Riot police clashed with football hooligans on Saturday in central Belgrade, where a pan-European Pride march was held despite threats from anti-gay groups and an official previous ban on the march in the traditionally conservative Balkan state.
Tensions were high in the Serbian capital as ultra-nationalist fans threw stun grenades, stones and torches at a police cordon, which repelled the attack with batons and riot shields. Hundreds of Pride supporters, meanwhile, gathered a few miles away in the pouring rain, dancing and singing their march was held on a shortened route.
“We need justice and freedom,” said Goran Miletic, one of the organizers of Pride events.
While several Pride marches have been held in Serbia in recent years, the Slav nation formally seeking European Union membership seems to be slipping into Russia and its conservative traditions.
Rainbow flags in hand, hundreds of LGBTQ activists and their supporters marched through a central area in Belgrade that had been closed off by police who erected metal fences and stood in barriers in full riot gear.
US Ambassador Christopher Hill was one of the participants. Hill told regional television N1 that “we are all brothers and sisters and God’s children.”
“It is an important day for equality and also an important day for this country,” he said.
As the motorcade passed a church in central Belgrade, the bells tolled continuously, reflecting the fervent opposition of the Serbian Orthodox Church to the Pride events. Participants of the march then went to a concert.
Earlier, Serbian activists said the main reason for the march is the fight for more rights for the beleaguered LGBTQ community in Serbia, including laws governing the rights of same-sex partnerships, such as inheritance, property and other issues.
Serbian police banned the parade this week, citing the risk of clashes with far-right activists. But organizers said on Saturday they had received assurances from Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic, who is a lesbian, that the event could go ahead.
Brnabic said he is proud that during “this whole week, with more than 130 (LGBTQ) events, there has been no incident. And that is really the right picture of Belgrade and Serbia.”
Brnabic said 5,200 police officers were deployed on the streets of Belgrade during the Pride march, 64 people were detained and 10 police officers suffered facial injuries.
A far-right party leader said Brnabic should have been arrested and charged with treason for allowing the march.
The European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, hoping it would represent a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and heavily influenced by the Orthodox Church.
EU and other Western officials, as well as rights groups, had urged populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to allow the Pride march, but Vucic had argued that police could not handle possible riots by right-wing groups during the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.