How I Made Pride 2010

 Mirjana Bogdanović, GSA Executive Director, for Serbian gay magazine “Optimist”

“You know, I don’t wish to offend you, but… Don’t you have a man who would be in charge of security? I’m not sure that it is really a job for women…”

These were the words of a police official, directed at me, at one of the first meetings we had with the police regarding Belgrade Pride Parade 2010, sometime in July of the same year. At that time these were still pre-preparation meetings, where we discussed more about possibilities and tried to size each other’s determination. In the Pride 2010 Organizing Committee, besides negotiating with institutions and politicians, I was also responsible for the security strategy. Of course, not that kind of strategy which relates to expertise and field activities of the police and other security agencies on securing the parade, but the one which is part of the job of the Organizing Committee. And everything was important for security: where the parade would be held, how many people would come, where they would enter, the timetable…

In Serbia, Pride march can be organized in two (legal) ways: either you will force the state institutions, through a some kind of cooperation with them on event organization, to support the LGBT population and to protect the parade participants, or you will simply announce the event, then without any preparation arrive at the arranged time and place, and hope for the best. In a homophobic Serbia, with well-organized rightwing extremist and hooligan groups, where Pride is politically, logistically and security-wise an extremely challenging event, it is certainly better for participants, as well as the entire LGBT population, to opt for the first way. The Organizing Committees were aware of this fact in 2009 and 2010 and 2011. I do not know why they gave up on that idea in 2012, but I do know for sure that this year not everything was done that should have been, both by the state and by the Organizing Committee. I could say a lot more about that, but perhaps another time. On this occasion I would like to write about some parts of the process of organizing the 2010 Pride which were important for the fact that it took place.

After the 2009 Parade did not take place, the LGBT population and the entire LGBT movement was going through a rough period. Defeatism, disappointment, fear, with the media and institutions completely ignoring the LGBT issue, in short: a stand-still. I still believe that it would have been better if the 2009 Pride organizers accepted the solution to hold the Parade in front of SIV[1] (which was one of the proposed alternatives, besides Ušće) as a location for a non-mobile assembly, under the condition that the then president or prime minister speak at the assembly. In that case things would have probably been different in 2010, the 2011 Pride would have happened, and this year we would have had a march through the city centre without too much trouble. I was not part of the 2009 Organizing Committee. However, the evening before the Parade 2009 was banned, when the entire LGBT movement assembled, I suggested that they negotiate this point with the state. They rejected that suggestion, and later the state “capitulated“.

At the beginning of 2010, we were sitting around in Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) wondering what to do next. Not much wisdom was necessary to conclude that we needed a success story in order to annul the negative consequences of 2009 and open the space for future activities. We also discussed the possibility of maybe organizing the parade again. I was skeptic when it came to the parade, because at that moment the only thing we could really count on was international support. And even though international support is important, it is not a guarantee that the parade will take place, as 2011 and 2012 have demonstrated. We therefore agreed not to rush with the parade, and not to regard it as a self-sufficient goal, but as a means. We also agreed not to announce parade date and place until we had determined that the chances of it taking place were greater than that it would not. In the meantime it was necessary that we show the greatest seriousness, so that we would be taken seriously.

The most common reason given for the fact that the 2009 Pride did not take place was the lack of political will. For a concept which still does not have a precise and harmonized definition, political will in Serbia is a very widely used term. It was always difficult for me to explain to my foreign friends this paradox that political will in Serbia is not only necessary for laws adoption (which they understood), but that it was also necessary for their implementation (which they could not understand at all). And in order to create political will it is necessary to start from those who really have the highest political power. In Serbia these are not institutions, but political parties. Certainly, I am not happy with all this, just like most citizens, but I also do not think that just waiting for change and lamenting the “evil destiny” of living in the Balkans can solve anything. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” said T. Roosevelt.

