Yesterday was the first gay pride parade held in Belgrade in ten years since the last one resulted in casualties. Though dozens of people were injured, no person suffered as much damage as the city itself did. Belgrade was completely trashed: shop windows shattered, stores looted, cars and archives burned, liberal democratic offices broken into, vandalism, etc. The people responsible are referred to as hooligans in Serbia but for some reason that term makes me think of a mischievous child who knows no better, and the 'hooligans' certainly knew what they were doing as they acted through the same neo-naxi organized crime units who were illustrated in "Sisanje," described in my last entry. By the end of the day it was reported that there were 6,000 hooligans and 5,000 police officers around the city trying to stop them. 1,000 of those police officers were in three rings encircling the park where the parade took place.
Ceca, our program director, has been an activist of all kinds her entire life which is very admirable and inspiring. She was amongst the group in the park parading and fortunately she has made it back only emotionally wounded. We met with her this morning to discuss the parade and she had quite a few interesting things to say. Even though she was in the middle of all the madness, she wasn't actually able to see any of it as there were so many police directly around the park. Ceca has been at all of the major Serbian protests in the past twenty years including, but not limited to, the 1996 and 1997 youth riots, the take-down of Milosevic on October 5th 2001, and the 1st and previous Pride Parade. She noted that a major change between those and the one yesterday was that the police were on their side. The minister of police stated that according to the Serbian democratic constitution, everyone should have the equal rights so the police were there to protect the Pride paraders whereas, on the riots leading up to October 5th for instance, the police severely -- and sometimes excessively -- beat those who acted against them. To Ceca, this flip of the political alignment proved that the parade was a success but she is the first to admit to the terror that ensued throughout the city.
I think the most alarming difference between the US gay pride parades and the one yesterday is that those protests were led by the youth of America which facilitated the change to be made as the mentality was developing through the newer generations. But in Serbia the youth are the ones acting against it and other right wing beliefs and doing so in the most dramatic and destructive way possible. And if the youth, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, cannot even accept, how do they plan on ever being considered for admission to the European Union which everyone whom I've talked to has said is the first step to dramatically changing Serbia for the better. I'm probably simplifying the issues significantly and I really don't know the extent to all of the countless issues Serbia has before it will even be considered for ascension into the EU but it was really disheartening to see the news footage yesterday with people around my age throwing bricks at the police to get into the parade.
People at my CK (service placement) just had a heated discussion about the parade's "success." Though most claimed that politically it was successful as the police were protecting them which leads one to think that the government backed this action, others contorted that the damages done to Belgrade and the enormous number of hooligans (6,000) who came to Belgrade to show their angst could hardly be classified as successful. Those with the latter opinion went on to support their claim by explaining that the hooligans consisted of youth from all over Serbia -- youth here is considered from the ages of 15-35 -- came to Belgrade to express their extreme discontent with the government and the lack of change in the government over the past 10 years since Milosevic was taken down and democracy (allegedly) began. People are indeed very disappointed with the government as the only sign of a change to democracy has been fair elections, if only the people being elected were capable of fixing a country destroyed by war, corruption, despair, racism, organized crime, a poor education system and economy, the list continues... But the hatred exemplified yesterday was not just anti-government; the specific issue of lgbt rights is a sore spot for nearly everyone in Serbia partly because of religion and also because just twenty years ago being gay was classified as a mental illness in Serbia and according to B-92 (a local news station) 70% of Serbs still consider it as such. And honestly that's just a sickening statistic to me. Anyway that shows how all of the destruction yesterday came from a myriad of social and political problems in Serbia.