The Decent People: LGBT pride in the former Yugoslavia

Years ago during the reign of Milosevic in Serbia I wrote an essay called "Decent people". It was about that 80 percent of Serbian people, the classic silent majority, who lived in denial of the genocide in Srebrenica, the snipers in Sarajevo, the shelling in Dubrovnik.

These so called decent people who could not grasp cruel political and military reality. Eventually the damage to daily life became impossible; the decent people could not go through with their charade of normality as postmen, engineers and dentists. On October 5th 2000 a million people took to the streets in Belgrade and physically deposed the tyrant.

However, time stopped then in Serbia. An October 6th never dawned for a bewildered Serbia, not even 12 years later, on the anniversary. Milosevic died behind the bars in the Hague, my Yugoslav-era parents are deceased, my postman is on pension but the inhabitants of the Serbian parliament today are the next generation of those decent people. No painful truths were admitted and confronted; there was a rebellion of the decent, but not a thorough change in the society.

Typically, a few days ago the new elected premiere of Serbia forbade the Gay Pride annual parade. He claimed that 80 percent of the Serbian population is against gay manifestations, and warned against the risky and inevitable gay-bashing that would follow in the streets. This new premiere is an old member from the deposed Milosevic' s party. Crushing the aspirations of Serbian gays has become routine, and he has already handled the trouble successfully before.

There's only been one actual, public, blatant Gay Pride Parade, in 2010, held with heavy police escort and, yes, violent incidents from right-wing hooligans. These populists are well-rehearsed agitators, whose extremism is easy to predict, but the decent people are in many ways worse. In 2001 we held a street event for gays, and everyday citizens yelled obscenities, spat on us and pushed us around. I vividly remember a middle aged man, his face was distorted by hate and righteous anger, trailing our pro-gay banners and yelling insults. I thought he was a deranged stalker, but next day I met him in the local green market, along with his wife and a small kid. He was polite, neighborly, saying hello. He was a respectable patriarch of a small family, shopping in public as all decent people do on Sundays, except when society fails so utterly that there's no money left and nothing in the shops. As for spitting on me: he was proud of it and considered it a civic duty.

The Serbian gay pride parade was held indoors this year, more a protest than a parade. There was still a lot of fuss made by the police, who treated the press center as if it were a besieged fortress, ghastly emptying Belgrade downtown and isolating the gays. The activists inside four walls were promising one another a better future, but many avoided the farcical non-parade.

It's become an opportunity for foreign friends and supporters to write mails of support. The western countries are perfectly aware that the Serbian right has made gay existence a wedge-issue, so for their part the West makes it a litmus test for their own attitudes toward the new reign in Serbia. The big picture is grimmer. In Russia and Ukraine there are serious attempts for re-criminalizing gays and the Serbian is quite encouraged by these Slavic examples of a weird new KGB-Orthodox-fundamentalist autocratic alliance.

My friends in Italy recently successfully performed gay parades, plus a gay marriage in public with all the witty joy of commedia dell'arte, in the land of Pope! However, in Italy too the decent people shy away en masse from the specter of gay marriages and legalized gay couples. The Italians were trying to console me with the universality of homophobia.

But Italian society, raddled with the sexual decadence of priestly abuse and Berlusconi's harems, can't possibly be so densely solid in denialist ignorance as the Serbian decent people. The Serbs have been defending their heretical, unorthodox Orthodoxy for centuries, from attacks from east, west, north, south and center. The rigor and the pressure had a fossilizing effect.

In Italy you will be casually ripped off as a tourist -- everyday Italian decent people will cheerfully defraud foreigners, disgracefully cheating and chiselling for a couple of euros. In Serbia the hospitable decent people would feed a guest with their last crumbs of bread and salt, but then put the guest's severed head on a pike if he offended their code of honor. The very strong Orthodox church which dictates aggressively the new-old codes of Christian fundamentalist expansion, is in open alliance with the new/old political regime, the government which was heavily involved in wars and war profiteering.

However, there are fits of disturbance as well. During the gay pride week in Belgrade, a show appeard by a Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin , titled "Ecce Homo." It deliberately and rather hilariously depicted Christ and his disciples as gay leather-boys. This rampantly blasphemous show was protected by two thousand policemen while a rally of so called family people seized the opportunity to push the right wing agenda around the corner. Belgrade, which is after all the home-town of Marina Abramovic ( even though it never acknowledged the work of the world famous artist), attracted some activists and art fans to enjoy and appreciate the show.

Homophobia, nationalism, racism, clericalism, fundamentalism all have the same root: the fear of Other, and the same aim, the homogenization of all differences. If you're gay you at least have the joy of knowing that your struggle is shared world-wide, but the planet's decent people, wrapped in political deceit and faith-based superstition, seem to be shutting themselves into a planetary series of ever-narrower, ever more stifling closets.


    1. What are you talking about?

      He IS an unicorn chaser! A hot leather daddy with a beard!

        1. His name is David Mason and he runs a clothing company called Slick It Up. At your own risk.

  1. Fantastic article.  Anyone have recommendations for recent writing on Russia’s current political state?  Aside fom “Putin be crazy”, I know so little about the specifics.

  2. More and more, Eastern Europe sounds like it’s becoming something out of a cyberpunk or other sci-fi setting – or more accurately, sounds like how Eastern Europe tended to be portrayed in such stories. The weird meshing of the old and the new; the Cold War traditions and politics entangled with present day issues and realities; the idea that as much as things are changing, they’re also staying the same; and the sense of oddly familiar absurdity embedded in it all, like watching the rise of old school punk culture east of the Berlin Wall in 1987.

  3. Yesterday I told a friend that Judas Priest’s lead singer came out years ago. He was shocked. I told him what Halford said: “All that leather and people are surprised?”

    1. Not a metal fan here, but something I always appreciated about the Priest is their avoidance of the metal cliches – the pentagrams, the six-six-sixes and/or the medieval imagery.

      Then there’s Motorhead, fuck yeah.

  4. I saw those same lace up leather pants at the airport worn by the gal who played the tv  version of “La Femme Nikita” and I was like “Girlfriend those pants are fierce!”

  5. Reminds me of how Right Said Fred visited Moscow for a LGBT parade and literally got beaten up.

    I hope Serbia being candidate for accession to the EU will help a bit.

    1. I hope Serbia being candidate for accession to the EU will help a bit.

      That was how the moderate Boris Tadić ended up as President for eight years. Unfortunately, he was followed by the current fascist fuckwit.

  6. Brilliant article, I’m really glad someone is talking about this outside Serbia. They need external pressure to rid them of moron mafia that are in power.

    Mafia (superrich) rules everywhere, but in very few places is as dumb as it is there.

    Only thing this article perhaps doesn’t mention is what cloud of gloomy depression is over that country. And its been the same for last 22 years since the war started. World of plenty turned into an average 300 Euro salary a month with costs of living comparable to western world. Also, the country is under an almost impenetrable infomation dome. Even if they hear some information (via internet etc) that might change their mind they are conditioned by their surroundings to oppose it. Imagine small town mentality that is country wide. Sane thought involving certain matters seems to be forbiden. Most people are running in a circle, with more hate in them with each cycle. Most can’t even tell right from wrong when it comes to certain things such as LGBT people, treatments of gypsies, and other matters.

    I recently been to the city of Novi Sad that holds the internationally known festival called Exit, and had my heart skip a beat when I saw a TODDLER, A BABY of no more than 18 months of age set up with an accordion to beg in the town’s main square. I felt sickened

  7. Thank you for this! I saw the report on the German news (24 hours late as usual) and am grateful for all discussion of the dumb move. IIRC, EU people responded gently that this is not in compliance with their rules. Please keep talking about this, everyone.

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