At the beginning of March 2010 I suggested to my colleagues at GSA that we should begin a public dialogue with all parliamentary political parties on two subjects: a strategic approach to decreasing violence and discrimination against LGBT people and the possibility of holding the Pride Parade. This did not immediately meet with everyone’s approval, because there was the question of ideologies: are LGBT rights exclusively a matter for the left wing; should we limit ourselves to getting support only from certain parties; etc. After some discussion regarding this, we concluded that we need the widest possible political support. I expected to meet first with those who had already shown support for LGBT rights: LDP[2], LSV[3], SDU[4]… while others would be more difficult. When a colleague told me that SRS[5] called and that they proposed a meeting date, to say I was stunned is an understatement! The first meeting with none other than SRS and none other than Vjerica Radeta[6]… I truly thought someone was joking with me. After that meeting, which was decent and where they, truth be told, did not support the parade, but they did, for the first time, publicly condemn violence and discrimination against LGBT people, GSA was criticised, mainly by the non-governmental sector. We did not react since we knew that after the radicals (SRS) we also had to meet the progressives (SNS[7]), who were naturally supposed to have a ‘more progressive’ attitude than the radicals. And once we met with the progressives, the democrats (DS[8]) could no longer ignore us and they would be forced to position themselves affirmatively…

From March to May GSA met almost all relevant parliamentary political parties. For the first time in Serbia the parties publicly condemned violence and discrimination against LGBT people, and most of them also gave their support to holding the Pride Parade. We also began a set of meetings with state institutions, which also expressed a positive attitude towards the parade and appealed to citizens to respect human and LGBT rights. After numerous attempts by LGBT organizations, the (then) president of Serbia Boris Tadić received a delegation of LGBT activists at the end of June and supported the parade. At a joint meeting with the parliamentary Security Committee which was held at the beginning of July 2010, when I spoke about what had been achieved to garner support for the parade, I realized that we had managed to achieve a wide political consensus and that things had to move along more easily now. The technical preparation of the parade could begin. We contacted the police and requested a meeting with them.

In the meantime, analysing the experience of the 2009 Pride organisers, we noticed that they were directed only at the police the whole time. It was important for us to widen that circle this time and keep the political support which we had gained. During the dialogues with state institutions, I kept trying to convince them to form some kind of formal or informal coordination body, which would be comprised not only of the organisers and the police, but also other institutions important for the entire process. I remember that Slobodan Homen, the then Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice, told me that it was a good idea, “of course, if you manage to get us all together“. We were not discouraged and we began the formation of that coordination body starting precisely with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the police, and then we invited the then Minister for Human and Minority rights, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ombudsman Office, the Security Committee… everyone said yes in the end. Sometime in the middle of August the office of the Mayor of Belgrade informed me that the City would send their representatives as well.

Even though most LGBT persons in Serbia do not support the Pride Parade, we also felt we needed as great a support as possible from the LGBT community and the LGBT movement. During May and June, alongside other activities we also organised several meetings with all LGBT organisations, we discussed plans concerning the parade and we invited them to join us. In addition to Queeria Center, with whom we had already made a cooperation agreement, Support Group for Gay Men from Novi Sad joined the organising of the parade, while the other organisations in general supported the parade but did not wish to participate in its organisation. During the preparations we also spoke to owners and managers of gay clubs and cafes, we requested police protection for them and for all publicly known LGBT activists. Furthermore, a few days before the parade we again invited all LGBT organizations to a briefing on security and other things that were important for the event, and we organized their arrival at the parade… A real irony is that, with all this, we forgot about ourselves. Lazar, Boban, Adam[9] and I walked alone to Manjež Park[10] that morning, on the 10th October 2010[11], from GSA’s office and through all the regular checkpoints and police cordons.

Speaking of Manjež Park, I think I should mention how the location got chosen. Already in March 2010 we came to the conclusion that, regardless of where the parade took place and if it took place, we would need a large closed space (building) where people would go after the walk because of security issues. We had considered the Youth Center of Belgrade (Dom omladine Beograd), Student Cultural Center (SKC), some theatres… After one of the first meetings which we held with political parties, one of the politicians suggested that, instead of a walk, perhaps it would be better to make a big party, “why not even in front of the Government Building[12]”. We were sitting around in GSA’s office, annoying about that piece of ‘advice’, when somebody mentioned that the Government Building was close to Manjež Park, which used to be a gay cruising spot[13]. We immediately logged on Google maps: Manjež, the Government Building, many other state institutions, just few residental buildings, and then there was SKC… The marchroute was determined. Later in discussions with the police, we suggested also two other locations with some sub variants, but we believed that this one would prove to be the best.

