It took only one night of violence at the historic Gay Pride Festival in Sarajevo for the events weekend long schedule to be shutdown.
(Organization Q Awareness Graffiti 2007)
250 people attended the opening night event yesterday to celebrate queer sexualities and equality. 70 men stood outside the event throwing rocks and yelling homophobic slurs. A small group of these were Muslim chanting about offense on Ramadan, while 12 others came from the anti-gay group Horde of Evil. The latter yelled “death to gays” and smashed the window of the Sarajevo Academy of Art while throwing rocks at art exhibit windows.
Although the event was heavily policed, and officers were able to push back protesters the violence did not end there. Several people returned at the end of the night to beat up attendees as the left. Some were even dragged from their cars. At least 10 people were seriously injured by night’s end.
5 men face charges. That is less than 10% of the total protesters involved in homophobic verbal assaults and an untold percentage of those involved in the physical violence later.
The message, which began with posters saying “Death to Gays” and escalated through the Muslim Imams and then across religious and secular political parties, including acting members of the government, condemning the event, was clear: constitution or not, the queer community is not safe in Sarajevo. This sentiment backs up an earlier study of queer life in the post-conflict region that said gay people were being actively harassed and beaten and/or feared for their lives at night on the streets in parts of the region.
Svetlana Djurkovic, a member of one of the NGOs who planned the event, announced that it would be canceled. She had initially hoped the event would highlight human rights and encourage people to think of what they have already survived because of intolerance and make the connection to why homophobia is equally unacceptable.
In a statement Djurkovic said:
We cannot guarantee the safety of visitors. The festival is closing down.
I looked out at my world from my office window while writing this (Thurs), and I saw students playing tennis, walking from the gym, and rushing to class. They are young and old, white and poc, male and female, most trendy and made up, it is like a post card or a brochure. But just underneath is a campus that is staunchly homophobic, largely indifferent or intolerant to any number of diversity issues, full of kids who hide who they are for any number of reasons, and hard hit by the current economic crisis. I looked at their tan faces and I wondered what world we have created for them and what ways we have shaped or shoved down their minds, needs, and desires . . . I read the story about Oregon and Sarajevo, about Oklahoma and Finland. I remember that the boy and I promised each other we would write about Arizona tomorrow (Friday when this will likely post). I saw the counter on the death toll in Iraq reset and I couldn’t help but hang my head.