Backed by outspoken Orthodox bishop, thousands marched in Belgrade calling for cancellation of LGBT festival
Serbian authorities on Monday received an official request by a civic group to cancel the "Europride," a LGBT event scheduled for mid-September, on security grounds. The petition came a day after tens of thousands of people marched through Belgrade carrying Orthodox Christian symbols and signs such as "Hands off our children." The march was reportedly blessed by a bishop, recorded last week as saying he would cast an anathema on anyone involved in the event.
According to the NGO "Upright Serbia," which filed the petition, the pride parade scheduled for September 17 endangers public morality and elevates the risk of violence, property destruction and large-scale disorder. Belgrade authorities have not yet commented on the request.
EuroPride 2022 is scheduled to run September 12-18 and is expected to attract tens of thousands of LGBT activists from all over Europe, ending with the walk from the Serbian parliament to the Kalemegdan fortress overlooking the Danube.
On Sunday, however, tens of thousands of Belgrade residents marched the opposite way, in an Orthodox procession intended to show their opposition to the event. Chanting "Hands off our children!" and "No to occupation," the marchers sang Orthodox hymns and patriotic songs, while carrying crosses, icons and flags.
Organizers estimated anywhere from 20-30,000 people took part, while early police estimates and media reports spoke of under 5,000. President Aleksandar Vucic referred to that estimate on Monday, bringing up the march at a press conference without being asked about it.
"Last night we had a much bigger protest against EuroPride, some 4,650 people, more than the biggest opposition rallies ever," he said.
It was a different tone from the one he used on Friday, when he dismissed criticism of the "Europride" by saying those who object to "someone walking around" should "take the day to have a picnic" on nearby Mt. Avala.
In the same TV interview, Vucic criticized Bishop Nikanor of Banat for his remarks about acting Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is a lesbian. Vucic said Nikanor offended Serbia and humiliated the church "far more than Brnabic or anyone else ever did."
Bishop Nikanor reportedly gave the blessing to his clergy to participate in the Belgrade protest on Sunday. Speaking after a church service last week, he condemned the "Europride" as blasphemy and desecration of Serbia, saying he would have taken up arms against it were he not a cleric.
"They come to desecrate our capital, nothing is holy to them," the bishop said. "We will all rise against it, starting with me," he added. "I will cast an anathema on everyone who takes part or organizes such a thing. That's all I can do. If I had weapons, I'd use them, but I don't."
Sunday's march was denounced by opposition activist Dragan Sutanovac, former leader of the Democratic Party and one-time defense minister who now advocates NATO membership for Serbia. He called it a march "against Serbia in the European Union, against sanctioning Russia, against Western values, so Serbia could become Chechen-ized and Taliban-ized," among other things.
Meanwhile, the NGO "Lesbian and Gay Solidarity Network" urged the government on Monday to urgently purchase vaccines for monkeypox and hand them out for free to high-risk groups such as gay men, who account for all of the cases recorded in Serbia so far.
Epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic also urged vaccinating all members of the LGBT population. The doctor, who has advocated strict Covid-19 mandates, told the Beta news agency that the upcoming "Europride" could be an "epidemiological bomb" but did not urge its cancellation, advising those in attendance to "avoid intimate contacts with non-permanent partners" instead.