As I already mentioned, the first meetings with the police took place in July, mostly with 3 or 4 police representatives and as many of us. From those first meetings, where a lot of our suggestions were brought into question, we arrived to the end of August without giving up or losing our initiative. A coordination body was formed, but due to the necessities and the dinamics of organising the parade we also had meetings just with the police. These meetings were held always in the same office in the Ministry of Interior (MUP), up until that point. When Lazar, Boban and I arrived at MUP that day, the admission officer informed us that the venue was changed and that a policeman would take us to the new meeting hall. There is a (unproven) story about the 2009 Pride organizers who were shown a film by the police in an attempt to persuade organizers to give up from the parade, and this film presumably shows a police cordon at the Merdare[14] being breached. I remembered that story as we were walking towards the new meeting place and I said: “Let’s go so that they can play the film to us as well.“ I remember also that the policeman who was with us sincerely laughed at that. However, instead of the film, we were welcomed by the chief of police and another 10-12 people. When they all introduced themselves, I realised that there were at the other side of the table high officials from nearly all police sectors. I thought that the parade would happen after all. From that time we met the same team of people, negotiating, discussing and planning, up until the Pride parade day. The coordination body also met regularly and represented a great aid to the entire process.

The date and the location of the parade was announced on the 7th September 2010 on Kalemegdan near the statue of the Victor, a symbol of Belgrade, and also of the 2010 Pride Parade. The creative team made sure that the visual identity and the promotional campaign of the Pride were exceptional with minimal financial resources. The eight-month process of organising the parade, which included three different public campaigns, Pride week, the promotion of the parade in other Srbian cities, a lot of energy and a lot of great people, ended with the first successful Pride Parade in Belgrade on 10/10/2010. Unfortunately, with large and very violente side events. But with good organisation and positive energy at the Pride Parade itself, and with the determination of the state and the police to protect its participants. It was a realy big deal for all of us to be part of that process, despite various obstructions that went hand in hand, especially in the week preceding the Pride itself. Still, Palma[15] failed to convince the director of SKC to cancel our venue even though he promised him so much; we found an adequate substitute for the stage which was cancelled a couple of days before the event; and Boban and Goran, evidently, postponed the secretly planned takeover of Pride for the period right after it was held…

I did not give a reply to the police official whom I mentioned at the beginning, even though I’m intolerant on the slightest symbol of misogyny. On the day of the parade, he and I were destined, ‘formation-wise’, to be in contact all the time and a lot of things depended from our agreement and communication. Frankly, he did a huge and excellent job then in the field, as did the entire police force. I believe he would say the same thing about me and the whole Organising Committee 2010. After everything we went through, both on that day and during the preparation phase of the parade, there is a deep mutual respect between us. And the question from the beginning of this columne was not repeated ever again.

Author: Mirjana Bogdanović, Executive Director and founder of Gay Straight Alliance
She created the strategy and led the entire process of organizing the 2010 Pride Parade.

You could read the whole Serbian gay magazine “Optimist” here. www.optimist.rs

Belgrade, 24.10.2012.

 

 


[1] Government building on New Belgrade
[2] Liberal Democratic Party
[3] League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina
[4] Social DemocraticUnion
[5] Serbian Radical Party, the most conservative political party in Serbian parliament at that moment
[6] MP of SRS and party official
[7] Serbian Progressive Party, one of two leading political parties, nowadays leading party in ruling coalition, in that time main opposition party
[8] Democratic Party, one of two leading political parties, in that time was leading the ruling coalition
[9] Members of Organizing Committee of Pride 2010
[10] Starting place of Pride march 2010
[11] Date of first successful Pride Parade 2010
[12] The main Government building inBelgrade downtown
[13] During last century, especially during 70s and 80s
[14] Administrative crossing point to Kosovo
[15] Dragan Markovic Palma – Serbian politician, MP and former mayor of city of Jagodina. GSA Litigation Service runs the court process against him because of hate speech against LGBT persons. He was first-instance convicted for severe discrimination of LGBT population but Appeal Court overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial.

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