Over 50 MEPs write to Serbian government to follow up on developments during EuroPride 2022
Ana Brnabić, Prime-Minister of Serbia
Jadranka Joksimovic, Serbian Minister for European Integration
Aleksandar Vulin, Serbian Minister for Interior
Gordana Comic, Serbian Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue
Emanuele Giaufret, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia
Tobias Flessenkemper, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade
Brussels, 29 September 2022
Subject: Follow up to EuroPride 2022 – focus on violence against activists and the march that was finally only an ‘escorting of demonstrators to a concert’
On 31 August, we wrote to the Serbian President, Prime-Minister and government calling for a compromise solution to host the EuroPride 2022 march, in cooperation with the organisers. The hesitation and contradicting messages surrounding the Pride resulted in the right to freedom of assembly not being guaranteed and violence surrounding the march. We therefore feel responsible for reaching out once more to highlight some views which we deem of particular importance.
1. Violence against activists
We are aware that great efforts were made towards securing Belgrade to ensure it was secure for activists and Pride attendees. We saw hundreds of police officers in riot gear ready to quash attempts at violence. However, we are concerned about the systemic LGBTI-phobic hate and violence that was present in both debates and in the streets surrounding the march, a systemic problem that needs to be addressed by the government.
Accordingly, we must raise an issue of homophobic violence that still managed to happen. As reported to us, 7 Albanian activists were violently attacked when they were leaving the Pride concerts. Among them was Xheni Karaj and Arber Kodra, the latter having sustaineded the most serious injuries. When leaving the park, the activists asked police to be escorted to their hotel nearby, but were told by law enforcement that it was safe. Roughly 100m from the police presence, they were confronted by a group of 10 hooligans who grabbed one of them and violently assaulted them with punches to the head and hitting them with bottles. Several of the activists intervened to stop the attack but were in turn also assaulted. Meanwhile, 2 of the activists ran towards the police asking for help – yet the officers did not react. It was only when a traffic police office intervened minutes later that the riot police intervened to disperse the hooligans.
2 of the activists were taken to the Emergency Room by ambulance and luckily did not suffer serious physical trauma – we would like to highlight here that the psychological trauma of the attack plays a monumental role. The police then escorted all the activists towards a hotel and took note in the depositions of the hate crime motive. The activists were not wearing visible signs, so it is safely presumed by the proximity to the Pride concert and the context in which it happened that the attack was a premeditated hate crime – the hooligans were also chanting nationalist songs and actively on the lookout for targets.
We would like to highlight that instances such as these raise pertinent questions concerning the proactive role of police in such circumstances, why law enforcement did not reach immediately and why so many hooligans were allowed to roam free in the streets near the Pride concerts. We accordingly ask for your thorough and swift action in ensuring that an investigation takes place to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure they are accordingly prosecuted. In Serbia, events such as these are considered hate crimes under the law – please do ensure they are tried accordingly. Additionally, we would like to recommend that the Serbian government works actively with the Council of Europe’s office in Serbia, as well as the EU delegation, to address the systemic problem of LGBTI-phobic hate crime and violence. We are concerned that, after the handling of EuroPride in the last weeks, these events may likely increase.
2. The Pride ‘march’ that was legal and yet banned, and what this means for human rights and rule of law
We would in addition like to narrow down on the actual ‘march’. While we understand that the context in Serbia is difficult at present, we would like to highlight two contradicting points: 1) Pride organisers received a legal document from the police where law enforcement acknowledges the concert and route of the march; however 2) the march, as claimed by the government itself in the voice of the Minister of Interior, ‘never took place’. In fact, the Minister of Interior said publicly “we will not tolerate any violence in Belgrade streets, any more than illegal marches” and “The Ministry of Internal Affairs did not give in to the pressures of the great powers of the West.” We witnessed an attempt to keep at bay two different audiences: the international one and the national one, yet human rights failed to be take primacy over either.
We believe that the way the situation was handled by the government is not in line with Serbia’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and jurisprudence of the Court. Serbia was obliged to protect freedom of peaceful assembly by allowing this march, and to protect demonstrators throughout, ensuring everyone’s safety. Instead, it sowed doubt with the authorisation/banning debacle of the route and consequently saw anti-LGBTI sentiment instigated through inflammatory statements. Serbia failed its obligations under the ECHR, which directly relates to the rule of law – without legal certainty, there is no rule of law. We will as MEPs ensure that these developments and the failure to ensure the freedom of assembly will be recognised in the next accession report.
In conclusion, we want to state the following: The Prime-Minister said on Saturday: “EuroPride is not a measure in the accession process; it is not about whether, if the Pride March happens, Serbia progresses on accession, or, if not, Serbia goes back on accession; EuroPride is for Serbia and its citizens”. Sadly, these words did not materialise, because the debate on the legality of the march remained – what is more concerning is the democratic deficiency of this process: this march did not fulfil the route initially planned, experienced violence for the first time in years, created legal uncertainty in what was an already accepted societal event and worryingly reversed progress on LGBTI rights. There are causes for concern that we believe warrant a larger discussion within the government as to how Serbia wants to position itself vis-à-vis its LGBTIQ citizens and more largely on human rights. We would therefore welcome also an opportunity to discuss with authorities how to ensure that, in coming years, commitments to human rights and the EU acquis can be fully honoured.
Marc ANGEL, Co-Chair, LGBTI Intergroup (S&D, Luxembourg)
Terry REINTKE, Co-Chair, LGBTI Intergroup (Greens-EFA Vice-President, Germany)
Fabio Massimo CASTALDO, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (Non-attached, Italy)
Pierre KARLESKIND, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (Renew Europe, France)
Malin BJÖRK, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (The Left, Sweden)
Maria WALSH, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (EPP, Ireland)
Michal ŠIMEČKA (Renew Europe, Slovakia), EP Vice-President
Heidi HAUTALA (Greens-EFA, Finland), EP Vice-President
Alice KUHNKE (Sweden), Greens/European Free Alliance Vice-President
Kira PETER-HANSEN (Denmark), Greens/European Free Alliance Vice-President
Marisa MATIAS (Portugal), The Left Vice-President
Anja HAZEKAMP (The Left, Netherlands)
Antoni COMÍN I OLIVERES (Non-attached, Spain)
Aurore LALUCQ (S&D, France)
Catharina RINZEMA (Renew Europe, Netherlands)
Colm MARKEY (EPP, Ireland)
Cornelia ERNST (The Left, Germany)
Cyrus ENGERER (S&D, Malta)
Delara BURKHARDT (S&D, Germany)
Dietmar KÖSTER (S&D, Germany)
Erik MARQUARDT (Greens-EFA, Germany)
Giuliano PISAPIA (S&D, Italy)
Gwendoline DELBOS-CORFIELD (Greens-EFA, France)
Hannah NEUMANN (Greens-EFA, Germany)
Hilde VAUTMANS (Renew Europe, Belgium)
Irena JOVEVA (Renew Europe, Slovenia)
Irène TOLLERET (Renew Europe, France)
Jessica POLFJÄRD (EPP, Sweden)
José GUSMÃO (The Left, Portugal)
Karen MELCHIOR (Renew Europe, Denmark)
Karin KARLSBRO (Renew Europe, Sweden)
Kim VAN SPARRENTAK (Greens-EFA, Netherlands)
Malte GALLÉE (Greens-EFA, Germany)
Marianne VIND (S&D, Denmark)
Mario FURORE (Non-attached, Italy)
Martin HOJSÍK (Renew Europe, Slovakia)
Monika VANA (Greens-EFA, Austria)
Moritz KÖRNER (Renew Europe, Germany)
Miapetra KUMPULA-NATRI (S&D, Finland)
Niklas NIENASS (Greens-EFA, Germany)
Niyazi KIZILYÜREK (The Left, Cyprus)
Olivier CHASTEL (Renew Europe, Belgium)
Radka MAXOVÁ (S&D, Czechia)
Rasmus ANDRESEN (Greens-EFA, Germany)
Robert BIEDROŃ (S&D, Poland)
Sandro GOZI (Renew Europe, France)
Sara MATTHIEU (Greens-EFA, Belgium)
Saskia BRICMONT (Greens-EFA, Belgium)
Sirpa PIETIKÄINEN (EPP, Finland)
Sylwia SPUREK (Greens-EFA, Poland)
Thijs REUTEN (S&D, Netherlands)
Tilly METZ (Greens-EFA, Luxembourg)
Vera TAX (S&D, Netherlands)
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Greens-EFA, Germany)
 LGBTI Intergroup (31 August 2022), “145 MEPs sign letter to Serbian leadership calling to maintain the organisation of EuroPride 2022 and deploying sufficient police protection”, accessible at https://lgbti-ep.eu/2022/08/31/140-meps-sign-letter-to-serbian-leadership-calling-to-maintain-the-organisation-of-europride-2022-and-deploying-sufficient-police-protection/.
 AFP (September 17 2022), “Belgrade’s EuroPride March Goes on Despite Far-Right Protests, Arrests”, accessible at https://www.voanews.com/a/belgrade-s-europride-march-goes-on-despite-far-right-protests-arrests-/6751906.html.
 AP News (16 September 2022), “Organizers say Pride march will go on in Serbia despite ban”, accessible at https://apnews.com/article/belgrade-serbia-government-and-politics-4e9c334c88249b3ffc697cbc39dd5845.