Wednesday, September 30, 2009

With Pride, Against Prejudice

VUKOVAR solidarity with Belgrade Pride, and the
protesters can take pride in this.
photo from the album: Prosvjed protiv zabrane održavanja beogradske Povorke ponosa

IT must be at least twenty years since I took part with friends in a Gay Pride march. At the time we were opposing the notorious piece of Tory legislation by stealth which became Section 28 of the Local Government Act, forbidding "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. Gay people feared a witch-hunt, and teachers feared they might face trouble if they talked to their students about Shakespeare's sexuality, or tried to raise awareness, and stop bullying and gay-bashing in the yard. It seemed only right, regardless of our own sexual orientation, to show solidarity against prejudice and persecution.

Since then that nasty law has been repealed, though not without some opposition. Without being complacent when quite young children are using "gay" as a term of abuse, and homophobic violence still goes on, we like to think we are in more enlightened times. Openly, indeed outre, gay characters are on TV, gays have come out in government, and in the police, and Tory leader David Cameron has apologised to gay people for Section 28.

I imagine Pride these days is far more of a carnival than a protest, and a commercialised scene at that. But perhaps we should not forget its origins, in a commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York, 40 years ago, when gays and lesbians and other people fought back against police attacks. Though many countries are today eager to host Pride events to boost their liberal credentials and their tourist trade, the treatment of gay people and Pride still gives an insight into the real character of societies and the forces at work in them. We know that homosexuality remains illegal in Iran, so it may be a while before there's a Pride march in Tehran, while in Tel Aviv young people attending a disco at a gay advice centre were a gunman's target. The one thing which Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in Jerusalem were able to agree on was opposing a Pride march.

Attempts to hold a Pride event in Russia have been met by violence from police and fascist thugs, while Lithuania's parliament has celebrated its freedom from the Russian yoke by enacting its own law similar to Section 28.

This was condemned in the European Parliament, though I see British Tory MEPs abstained in the vote.

A planned Pride march in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, had to be called off last month when police refused to sanction it, saying they could not protect the marchers against right-wing violence. Fascists had threatened attacks and called for lynching of gays.

The organisers had at one point appealed to the Serbian Orthodox Church to use its influence by appealing for calm. It refused. Well, perhaps like the British Tories it has its allies to consider, or it just did not want to be accused of hypocrisy. I would hazard a guess that like other religious denominations, the church has its share of homosexual clergy, and if the others are anything to go by, of child molesters. But one would hate to see it unfairly accused of harbouring freethought and tolerance.

The threats and ban on Pride in Begrade have brought demonstrations and messages of support from other cities, including London, Berlin and Budapest. The Hungarian capital had its own Pride march on September 5, and though it too has seen fascist violence and threats, this year with strict security it passed off peacefully. This weekend there was a demonstration outside the Serbian embassy in Budapest in solidarity with the banned Belgrade Pride. There is also going to be a demonstration at the Serbian embassy in Vienna this week.

However, what impressed me particularly was the report of a demonstration in the Croatian city of Vukovar.
It is not a capital city, just an industrial city on the Danube, which expanded mainly in the last half of the 20th century. Until the war broke out in what was Yugoslavia I had never heard of it.

In an 87-day siege between July and November 1991 the Yugoslav People's Army(JNA) and Serb nationalist militias bombarded the city to rubble, and moved in to kill or drive out Croat civilians. Before the war broke out Vukovar had a small Croat majority, with almost as many Serbs, and numerous smaller minorities. As with Tuzla in Bosnia, many people had intermarried,. Asked their nationality on forms, they put down simply "Yugoslav". This was what the nationalists and Milosevic set out to destroy. When we learn that Croatian President Tudjman's party did not obtain a majority in the region, which ws held by the Croatian League of Communists, we may wonder if those were right who accused him of wanting to abandon the city.

My Serbian comrade Rade told us about his brother, a reservist who had been called back to JNA duty. the night before his unit took part in the assault on Vukovar he realised he and the unit commander -an ethnic German -were the only ones still wearing their red star cap badges. The rest of the men had all replaced these with the white eagle badge of Serb nationalism. Rade's brother managed to prevent his comrades participating in atrocities, but he had no doubt the atrocities took place.

As Rade told a London meeting, replying to a question about Yugoslav unity, "If you want a united Yugoslavia you don't destroy a mixed, workers' city like Vukovar". (it was Rade by the way who deserved much of the credit for our decision to set up Workers Aid for Bosnia, and to head for Tuzla). Indeed the JNA itself began to break up, as non-Serbs would no longer serve, and many Serb soldiers too had seen enough, though alas they were not yet able to topple the Belgrade regime or outweigh the Chetnik militias led by politicians like Vojtslav Seselj and Radovan Karadzic or gangsters like Arkan.

One of the worst atrocities in the war was the killing of 250 people - patients, nurses and medical staff - taken from the Vukovar hospital. Two years the International Criminal Tribunal convicted two former Yugoslav Army officers and acquitted a third of involvement in the hospital massacre. It has also accused Vojtslav Seselj, the fascist who was Milosevic's coalition partner, of inciting and encouraging the massacre

Vukovar is being rebuilt, but reports say relations between Croat and Serb are harder to recover after what people went through. That is why it is a heartening sign that in Vukovar there are people taking a stand for solidarity, and extending a supporting hand to those in Belgrade who are fighting for human rights. They can be proud of this.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home