WASHINGTON — After organizers of Montenegro's first gay pride parade, held in the coastal city of Boudva in July, were forced to flee the march in boats because counter-protestors began hurling rocks, bottles and even chairs, they decided such marches were counterproductive.
But then another LGBT rights group decided to organize a pride parade in the capital city of Podgorica on October 20. While they have vowed to go ahead, buoyed by strong support from the Balkan nation's political leaders, they are prepared for a possible repeat of what took place in Boudva.
"After Boudva, we are more motivated to do it in the right way in Podgorica," said Danijel Kalezic of Queer Montenegro, the pride march's organizer. "Most members of the LGBT community are not ready to absorb [the risks]. We are ready… we are not doing this only for ourselves, we are doing this for everybody who is not ready."
Stevan Milivojevic, whose group LGBT Forum Progress organized the Boudva march, said he was "looking forward to being proud" when he goes to the Podgorica march. But while supportive of Queer Montenegro's work, he added, "I'm just not sure if this is the best moment to have the pride in Podgorica."
He was especially concerned about the backlash a pride march could provoke. In the two months since the Boudva march, he said, LGBT Forum Progress has received around 250 reports of hate crimes in the country — dwarfing the roughly 150 cases the organization had received over the entirety of the previous two years.
The event is being held just weeks after the authorities in neighboring Serbia banned a gay pride march scheduled for September 28, claiming they could not guarantee security around the events after neo-Nazi groups and organizations aligned with the Orthodox Church threatened violence if it went ahead.
But Montenegro is very different from Serbia, say LGBT activists in the country. The government is seriously committed to integration with the European Union and has embraced LGBT rights protections it hopes will advance its admission. On October 10, President Filip Vujanović met with representatives of Queer Montenegro and promised that security officials would do everything possible to ensure the safety of parade participants.
"We have meetings with police on daily basis," said Kalezic. "I am quite sure the parade will not be banned [like in Serbia]. But police will try to stop any kind of violence."
The disconnect between this political support for LGBT rights and the fact that LGBT rights activists can't be confident that they can march without being assaulted is precisely why it is important to hold the event, Kalezic added.
"Here in Montenegro, during the last four years, the government is so good in [saying supportive] things and writing things but there's a real gap [between] real actions and what is said," Kalezic said. "It will be a chance [for] the government to show it is really supportive."
It is hard to gauge how serious the threat is in Podgorica. Organized hate groups or nationalist groups aren't active in Montenegro the way they are in Serbia. Much anti-gay sentiment is activated through soccer fan groups, but organizers say they are unaware of any specific plans to disrupt Sunday's march.
The head of the country's Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović, has denounced the march, however. In an open letter published this week, he suggested Montenegro would do well to follow Serbia's example and ban the parade. He also praised Russia's "propaganda" ban for outlawing marches like the one scheduled for Sunday.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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