The statement made by Meho Omerovic, the Chair of the Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality (Parliament of the Republic of Serbia), that “it is now up to the state to determine who is funding these things in Serbia”, completed the full circle. This statement was made in reference to the scheduled public hearing on potential legislative models for same-sex partnerships prepared by the Center for Advanced Legal Studies (CALS). With this statement someone that should be at the forefront of advocating for human rights has not only made it clear that certain things must not be discussed in Serbia, but that all those to who wish to talk about such taboo issues should be investigated. Parliamentarian Omerovic knows well that this is a conversation about how to help improve the lives of one of Serbia’s most discriminated citizen groups, at least formally, because the question remains as to how many LGBT community members would ultimately decide to formally register out of fear of further discrimination.
Why did it come to a full circle with this statement? Each year over the last five years, when attempting to organize the Belgrade Pride and demonstrate that Serbia does not necessarily need to be a violent society and that now at least minimal constitutional freedoms are guaranteed, we have been repeatedly slapped in the face by the state and its representatives. At the mention of the freedom of assembly everyone nods their heads as if this is undisputable in Serbia, merely to conclude with a BUT: “BUT does it have to be on the street?”, “BUT do you really need to march?”, “BUT does it really need to be held downtown, could it not be held in the park Usce?”, “BUT don’t you realize that this way you are provoking?”, “BUT aren’t there also organizations that do not support such public display of sexuality? “, ” BUT I don’t like to see an open demonstration of heterosexual sexuality in public either”, “BUT I know a lot of gay people who are not for that Pride”, “BUT you will not achieve anything with THAT”, ” BUT Serbia is not yet ready for THAT”, “BUT no one wants THAT in Serbia, it’s something that EU is imposing on us”. These were just some of the BUT arguments I’ve heard over the years and were intended to remain within the confines of the proverbial four walls. The only thing that differed were the people and the type of used BUT-argument. It is not a big deal when something like this comes from Jagodina’s Palma or the organization Dveri (since all societies have those that collect political points by promoting hatred towards the LGBT community). It is a completely different matter when such ambivalent statements come from politicians as well as others believed to be the society’s elite, and who are reluctant to stand up in defence of the most basic democratic right independently of their personal feelings towards gays. I hope that one day, when Pride becomes a common thing in Serbia, someone will publish all these statements, opinions and perspectives.
In 2013, at the time a bizarre media campaign is being executed and vast air time is being dedicated to international news which demonstrates how the West is also having its doubts regarding the LGBT community (for example, reading the media in Serbia one is left under the impression that France is on the brink of a revolution because of the opposition to equalize gay and straight marriages and that the Tory party in Britain will split up because legislation similar to the one proposed in Serbia has been adopted, despite the facts being quite different) – Serbia initiated a dialogue on legally regulating same-sex partnerships. Marriage and adoption are not a part of these conversations; there is no formally established government working group; there is no government proposal; and the text of the legislation is not being read in the National Parliament. The only thing currently being presented is a legislation model that deals with issues related to two people living together such as the right to inheritance, issues concerning mutual property, partner support, tax credits, pension, health and social benefits. Thus, the proposed model deals exclusively with issues that are important to couples when they remain alone within their four walls. There is no parading in the fact that a women who loses her job will be able to get health care coverage on the account of the insurance of her partner with whom she has lived for 10 years. What rights will be denied to heterosexual citizens of Serbia because two gays will be able to claim each other’s inheritance? None, whatsoever.
Nevertheless, instead of clarifying any possibly perplexing issues to the citizens of Serbia, Parliamentarian Omerovic, to my ample surprise, made a number of false statements. He began by saying that a similar law can be found in only 6 European countries, despite the fact that: same-sex marriage is possible in 9 European countries, common-law partnership is equally regulated for homosexual and heterosexual couples in 14 European countries and differently in one European country. A total of 24 European legal systems regulate the existence of same-sex partnerships and there is a clear trend towards increasing this number. Even if someone was to believe that this was merely an omission made by a busy MP, then the statement made by Parliamentarian Omerovic that “such legislation does not even exist in the EU” and that “someone is behind this proposed legislation and it is now up to the state to investigate who is financing these things in Serbia” (in the news article entitled: “the British are pushing Serbs into homosexuality”) – represent, to say the least, scandalous behavior of not any MP, but the one who was selected out of 250 to chair the Parliament Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality.
The conclusion is therefore that members of the LGBT community are forbidden to march the streets – they cannot publicly disclose their identity in pre-registered public manifestations, unless they are held in secret and registered one day in advance. The state will not allow them to LEGALY live together. They are destined to be outlaws. Finally, the state will sabotage the attempt to start the conversation about legalizing the lives taking place within the four walls of people’s homes. The masks have fallen, it is clear that it is not a matter of BUTs concerning the Pride, or the inability of the state to ensure the safety of the Pride participants. It’s a matter of homophobia.