Anti-Gay Riots in Serbia

You will have heard the disturbing news, over the weekend:

Serbian riot police fought running battles with hundreds of far-right supporters who tried to disrupt a gay pride march in central Belgrade today.

Thousands of police officers sealed off streets in the capital where the march took place, repeatedly clashing with rioters who were trying to burst through security cordons.

The rioters fired shots and hurled petrol bombs at the headquarters of the ruling pro-western Democratic party, setting the garage of the building on fire. The state TV building and other political parties’ headquarters were also attacked, with many of the windows shattered by stones.

Several parked cars were set on fire or damaged, shop windows were broken, rubbish bins overturned and street signs destroyed.

The protesters, chanting “Death to homosexuals!” hurled petrol bombs, bricks, stones, bottles and firecrackers at riot police. Police responded with teargas and armoured vehicles to disperse the riots in the heart of the capital even after the brief pride march ended.

The protesters hijacked a bus, ordered passengers and the driver out, and pushed it down a steep street before it hit an electric pole on a main Belgrade square. Several shops were looted.

Belgrade emergency hospital said 57 people were injured, including 47 policemen, one seriously. Police said several rioters were arrested.

Rightwing groups say the gay events are contrary to Serbian family and religious values.

The Serbian government is standing firm against the bigots:

“These riots obviously have nothing to do with the gay parade or any moral values,” said Jelena Trivan, a Democratic party spokeswoman. “These are hooligan gangs which must be punished severely.”

Dragan Sutanovac, the defence minister and vice-president of the Democratic party, said part of the party’s archive, warehouse and phone lines were destroyed.

“It is high time that we deal in a very democratic way, through the courts, with those who call themselves members of the patriotic organisations,” Sutanovac said. “Is this Belgrade or the wild west?”

Slobodan Homen, a senior justice ministry official, said the state response would be fierce. He said the rioters had been identified using surveillance cameras in the city centre and could face up to eight years in prison.

The BBC has photographs here.

Jamie Kirchick, whose work we have featured on Harry’s Place previously, was caught up in the riots:

James Kirchick, an RFE/RL correspondent, was assaulted by one antigay protester ahead of the start of the parade.

“Maybe about an hour before the event started, there was a skirmish with police officers and a couple dozen protesters about half a kilometer away from the park,” he said. “I went past the police officers to take some photos and a man came up and tried to punch me, but he hit my camera instead.”

Keep safe, Jamie.