BELGRADE (Reuters) - Gay rights activists in Serbia said they expected to hold their first Pride march in three years on Saturday, undeterred by the risk of violence from right-wing nationalists who rioted during the last such event in 2010.
Authorities in the former Yugoslav republic banned the march for the past two years after the 2010 violence, but face pressure from the West to allow this year’s event ahead of the expected start of European Union accession talks in January.
Conservative societies across the Balkans have been slow to accept greater gay rights, but this year’s Pride has become a litmus test of the Serbian government’s commitment to tolerance and diversity as it seeks closer ties with the EU.
The government says no final decision has been taken pending a security assessment by police, who will have to mount a huge operation to secure the event. One cabinet minister has said he will join the march, indicating it will likely go ahead.
“As far as we’re concerned, it is certain (to go ahead),” Belgrade Pride organizer and rights activist Goran Miletic told a news conference.
“We are working out all the details with the police, but we haven’t heard their security assessment yet,” he said.
Conservative and nationalist groups have called anti-gay protests for Saturday in Belgrade, raising the risk of unrest. Saturday’s matches of the Serbian football league in Belgrade have been postponed to Sunday.
Authorities took down traffic signs in some parts of downtown Belgrade on Thursday where clashes broke out in 2010, in anticipation of them being torn out and used as weapons.
Bosko Obradovic, a senior member of the right-wing Dveri party, said of the march: “This amounts to the imposition of foreign and unsuitable values, laid out before the most vulnerable section of society - minors.”
The vocal Serbian Orthodox Church has also come out hard against the march.
“In our tragic times, nothing is more jeopardized than marriage and family,” Patriarch Irinej was quoted as saying in an interview with the Belgrade weekly Nedeljnik. “Both are being systematically destroyed, especially by gay pride.”
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic has given mixed signals. On Wednesday, he said the march would go ahead, unless the security assessment suggested a grave threat to public safety.
Asked if he would attend, Dacic replied: “No. Do I have to become gay?”
Editing by Matt Robinson and Alison Williams