Sunday’s gay pride parade, the first in Serbia after 2001, sparked riots in central Belgrade, with dozens of people injured and arrested.

According to local media reports, almost a hundred people, including around 50 policemen, were injured in anti-gay riots that followed Sunday’s gay pride march in the Serbian capital. B92 TV reported clashes between police and rioters at several locations in the city centre, including the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party and the national television centre. Several protesters tried to enter the parliament building before being chased away by police. Anti-gay rioters threw stones at police officers in full riot gear, smashed and burned cars, and looted kiosks. They chanted “The hunt has begun”, and sang nationalist songs. Police sources quoted by Reuters reported that one gay rights activist was beaten unconscious while more than 100 people were detained.

Aftermath of the riot | Scenes from the riot itself can be seen here

Serbian President Boris Tadic condemned the violence, saying that freedom of expression is guaranteed by constitution. "Serbia will ensure the protection of human rights for all citizens, regardless of their differences and any attempts to deny them their freedoms through violence will not go through", the president said in a statement.

Parade’s Sombre Mood

The riots followed a short march through the streets of Belgrade by around 1.000 gay activists, who then went to an indoor party at the Student’s Cultural Centre. Gay rights activists carried a banner with the slogan “Together we can”, and chanted “Jointly against fascism”. Many participants described the mood of the parade as sombre, with one, Susanne Simon-Paunovic, quoted by Reuters, saying “It was more like a death march. The atmosphere was terrible”. Gay Pride party ended around lunchtime, after which the police drove the participants home.

Gay rights activists were joined by the Serbian Human and Minority Rights Minister, Svetozar Ciplic, several Serbian MPs and representatives of international organizations based in Belgrade. Emphasizing the importance of today’s parade, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Vincent Degert, told activists that Serbia had good legislation regarding protection of human rights and rights to sexual and religious orientation. “It is important that people can live with these rights and values,” he added.

Video from the parade

Gay Rights as EU Readiness Test

The parade was the first in Serbia since 2001, when a similar march ended in violent clashes provoked by far-right groups. Last year’s parade was called off at the last minute, after the government said it could not guarantee the safety of participants.

Sunday’s parade was preceded by a much larger, peaceful anti-gay protest the day before, which included families with young children and football supporters. The Serbian Orthodox Church condemned the gay march, while urging people to refrain from violence.

The march took place amid Serbia’s efforts to join the EU and it is seen by many as the nation’s test of its progress since the days of ultra-nationalism and violence of the 1990s. It came only two days before US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to the region.