On a Sunday morning, at 10 o’clock, on 10th of October 2010, people started gathering at Manjež park in Belgrade for, what will turn out to be, the first at least a partially successful Pride Parade.
Like everything else about this Pride Parade, the choice of location was based on security issues. The park is surrounded by few residential buildings, and is instead mostly overlooked by government offices. This meant that there was slim chance that hooligans will rent apartments overlooking the parade and then throw rocks at the participants, like they planned to do last year. To be on the safe side, the police surveyed residents of all apartments overlooking the event the night before. Also, all residents were ordered to park their cars elsewhere and traffic was stopped in the area surrounding the park.
Participants arriving at the event might have felt like they were approaching Area 51, because at a five block radius of the park, the police set up the first check point. Everybody who entered the radius was identified and recorded by the police and was given a yellow band to tie around their wrists (a yellow arm band? charming!).
The park itself was sealed off from the rest of the world, like it would be if there were a rock concert to take place. Everybody had to go through an official entrance, and was given a pink sticker to mark them as participants of the Parade. The organizers warned in advance that people should closely follow all the instructions and should stay with the group at all times.
After some 45 minutes of different European officials taking the stage and addressing the public, the Parade itself – more of a peaceful walk, took place. Some 1000 souls, surrounded by what seemed twice as many riot-equipped policemen, walked around the block. The police behaved correctly and civil throughout the affair. If there were no rainbow flags, this would look like any other peaceful protest. There was no dancing, loud music – even same-sex couple hand holding was hard to spot.
The crowd walked past an Orthodox church, where several nuns and priests found it their highlight of the week to watch the crowd in shocking horror and cross themselves in defense, as if they just witnessed a public ass pounding. Those nuns and priests were really laughable and tragic – they expected to see naked people, leather whips and boots, but instead they implicitly expressed Christian hate of the peaceful, content and calm crowd which expressed no sexuality at all….
The parade ended with a party in SKC (the only venue which would let my teenage punk band play back in 1990s), not full 3 hours after the start. The police has given all the participants a ride home – talk about an unexpected cab share.
Meanwhile, the rioting
The organizers have announced that some 5000 policemen will guard the event, but looking at all clash points in the city, I’d think there was twice as many.
Mobs of people were gathered at different locations around the city. Some gathered in the downtown on Terazije, some came from the direction of St. Sava Temple, while there was a significant group much closer, at Slavija.
Sticks, rocks, metal bars and road post signs were all used to fight the police, with ferocity I would have never imagined possible. Thousands upon thousands of these hooligans kept storming at the police, demolishing cars, buildings and of course, looting some Nike shoes while at it.
The police fought back. They fired tear gas, stormed back at the rioters, and managed to keep the crowd away from the parade, so that the inner radius of the parade was never breached.
The police showed an unprecedented professionalism, but also an amazing dedication to the cause. Later that day, a Youtube video surfaced showing a cop yelling at an injured rioter (that was an example of dedication, not professionalism), and telling him something along the lines of: “You fucking asshole, you want to demolish MY city?”
This lasted longer that the Parade itself. The aftermath was a hundred of injured cops, 200 detained rioters, Democratic Party’s headquarters set on fire and dozens of broken windows and shops.
Picture is worth thousand words, and video is worth 24 pictures a second
This video does make you think: how many dead people would there be if the rioters managed to break through to the parade?
Moral of the story?
The public debate ensued. Journalists have concluded that the rioters weren’t there for the Parade at all – they just wanted to fight and demolish. Concerned citizens pointed out that most of the rioters weren’t even of age. True, most of them looked like they can’t be much older than 17. Of course, it’s not the kids to blame, it’s their lack of perspective and opportunity, they said.
I’m not sure this “blame it on the society” attitude is really helpful. I grew up in 1990s, the worst of times, I’d say. We were left without proper education, with world-hating politicians and surrounded by wars. But I don’t remember that many of the people I went to school with would gear up for such rioting.
The problem is not the entire society, it’s not that abstract. The problem is that for the last 20 years, with a brief exception of Đinđić‘s era, our politicians have been creating an environment in which difference is not tolerated and they built an army of street hooligans to support it.
When politicians, alongside journalists and all sorts of “intellectuals”, wanted to unite people against independence of Kosovo, they did this by forbidding any discourse in Serbia that would suggest that Kosovo should be independent.
The official institutions ignored, for years, acts of vandalisms and beatings. They encouraged those kids to take the streets and impose their own rules. Anyone speaks in favor of Kosovo’s independence? Hooligans will beat them up. Anyone speaks in favor of minority rights? There is someone to beat them up too.
By covering up for their policies, the politicians have created an atmosphere in which it’s ok to beat up somebody who thinks differently. By tolerating those acts of violence and not putting the perpetrators behind bars, they created an atmosphere in which doing illegal stuff is alright.
Those kids that destroyed the city didn’t get so derailed by being ignored by the society – no, they got derailed by being actively manipulated by the politicians to do their dirty jobs.
Combine this with the fact that most people in Serbia don’t understand the difference between the tyranny of the majority and democracy, and you get a majority of citizens who think that Pride Parade is infringing upon their heterosexual rights (“If majority of us thinks there should be no Pride Parade, then the government should ban it” was the mantra of the day), and who think violence is a proper answer to that issue.
A few days ago, I witnessed this exchange between two senior citizens:
— Hi! Only three days until beating ups!
— Yes. We should stop that Parade of Shame right now.
Those grandpas have their children and their grandchildren. When adults get that brainwashed, children don’t stand a chance.