Serbia has just established a new dark tradition – for the third time in a row, the government has banned the Pride manifestation, with the apocalyptic explanation that it did so in order to prevent “killings and deaths on the streets of Belgrade”. An uninformed observer would think that a new St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was in the making, accompanied by persecution and unprecedented violence – however, this time not against protestants, but against same-sex oriented persons – and that the government is being highly committed and caring for one of its social minorities.
The unprecedented hypocrisy used to justify this move by the government, i.e. the “The Security Service Coordination Bureau“, may be even more painful than the ban itself. While security services in other countries focus on protecting citizens from terrorism and drug trafficking, our state employees save Serbian gays from violence which should have come in the form of throwing “acid and bottles filled with bees” at the participants, according to certain tabloid newspapers closely connected to the government. Thus, for the umpteenth time in a row, when choosing between the protection of the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful gathering and free expression of belief and the protection of “peace and order on the streets of Belgrade”, our government elected to suspend this basic human right in favor of “peace”.
However, everything that took place in the eve of the Pride manifestation clearly implied what will happen. Let us start from the beginning.
In a country where human rights have more or less been routinely suspended during the previous twenty five years, it is easy to find an excuse to impose a ban. Serbia has political parties which are dedicated to negating human rights. Some have been parliamentary for many years. Others include people famous for their statements about “retortion” against members of national minorities or for their statements that certain nations “don’t even exist” (Bosniaks). A specific culture of negating human rights has been created, and has rarely been questioned. In Serbia, people who have been sentenced before the Hague Tribunal for crimes which included violations of human rights, are often proclaimed “innocent victims of global powers”.
If we literally nourish this culture, how can we expect the majority of our citizens to understand that ALL members of our society have equal rights? Where human rights of one group are being suspended, it is not difficult to find another group and suspend their human rights as well. And same-sex oriented people are almost ideal candidates for that suspension. Their peaceful and generally cheerful public manifestations incite extraordinary violence in many people, in particular those who have deeply suppressed similar tendencies. The “argumentation” is generally that such a manifestation is “going too far”; that they can do what they want “in the confines of their homes”, and that public manifestation of “abnormality” is a disgrace to the society.
Last week, the Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Patriarch Irinej used some of these pseudo-arguments. To make matters even worse, they publicly stated their standpoints about the abnormality of homosexuality from the position of social authority, which was, of course, a direct encouragement for hooligans to prevent this “abnormality”. It would be interesting to ask Prime Minister Dacic the following question: where did he get the right to present his personal prejudices and ignorance to the public in the eve of the announced manifestation? Another question would be whether he even realizes that, after decades of unconditional support to the politics of Slobodan Milosevic, who suspended even the basic right to life for millions of people, he must be extremely careful when speaking about this topic.
It is interesting to note the answer of the new Pope, who, when asked about his opinion on homosexuality, answered with a counter question: who am I to judge others. Our Patriarch obviously has no such dilemmas – he publicly calls gay people stupid! The theology of liberation is obviously far away from us. But not the protection of proven pedophiles in the realms of the Church – which is a serious crime, unlike homosexual relations.
And thus, by statements made by the Prime Minister and Patriarch, Serbia got prepared for violence. Certain tragicomical statements about the struggle for higher birth rates as the justification for this ban only contributed to this atmosphere. A if this group is the one which will be the new baby-birth generator!
However, the crucial problem hiding behind the open threat of violence which the state failed to react to, but instead directly and indirectly supported, was the maintaining of discrimination as legitimate political practice. The main problem is not the small pro-fascist and clerical groups which took to the streets of Belgrade with their threats of physical violence against Pride. The main problem is the legitimization of violence against a minority as justifiable behavior.
In one of his essays, titled “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star”, Gore Vidal speaks of the hate amongst Christians towards homosexuals (as well as blacks and Jews), and notes that Hitler murdered around 600.000 homosexuals in concentration camps. Through the very title, his essay brings us back to the true nature of discrimination against this minority; this is how Nazis marked homosexuals in the camps – they wore a pink triangle. By looking at the roots of Nazism and its fundamental concept of racism and discrimination, Vidal wants to make us face directly what is the logical consequence of discrimination: the annihilation of the discriminated group! Those who are sending homosexuals “to do it in their own apartments”, will certainly be horrified by such a standpoint. All they want is to “remove them” so that “children don’t have to watch”. However, the 20th century has showed us how small is the step between social ostracism and physical annihilation of a group. Those who want to beat homosexuals and who threaten them, are much closer to that step than the society is ready to admit.
Debates on the nature of the homosexual orientation are meaningless in this context. Particularly because they are false, imbibed with fear and prejudice. Let’s just say that gays are always a minority in a society, and that being gay is not in general a matter of free choice, as many would like to believe. When the Pride manifestation is organized, those people, our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens, our friends and colleagues from work or school, only want to voice their existence, to say that we should not fear them, and that they expect our tolerance.
And this is the key word our society has been avoiding – tolerance. Every minority relies on the tolerance of the majority; without this tolerance, the minority will live in fear and discrimination, and many of its members with a terrible feeling of guilt. Every moment of our ever so short lives, we realize ourselves as human beings. And never more so than when we tolerantly accept what we may not clearly understand or which is unfamiliar to us. We are at our most human when we accept another person with all his differences.
The Pride manifestation is the least about people of same-sex orientation; it is about us and our humanity, and about the character of the society we live in. Unfortunately, our society once again proved that it is full of prejudice and intolerance, unprepared to accept others who are different. Will the time come when we will be ashamed of our intolerance?
Translated by Bojana Obradovic