Serbia’s first-ever openly gay prime minister joined several hundred activists on Sunday at a pride march that was held amid tight security in the conservative Balkan country.
Holding rainbow flags, balloons and a banner reading “For change”, pride participants gathered in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, before setting off on a march through the city. Many approached Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, greeting her and taking selfies.
“The government is here for all citizens and will secure the respect of rights for all citizens,” Ms Brnabic said. “We want to send a signal that diversity makes our society stronger, that together we can do more.”
Serbian riot police cordoned off the city centre with metal fences early on Sunday to prevent possible clashes with extremist groups opposed to the pride gathering. Right-wing activists gathered in a central area with banners but no incidents were reported.
Ms Brnabic was elected earlier this year amid Serbia’s efforts to improve its image as it moves toward European Union membership. The EU said in 2016 Serbia needed to do more to help minorities including Roma, those with disabilities and the LGBT community.
Gay activists in Serbia have hailed Ms Brnabic’s appointment as an important step in their struggle for gay rights, but say much more still needs to be done.
“Today we walk together and together we will stress that problems still exist and that we want to work together to solve them,” said activist Goran Miletic, who helped to organise the march.
The LGBT community has faced widespread harassment and violence from extremists in Serbia. The first ever pride march in 2001 was marred with violence, and more than 100 people were injured during a gay pride event in 2010 when police clashed with right-wing groups and soccer hooligans. Several pride events had been banned before marches resumed in 2014.
On Sunday, despite the hundreds of riot police in downtown Belgrade and the helicopters flying overhead, activists said the atmosphere was more relaxed than in previous years.
Homophobia remains widespread in Serbia and other societies in the Balkans; the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church last week compared homosexuality to incest.
President Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who has rebranded himself as a pro-Western reformer, said this week he had “no intention” of joining the march.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies