Girls and boys from organizations defending rights of gay people in Serbia probably are surprised at diversity of public reactions to the Belgrade Pride Parade. After bitter experience of violence in 2001 parade, they asked for public support. And as in Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, our public has shown its true character.

The first to show their almost psychopathic opposition to the manifestation were, of course, the different pro-fascist and clerical organizations – which for years have been attacking and physically threatening every human rights gathering. With the approval of the “patriotic” public, which indeed is the true majority in Serbia, they made a number of announcements, promising “blood and beating” to the participants. The city is covered in posters which are openly calling for the lynching of participants. The public prosecutor’s answer to this was: it’s all within the bounds of “political differences”. Did he not notice the calls for violence and the death threats?

And the “civil” part of the public did not respond any better. For the most part, they took if for an opinion poll on their own sexual preference. Pointing out their sexual “normalcy” (which is very interesting, psychoanalytically speaking), they were in favor of postponing the manifestation, because sexual preference is a “private matter”. This absurd platitude – if anything, in each and every society people publicly demonstrate their sexual role by merely putting on clothes – should have indefinitely delayed their discomfort for being faced with the question of whether there is an oppressed minority in our society, which is not spoken of among “decent people”. This way the public had given a negative answer to the dilemma. Because the whole point of the manifestation is to assert the “existence” of homosexuals in the society, and to change their status from “missing” into “public”. This is always the first step when you are fighting for human rights.

As long as you are afraid to speak publicly of being oppressed, your problems remain private, that is – the society as a whole is not interested in them. Only after people recognize your right to PUBLIC EXISTANCE can you begin the painful struggle for your rights.

The church, as a cornerstone of conservatism and opposition to change, has issued two statements. Bishop Amfilohije, using his usual incoherent quasi-biblical rhetoric, mentioned Gomorrah as a symbol of debauchery which was about to take place in the streets of Belgrade. This man, who in the wartime slaughterhouse of the ex-Yugoslavia failed to see anything similar to that, suddenly felt the need to condemn sin.

But bishop Amfilohije does not lack a value system. In a eulogy he delivered for Radovan Karadzic’s mother he said that she had given birth to “a hero”, while at Zoran Djindjic’s funeral he said “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. He is always perfectly clear when it suits him and when he is engaged in self-promotion. Unfortunately, he is less clear when he is supposed to defend the greatest Christian value – loving thy neighbor. Especially one you do not agree with.

However, bishop Irinej was there to “make amends”. He said that his statement reflects “the real position of the church”. This “civil” statement repeated that sexual preference is a “private matter” of an individual, which we heard before. There was nothing else there.

Finally, the ruling political elite, from the president to the government, reacted only after Sweden – the country presiding over the EU Council – sent a clear message that it regards the coming manifestation to be the true picture of the condition of human rights in Serbia. Fearing the consequences, the suddenly roused government promised “law, order and discipline”, pointing out that the police force is capable of managing the event.

And so the anatomy lesson was a great success. Our society has once again proven itself unable to deal with the challenges of our times. Hypocritical and incapable of realizing that the process of attaining freedom in a society is in fact a battle one fights with oneself, it postponed the fight to some other time. No one is born tolerant. It is something that is learned during a slow and painful process that never ends. Postponement does not help. Sooner or later we will have to see reality for what it really is, and we will have to accept it.

Thomas Paine wrote about the “human religion”. It requires complete dedication. And when young people who announced the Pride Parade flounder towards their meeting point, scared to death by the horrible threats, the greatest of all miracles, a miracle not even Dr. Tulp under his merciless scalpel could have seen, will occur – this little procession will fight for us all, enabling us to save the greatest of all human gifts, the gifts of compassion and tolerance. And for this we should be grateful.


I just found out that the government “cannot guarantee the safety of the Pride Parade” and that the parade has been cancelled. The anatomy lesson demonstrated our society’s condition even more dramatically. When the state does not see what is happening and when it capitulates to the pro-fascist and violent groups, we return to Hobbes’ “natural law” from before the social contract, where a man can save himself only by his own power. And maybe this is a true definition of our situation – that instead of a government for a long time now we have had only violent gangs replacing one another in power.

Translated by Ivica Pavlović

Quoted in Time

Pešč, 19.09.2009.