Trigger Warning: Each section of this piece contains information and links to information/images that may be extremely distressing.
The first attempted pride parade in Belgrade was in 2001. The police did not adequately protect the participants and a lot of violence ensued. Trigger Warning: graphic violence and hate speech against QUILTBAG individuals In this YouTube video of Pride 2001 you can see what happened. Here is a map of anti-QUILTBAG attacks in Belgrade, from 2001 to 2009.
There were a few attempts to hold parades after that, but they were cancelled when the police could not guarantee the safety of the participants. In 2009, anti-QUILTBAG graffiti and signs were put up all over the city in anticipation of the parade and they was not removed, creating an atmosphere of fear. They remained for months on end. The message was "ЧЕКАМО ВАС" -- We're waiting for you. The yellow posters are pretending to be from the ministry of health. The date on that link is for 2010, but the graffiti was the same both years. That link goes to the website of a hate group.
Some activists fought back with graffiti: stencils of various superheroes were spraypainted near the anti-QUILTBAG graffiti, with the captions "I have arrived!" or "You're waiting for us?"
In 2010 Belgrade finally succeeded in holding a Pride Parade. The graffiti didn't appear until a few days before the parade. Every night, when we went out, the posters and hate graffiti would surround us. I was afraid and walked quickly. Every morning, I would see public employees washing the graffiti off and removing the posters, which made me feel hopeful again.
On the day of the Parade, we set out early for the park. When we got within sight of the cordon, an elderly woman approached us to ask if we were going to the parade. I was momentarily afraid -- we weren't safe inside the wall of police yet -- but she looked harmless. I said yes. She said "Oh good. I hear so much on television against you people, and I don't understand it and I've come to say that I'm on your side."
We passed through several lines of security. The police were in full riot gear, and scanned us with metal detectors. I'd never seen so many police in my life. Our parade was peaceful. The three lines of police, each a city block apart, kept us far away from what was happening outside our bubble. Here's a video of us marching. (You can see me briefly in this video.)
Afterwards, we piled into the backs of blue police vans, about 10 of us per van, where we sat on each other's laps in the dark as we sped through the riots and out to dispersal points throughout the city. We took a cab to someone's apartment and huddled around the radio, waiting for news that it was safe to go home.
Beyond our peaceful bubble, policemen were fighting thousands of angry rioters. The BBC has some pictures of the riots.
The government hasn't done very much to help QUILTBAG rights since last year's parade. Suddenly, just a few days before this year's pride parade was to occur, the government banned the parade, despite its having been planned and registered well in advance. The reason given was that they couldn't ensure the participants safety -- the same excuse which had been given for Pride 2009's last minute cancellation. Although the linked article says that the organisers of pride would proceed with the parade despite the ban, they were ultimately unable to do so.
Then, on the 15th of this October, a woman was stabbed in Belgrade. She was wearing a shirt with LGBT symbols. She fought off her attackers, survived, and has just been released from the hospital. (Details in Serbian here). Her arm will remain in a cast for some time and afterwards she will go through rehabilitation. Her attacker has been released from prison pending trial, because he's a minor.
On 19th October, a protest was held in front of Serbian government headquarters. Article in English here.
In other news, Amnesty International is petitioning the Serbian government to pass a bill regulating the forced evictions of Roma from their homes.
This is an ongoing problem in Belgrade. Last year, at the time of our parade when it was quite cold, we learned that 19 Roma families had just been evicted without notice from their homes.
And closer to home, Hungary has unleashed a new Hungarian Work Plan (PDF in Hungarian). We now have labour camps for the unemployed that are specifically targeting Roma.
These articles are focusing on Gyöngyöspata, a village northeast of Budapest, where the Roma are also facing attacks from vigilantes, but there are two other work programmes in the country right now, with more and more expected to form in the future.
Additionally, Roma in Gyöngyöspata are being targetted with fines. Roma women have been fined as much as $250 for pushing a baby carriage in the street where the sidewalk was impassable. A Roma girl (age 10) who picked up a stick was fined $125 for carrying a weapon. An injured adult was also fined for carrying a weapon when his crutch was redefined by the police as a weapon. A person helping to push a broken down car was fined for driving without a license. Most of these families owe as much as $500 in fines, which are taken directly from their wages. As a result, their children are going hungry.
Things have been especially bad there since a member of a radical nationalist party was elected as mayor. In contrast, the only time anyone I know personally has been fined for an offense of this calibre, was a couple years ago when a (white) drunk female friend of mine was fined $15 for peeing in public one night, a fee that's much more in line with what people here can afford -- just expensive enough to act as a deterent, but not bank breaking.
Setting aside the racist and ableist natures of the mandatory work programmes (any disabled person who is determined able to work can be sent to these camps too), this doesn't even make economic sense. It would be cheaper and faster to do this work with machines. It doesn't make sense from the perspective of helping people to get jobs either: these people aren't being given tools to gain employment in the 21st century job market, but rather the 19th century job market.
There is no upward mobility in these work programmes, no way for a person to learn from their valuable experience with scythes and pitchforks and use those skills to get a job that pays a liveable wage. The overseers of these programmes admit as much, but say it's more about getting them used to the concept of having to work 8 hours a day, which hails back to the prevalent racist stereotype that these people avoid work, are thieves, and are only good for making babies. In reality, they are a people desperate for work, who are unable to be hired because employers don't want to hire Roma. They are working without access to toilets, and even if the job is 6 hours away from their home, they have to take it and live on site in a trailer.
Since the start of the programme in Gyöngyöspata, four workers were fired for missing a couple days work when they accepted another short-term job which paid three times as much. Refusing to join a work programme or being fired from one means means losing the right to unemployment benefits for the next three years. They were originally to be paid $300 a month, which is less than the minimum wage ($400), but more than unemployment benefits ($150/month on average). But 70-80% of their wages have been garnished, and so they are earning closer to $75 a month. Some of them have earned as little as $40 a month.
It is ridiculous to think that anyone would choose to live off of the $150 a month a person can get in unemployment benefits instead of getting a good job and earning $600 a month (the minimum liveable wage in my opinion). A lot of people are unemployed here, but it is not because they don't want to work.
The only benefit of this costly, backwards thinking plan is to massage the numbers and make it look on paper like we have more people with meaningful employment than we do.
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