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.