Pride has always been a protest and EuroPride will have a huge impact for LGBTI+ people in Belgrade, Serbia and the whole region”.
But now, just as the event is scheduled to take place, EuroPride 2022 is under attack from the Serbian government.
Bowing to pressure from radical nationalist groups and the deeply conservative Orthodox Church, Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić announced last week that EuroPride 2022 would be cancelled, despite the fact that only the organisers can cancel the event and a ban of the Pride March would be illegal under Serbian law.
The announcement by Vučić has created a situation where EuroPride 2022 no longer just represents a potential breakthrough moment for LGBTI+ rights in Serbia, it is now also a pivotal moment for civil rights, democracy, and freedom in the region.
Serbia has committed itself to respect fundamental civil rights, and it is a requirement for European Union accession. Will they honour this commitment? Or will Serbia once again return to the autocratic habit of restricting its people’s freedom of assembly out of mere convenience?
After years of repression and then finally a constitutional court decision that banning Pride is illegal, Belgrade Pride has now been successfully organised every year since 2014, except in 2020 due to the pandemic.
From the beginning, Civil Rights Defenders has supported these efforts as part of the Belgrade Pride Organising Committee, and our polling shows that there has gradually been real progress. Support for the rights of the LGBTI+ community has increased significantly among the Serbian public and, notably, two thirds of respondents to our poll now believe that peaceful Pride marches should be allowed to take place in the capital.
At the same time, Belgrade Pride has taken on significant regional importance across the Western Balkans, with support and activist energy spilling over to neighbouring countries. Pride events have now successfully been organised by Civil Rights Defenders and our LGBTI+ partners in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Montenegro.
Progression vs repression
But just as progress can be contagious, so can repression.
If Serbia successfully blocks EuroPride 2022 from taking place, or even just forces it to scale down by illegally banning the traditional — and essential — Pride March, it will represent a victory for autocracy directly under the nose of the European Union.
Based on our past experience, we are certain that others will take note. Such an outcome would send a strong signal to other leaders in the region and beyond that respect for civil rights is optional at best. The first to suffer will likely be the LGBTI+ community, as is so often the case.
Thus, Europe cannot stand by passively. Yet many of the statements issued by European leaders so far have been vague at best, non-consequential at worst.
We can and must do better. It is essential that we support the Serbian LGBTI+ community and do everything we can to ensure that EuroPride 2022, including the Pride March, can take place peacefully, as planned.
We therefore call on the European community to strongly condemn the attempts by the Serbian government to attack the civil rights of the LGBTI+ community in Serbia, and for as many as possible to come attend EuroPride 2022 in Belgrade in person next week.
Additionally, if EuroPride 2022 is restricted in any way by the Serbian government, we call for this to have direct consequences in terms of Serbia’s ongoing negotiations to join the European Union.
Serbia faces a true choice. Will it continue along the path to joining the European community and becoming a democratic nation in which all enjoy their civil and political rights, or will it turn its back on progress?
We sincerely hope that EuroPride 2022 will be the joyful celebration of a breakthrough moment for the LGBTI+ community in the region that it deserves to be, and that it will provide new energy in the push for further progress, including the long-awaited legalisation of same-sex unions in Serbia. With strong European support and presence, that may well become a reality.