Connect with us

Eastern Europe

EuroPride march takes place in Serbia capital

A group of Albanian activists attacked after event

Published

on

EuroPride Pride march on Sept.17, 2022, in Belgrade, Serbia (Photo courtesy of EuroPride)

As thousands of LGBTQ people, advocates, activists and allies marched under rainy skies in the Serbian capital on Saturday, there were only minor clashes between anti-LGBTQ protestors and Serbian police, who had been deployed in overwhelming force along the parade route.

According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior nearly 6,000 uniformed police in riot gear and accompanied by plainclothes security personnel cordoned off the march area around the Constitutional Court in downtown Belgrade. Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin had warned in a statement that “we will not tolerate any violence in Belgrade streets, any more than illegal marches.”

European media outlets France 24 and Agence Presse France reported that 64 people were arrested as anti-LGBTQ demonstrators clashed with police in attempts to disrupt the Pride march. Once group of half a dozen people carrying crosses and religious icons managed to get past police cordons to where the EuroPride parade participants were gathering, treading on the rainbow flag which was on the road, praying and singing. Police managed to remove them in minutes.

Serbian state media outlets reported that anti-pride protesters were also stopped by police in riot gear at the central Slavija Square. The large group of protesters wanted to get past the cordon and head towards the parade gathering.

An N1 reporter said that a large group of football hooligans clashed with police near St. Sava Temple, throwing firecrackers and torches at the police. The police cordon managed to push them back.

“I am here to preserve Serbian traditions, faith and culture which are being destroyed by sodomites,” Andrej Bakic, 36, a counter-protester in a group surrounded by riot police told AFP on Saturday.

During a routine Saturday press conference at the end of last month Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that the international EuroPride event scheduled to be held in the Serbian capital city from Sept. 12-18 was cancelled.

The Serbian leader told reporters that his government had come under intense pressure from far right-wing groups and the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the event. Vucic acknowledged that LGBTQ rights and people in the Balkan nation were under siege and threatened. However he deflected on the issue, “It is not a question of whether [those pressures] are stronger,” he said. “It’s just that at some point you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it.”

Reaction to the Serbian leader’s remarks was swift with the European Pride Organizers Association that licenses EuroPride writing in a statement that any ban would be in violation of articles of the European Convention of Human Rights in regards to human rights and protections for sexual minorities.

The government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reversed its late August decision to ban the international EuroPride parade event on Sept. 15, Serbian state media reported.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Serbia, where homophobia remains deep-seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.

More than 20 embassies — including the U.S., France and the U.K. — had issued a joint statement urging the authorities to lift the ban.

There has been violence at previous Pride events being held in the Serbian Capital city, most notably on Oct. 10, 2010, when anti-LGBTQ and ultra nationalist anti-government protesters fought with about 5,000 armed Serbian police resulting in 78 police officers and 17 civilians that were injured some seriously and more than 100 arrests and detentions.

The violence also severely damaged the parking garage of the ruling pro-European Democratic Party in an act of arson, the state TV building and the headquarters of other political parties were also damaged.

The rioting came as Serbia was seeking admittance as a European Union member state.

A spokesperson for the ILGA-Europe said that since 2014 Pride events were held in Belgrade under mostly peaceful conditions, but there is extreme pushback from the ultra-nationalist groups and especially those groups aligned with the Orthodox Church.

Media outlet euronews reported that a group of about 10 Albanian LGBTQ activists, who had attended the EuroPride parade were attacked by Serbian extremists, but the attack occurred roughly a couple of hours after the parade had ended as the Albanians were apparently headed into their hotel. 

A local journalist, Isa Myzyraj , said that two people in the group ended up in hospital.  He added that the group was not identifying themselves as parade participants with clothing, signs, etc., and that even though the Serbian police were literally not but a few feet away they didn’t intervene. 

The attackers were thought to be far right nationalists who were still in the area after the parade ended. Myzyraj said that he was not sure if the Albanian group was attacked specifically because of being LGBTQ or if their nationality played a role. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine city to hold Pride events

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

Published

on

(Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

Activists in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv will hold a series of Pride events in the coming days.

A press release that Kharkiv Pride released notes events that will take place from Saturday through Sept. 25 include a march, a performance that highlights efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ukraine and a “Memorial Day” for “LGBTQI+ people killed by the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv Pride and Kharkiv with You Charitable Foundation, a local NGO, will also hold “a crowdfunding campaign to collect money for the needs of women serving near Kharkiv.” 

“Just as Kharkiv stands at the forefront of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy, Kharkiv Pride actively resists at the forefront of the battle for human rights,” said Kharkiv Pride. ” Because this is our principal position, and this is the difference between Ukraine and the totalitarian regime of the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an LGBTQ and intersex activist who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have recaptured large swaths of territory east of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control. Kharkiv Pride will also take place less than two months after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships for same-sex couples

Volodymyr Zelenskky responded to Kyiv Pride petition

Published

on

A participant in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022, indicates her support for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskky, has publicly endorsed a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The president of Ukraine on Tuesday said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Kyiv Pride backed a marriage equality petition that was submitted to Volodymyr Zelenskky on July 12 with more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the legal threshold that requires him to consider it. 

Zelenskky in his response to the petition notes his support for marriage equality, but acknowledges the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and it cannot be amended while the country is under martial law. Zelenskky on Tuesday nevertheless directed his government to submit a report on whether same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships through the country’s existing legal framework or a bill that would go through Parliament.

“I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine with a request to consider the issue raised in the electronic petition and report about the relevant results,” said Zelenskky.

Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and Yulia Mulyukina, a lesbian couple who once lived in the Ukrainian city of Dniper, are among the millions of people who have fled the country since Russia began its war on Feb. 24. Baraniuk and Mulyukina last month told the Washington Blade in Berlin the fact that they are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship has prevented them from asking for asylum in the U.S. and Canada because the countries’ immigration systems are based on whether they are married or “common-law partners” respectively.

“Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Kyiv Pride on Tuesday welcomed Zelenskyy’s announcement.

“Congratulations to the community, the Pride movement,” tweeted Kyiv Pride. “Thank you to the authorities.”

Maksym Eristavi, who chairs Kyiv Pride’s board of directors, desribed Zelenskyy’s announcement as “historic.”

Continue Reading

Eastern Europe

Gay Lithuania MP sharply criticizes Russia

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius elected to Seimas in 2020

Published

on

Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius. (Photo courtesy of Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

A gay man who is a member of Lithuania’s Parliament last week said his country could be Russia’s next target.

“Historically after independence in the early 90s, Lithuania was very critical and fearful of its attitudes towards its neighbors,” MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius told the Washington Blade on April 28 during a telephone interview from Vilnius, the country’s capital, in reference to Russia. “The current events in Ukraine simply prove that we were right.”

“We have to understand very clearly that Russia is using not only military force, not only its gas and oil, but it is also using its soft powers,” added Raskevičius. “These soft powers are certain, specific world views which Russia tries to impose to its neighboring countries and those ideas are usually anti-human rights and anti-liberal democracy, so they are portraying human rights and liberal democracy as a threat, rather as a benefit to the society.”

Raskevičius further stressed that LGBTQ rights are “part of this Russia propaganda campaign.”

“They’re portraying the West as being rotten, plagued with abominations,” he said.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic Sea. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Raskevičius, 33, is a member of the liberal Freedom Party.

He worked for what is now called the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in New York and the Lithuanian Gay League, among other NGOs, before his election to the Vilnius City Council in 2019. Raskevičius in 2020 won a seat in the Lithuanian Parliament, which is known as the Seimas.

Raskevičius noted he is the second openly gay person elected to the Seimas, but the “first one” with a “pro-LGBT human rights agenda.” Raskevičius currently chairs the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee.

Russian, Belarusian LGBTQ groups relocate to Lithuania

Raskevičius said more than 50,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania since Russia invaded their country in February.

He told the Blade he knows of “isolated incidents” of LGBTQ Ukrainians in the country, noting that “LGBT people went to more open or progressive places than Lithuania.” Raskevičius said LGBTQ organizations are among the NGOs from Russia and Belarus that have relocated to Lithuania after their governments cracked down on them.

“Our local community demonstrates quite a high level of solidarity,” he said. “This is what the struggle for freedom is all about. It’s not only about physical security, but also security from Russian propaganda or soft power.”

Raskevičius also called for continued military cooperation and more economic sanctions against Russia.

“What is really important is not to get used to the war,” he said. “It has already been more than 60 days and you know people are getting used to seeing the terrible things on their TV and it becomes routine … we should be very mindful that we push harder because if Ukraine doesn’t win, we become the next one in the line.”

Raskevičius added Lithuania places “a lot of trust in our security partners, including the United States and NATO.”

“I wouldn’t say there is panic or any kind of that stuff, but it’s very close,” he said. “(Ukraine is) less than 1,000 km (621 miles) away and we have quite a nasty history with the Soviet Union and Russia, so we know what it’s all about it.”

Raskevičius sponsor of civil partnerships bill

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation

The country on Sunday officially lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men, but opposition to LGBTQ rights remains strong. Raskevičius noted Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

He has introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

LGBTQ rights opponents who Raskevičius said have “documented ties” to Russia in 2021 launched a petition to remove him as chair of the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee “because apparently a person who is gay cannot chair the committee who is in charge of all human rights.” Recall supporters claimed more than 300,000 people signed the petition, but Raskevičius noted journalists discovered the vast majority of them were fake.

Raskevičius told the Blade that opposition to the civil partnership bill was the “pretext” behind the petition. He acknowledged the ongoing debate over whether lawmakers should consider the measure “with war in our neighborhood,” but he stressed “it’s the best time to do so.”  

“We have to choose whether we want to belong to the sphere of influence coming from the East, or we want to move into the West,” said Raskevičius.

Raskevičius’ son is 2 1/2. He told the Blade that fatherhood has shaped his work in support of LGBTQ rights and human rights.

“For a very long time LGBT people were not visible in Lithuania,” said Raskevičius. “LGBT parents was another level of invisibility. These people exist, but they don’t publicly share their experiences because they are concerned about the well-being of their kids.”

“Me and other parents involved in my child’s upbringing made the conscious decision to talk about our experiences publicly,” he added. “We want to encourage people they are not alone.”

The European Court of Human Rights last month heard a challenge to Lithuania’s so-called “gay propaganda law” that specifically bans the distribution of information to minors that “expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the republic of Lithuania.”

Author Neringa Dangvydė Macatė in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the law after Lithuanian authorities censured her children’s book that featured two same-sex couples. Bob Gilchrist, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, is among those who have publicly criticized the statute.

“Our law is also framed in terms of protecting minors from the detrimental kinds of public information and defines information about LGBT relationships as potentially detrimental,” noted Raskevičius. “Based on that legislation, public authorities could censor public information.”

Raskevičius during the interview also praised the U.S. Embassy and Gilchrist himself for their support of LGBTQ rights in Lithuania.

“The current ambassador demonstrates not only the embassy’s leadership, but he’s demonstrating personal leadership,” said Raskevičius. “He’s very open about who he is and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”

Raskevičius noted Gilchrist attends public events and speaks about LGBTQ rights on Lithuanian television.

“It’s a very powerful message because we see the United States as a strategic ally,” said Raskevičius. “They would not only defend our territory, but also defend the same values and regarding that, anti homophobic sentiments should have no place.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular