Serbia’s EuroPride Debacle Highlights Media Bias

The run up to Serbia's EuroPride was marred by threats by the far right and anti-gay groups. During those weeks of controversy, Serbian media played a role in amplifying the voices of those who were against the Pride.

By Snežana Miletic

This article was first [published by Reporting Diversity Network 2.0

September was a turbulent month for Serbia. Belgrade was due to host 2022’s EuroPride, a pan-European event that takes place every year in a different European city. But following weeks of turmoil and media debates, the country’s Interior Minister announced the sudden cancelation of the EuroPride march citing ‘security concerns’. Then, despite the government’s ban, thousands took to the streets of Belgrade after Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić announced that EuroPride could take place. 

The run up to the event was marred by threats by the far right and anti-gay groups. During those weeks of controversy, Serbian media played a role in amplifying the voices of those who were against the Pride. According to the media monitoring highlights of Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 (RDN 2.0) the months of August and September were full of hateful narratives against the LGBTQ+ community in Serbia. The media in general seem to have a tendency to portray the LGBTQ+ community as a threat to the survival of the Serbian nation and this is exemplified by inviting either political figures with far-right views or priests, bishops and others who exercise liturgical duties in the Church to take part in debates related to the country’s civil society.  

In August, Kurir TV hosted Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski, a Serbian MP of the right-wing movement Zavetnici, who downplayed the importance of the EuroPride and questioned the police’s protection of the LGBTQ+ community during the Pride. In September, the month EuroPride was scheduled, there were a large number of openly hateful narratives by political, cultural and religious figures in the country. 

The media debates that took place during that time focused primarily on the LGBTQ+ community marching through the streets of Belgrade ‘demonstrating their sexual orientation or gender identity’ as many framed it. However, the media left out an important aspect of the EuroPride – the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. In Serbia same sex couples do not have the same rights as heterosexual couples: they cannot attend visitations when their partner is in hospital; they cannot apply for financial assistance such as a joint loan; and in the most recent census they could not declare their gender – apart from the sex binary of male/female.  

Looking at the current ongoing census is useful in understanding the position of the LGBTQ+ community in Serbia. LGBTQ+ citizens of Serbia will have two options in the Census: either to lie about the nature of their family union or to choose the option ‘living in an extramarital union’ listed on the form. The choice they are left with is humiliating and discriminatory and this is highlighted by activists who use social media to express their views. Gay activist Predrag Azdejković points out on Twitter that the forms are worded in a way that does not provide citizens with an option to declare themselves as members of a same-sex partnership. The only option an LGBTQ+ person is given is to declare that they are not a blood relative to their partner who they live with, an option marked with a zero (0), suggesting that the person one has lived with for years is a nobody! In his statement to the Danas, Azdejković wonders whether Prime Minister Brnabić, who lives in a same-sex partnership, will call her partner a nobody in the Census and put a zero next to her name. 

In his interview to RDN, the editor of NIN magazine Dragan Jovićević answers the question of what lies behind this hypocrisy of, most importantly, the state and whether opposing a public parade is merely a smoke screen for everyday discrimination?”  

He believes that wrong narratives, which are caused by the population being uninformed and not well-educated, lie at the root of the problem.  

What lies at the root of this problem is the wrong narratives caused by being uninformed and uneducated: 

“Homophobia in Serbia is not hidden in any way. It is integrated into many areas of the society and it stems from not having very little information, not enough information at all, that is, that should be learned at a young age., or a primary school age. Another channel that facilitates the spread of homophobia is the media (tabloids), which persist in misinforming the public about what constitutes a minority ‒ a sexual minority in this case. People have little information, and what they do know is mainly inaccurate. For it’s impossible to turn someone into something they don’t want to be. And that is the root of all misunderstandings, especially about the rights of the sexual minorities,” Dragan Jovićević to tells RDN 2.0. 

Jovićević thinks that EuroPride in a country such as Serbia could only deepen these differences. He remembers that as the week of the march approached, there was hardly a day without the EuroPride being it was not the main point of discussion. The media debates seemed to have the, aim of scaring people, keeping them alert and creating a particular state of mind that can be defined as acute and collective schizophrenia. 

“In such an atmosphere, it is obvious why it is impossible to understand the needs and rights of others who are a minority and want their voice to be heard. They demand equal rights, all the way to the right to have a legally recognized union and status that heterosexual couples have in life. At the same time, the question is who fights for those rights institutionally and how. Therefore, when we take all that into account, it is hard not to conclude that the general state of being uninformed and uneducated is (again) the result of numerous problems and forms of social polarization,” says Jovićević. 

Jovićević believes that what he described as ‘schizophrenia’ is the reason why certain individuals such as Prime Minister Brnabić can express their sexual orientation openly while others cannot. For Jovićević such individuals are not part of a minority but of a ‘loud and aggressive majority’. 

The actor István Kőrösi, a star of Újvidéki Színház Hungarian theatre from Novi Sad, who lives in a same-sex partnership, agrees that ignorance lies at the core of the wrong  false narratives and all prejudice. Kőrösi believes there are different levels of homophobia, from the loud ones, to less dangerous ones. For Kőrösi marching in the EuroPride is part of informing people.  

“This march, held under police protection, should remind people that many things don’t work as they should, which is why the march was organized in the first place” Kőrösi tells RDN 2.0.

“I see Pride as a protest, the pinnacle of a fight that has been waged the whole year. We as a country have the Law against discrimination of LGBT+ people, but as usual, it is not enforced. I listened recently to an excellent podcast on YouTube, called Gradski podkast (City Podcast) in which Marko Mihajlović (one of the organizers of EuroPride) faced Radoš Pejović (“Family Days”). Marko said that whenever an LGBT+ person goes to the police after suffering a physical attack provoked by their sexuality, the police officer replies with, “There’s nothing we can do, it’s the way you’re conducting yourselves, you’ve brought it on yourselves…” So, there is always some hostility although it is stipulated by law that there mustn’t be any”, concludes Kőrösi.

Kőrösi also referred to the Bishop of Banat, Nikanor Bogunovic, who incited violence in a viral video. According to RDN 2.0 “Bishop Nikanor addressed the public with extremely hateful and problematic statements including insulting and derogatory comments towards the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabic, and first openly gay person to hold the office.” 

 “[T]his man spoke those words without being sanctioned for it in any way; the church did not distance itself from these words” says Kőrösi.

Photo Credits: Bobica10 / Shutterstock