Blogbox | LGBTIQ+

Balkan countries carry on with alternative pride parades

By - 27.05.2020

The mobilization of LGBTQ+ activists face challenges posed by the pandemic.

Since June 1970, the Pride Parade has been held annually in San Francisco, USA, where thousands of people from all over the world have gathered to celebrate the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Historically, the LGBTQ + community has been and continues to be one of the most repressed, discriminated and endangered groups. Therefore, through the Pride Parades, the existence and resistance of LGBTQ+ people in the ongoing battle against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is celebrated.

Also, this celebration is a form of protest, which aims to raise awareness among the general population about LGBTQ+ rights, advocacy for the creation of more comprehensive policies, the visibility of LGBTQ+ people and the fight against discrimination, oppression, and crimes against this diverse community.

Many countries around the world have joined in this celebration over the years, adding even more diversity, love, resilience, strength and courage. But in fact, this has not been adorned with flowers — the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community is a product of ongoing legal, social and political battles.

Countries have different timelines when it comes to this war, but what most of them have in common is that activists have consistently organized resistance to the systematic repression by state institutions plus the discrimination and violence committed by various social groups. Although the use of the word “war” may seem exaggerated, history tells us otherwise. Many people have lost their lives, jobs, families, respect and much more, because of, and continuing throughout this battle. However, hatred of the LGBTQ+ community continues to be ever present.

For two decades now, the Balkans have also been part of this manifestation of resistance and diversity. It’s dawn was in Belgrade, where in 2001 activists who organized the first Pride Parade were attacked by extremist groups, and state security authorities did not respond adequately. A few years later another parade was canceled due to threats from organized homophobic groups.

This year, the tradition of organizing Parades is being jeopardized by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as a result of relentless resistance and activism, the streets of Belgrade have in due time been occupied by LGBTQ+ people and allies to celebrate the existence of this community and lobby for respect of their rights.

Activists from other Balkan countries, who after many attempts managed to write history by organizing their Parades, did not have it easy either. Thus, Tirana in 2012, Podgorica in 2013 and Prishtina in 2017 joined this celebration. Last year, in 2019, Skopje and Sarajevo also celebrated love through Parades.

The pandemic diminishes the tradition

2020 is likely to be a bitter period in this inspiring story of the LGBTQ+ movement in the Balkans and around the world. This year, the tradition of organizing Parades is being jeopardized not only by organized homophobic groups, but also by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of a vaccine for this virus is making it difficult to fight off the “virus” of homophobia, although a vaccine has been found for the latter: Pride Parades. Yet, it only treats and does not cure.

The circumstances of this pandemic have made public rallies impossible in the coming months, so it is virtually out of question to organize such demonstrations in squares and other public spaces. But activists are finding ways to continue the tradition, whether through social media, TV debates or various online campaigns.

It is good they are doing this, because the LGBTQ+ Movement and the fight against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia may fade if the Parades are canceled, because without them LGBTQ+ rights rarely find a place in the public sphere. Only during the Pride Parade does the LGBTQ+ community become a topic of discussion and receive the necessary institutional and social attention.

The cancellation of Pride Parades not only dilutes the LGBTQ+ movement, but also negatively affects people within the community.

Moreover, the challenges of LGBTQ+ people and their needs are addressed precisely through Pride Parades, which positively affect them by giving them support, hope, and even a sense of security.

Support is particularly needed during and after this time of isolation due to COVID-19, which spells detrimental consequences for the general population, and especially for LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized groups. Many LGBTQ+ people may be isolated in areas where they are not secure, not respected and not treated with dignity. Also, during the pandemic, there have been cases where LGBTQ+ persons were excluded from state aid.

In addition to fighting the virus, during this time LGBTQ+ people may also experience stress and anxiety as a result of isolation in environments where they are not allowed to be themselves. So, the cancellation of Pride Parades not only dilutes the LGBTQ+ movement, but also negatively affects people within the community.

Balkan activists do not back down

Due to the pandemic, two of the world’s largest parades — in New York and Manchester — have been canceled this year. Fortunately, the Balkans seem to be better able to resist the pandemic in this regard.

In fact, Albania is one of the first countries in the world (if not the first) to organize the Online Pride Parade, with the slogan Tirana PrideON 2020. Despite the technical challenges and lack of experience of organizations in such a format, activists have decided to remain loyal to the resistance of the LGTBQ+ community.

A number of activities are planned to take place online, including discussions, personal stories from LGBTQ + people, exhibitions, entertainment, interviews, readings, songs and poetry.

Activist Xheni Karaj, who is also one of the organizers, says that this format aims not only to raise public awareness and the visibility of the LGBTQ + community, but also to entertain people during the isolation.

In addition to virtual activities, LGBTQ+ activists in Albania have stood by LGBTQ + people during the pandemic by providing food and other necessities and offering free therapy sessions online.

The activists of North Macedonia also looked after the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community, organizing various online activities, discussions with psychologists, distribution of news and stories from LGBTQ+ persons, etc.

The second Pride Parade in North Macedonia was scheduled to take place in June this year, but the pandemic has made it impossible. According to the activist and member of the Skopje Parade Organizing Committee Stefan Petrovski, it could be held in October or November this year if the pandemic dies down. If gatherings in public spaces are allowed, then the Organizing Committee will coordinate with the Ministry of Health to safeguard the participants.

But even if a public gathering is impossible, LGBTQ + activists will try to bring their planned activities online. Petrovski calls for physical distance, but not for social distance, advising LGBTQ + people to talk to people close to them and, if necessary, seek psychological help.

"We celebrate our lives and the beauty of diversity, but we also fight for freedom and equality,"

Marko Mihailović, Serbian activist

Meanwhile in Sarajevo — where thousands of people gathered last year for the First Pride March in Bosnia and Herzegovina — we can once again see the celebration of love and of the LGBTQ+ community if the situation gets better by the end of the year. Organizing Committee member Lejla Huremović says the parade will definitely be organized, whether in public spaces or online.

She also says it is very important to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people, especially in the Balkans. According to her, Balkan countries are still at an initial stage of the LGBTQ+ Movement, emphasizing that there are many members of this community who are not open about their sexuality or gender identity and are not accepted by their families and society.

And in Belgrade, Pride Week will be held in September, whether in the squares or online.

According to Marko Mihailović, who is a member of the Organizing Committee, there are two main reasons why the Pride Parade is organized: To celebrate and to demonstrate.

“We celebrate our lives and the beauty of diversity, but we also fight for freedom and equality,” he said. “We fight systematic repression and discrimination and the lack of involvement of LGBTQ+ individuals and lobby for more dignified laws and policies.”

Montenegrin activist Ilija Vujošević, who is a member of the country’s Parade Organizing Committee, also says it will be held for the 8th* time this year, on the streets of Podgorica or in the virtual space.

Like all of the activists mentioned above, he calls on LGBTQ+ individuals to seek help from nongovernmental organizations and the responsible state institutions if they feel stressed, lonely, or at risk due to isolation.

LGBT + organizations in Kosovo have also stood by the community, mainly through virtual activities.

Blert Morina, a member of the Prishtina Parade and director of the LGBTQ+ Center for Equality and Liberty (CEL), is quite confident that the Pride Parade will be held in Kosovo this year. He says that such a manifestation should be organized, one way or another, because we should not go back to the time when the LGBTQ+ community was overshadowed. Therefore, Prishtina should have a Pride Week this year as well, full of various activities.

Activists from the Dylberizm platform are also in favor of the organization of Pride Week in Prishtina; they have been very busy — especially during the pandemic — informing and entertaining their followers on multiple social networks. Dylberizm is one of the first and few platforms that endeavors to inform the general population about LGBTQ+ issues on a voluntary basis.

So Kosovo and neighboring countries will still organize Pride Parades this year. They will not allow COVID-19 to stop the surge of activism and vibrancy among the LGBTQ+ community. If the summer sun does indeed improve the situation, autumn and winter will find us in colorful celebration.

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

*Editor’s note: The original version of the article said that this year’s Pride Parade in Montenegro will be held for the 13th time in a row. After publication it was corrected to say that it will be held for the eighth time.