‘Spectacularly disobedient’: Pride parades in the Balkans

Skopje Pride 2024. Photo by Meta.mk, used with permission.

This article is based on the coverage of Meta.mk. An edited version is republished here under a content-sharing agreement between Global Voices and Metamorphosis Foundation. 

The fifth Skopje Pride took place on June 22, 2024 with the slogan “Spectacularly disobedient,” gathering several hundred members of the local LGBTQ+ community as well as heterosexual supporters of human rights and equality for all. The event started at 5 p.m. at the Park of the Woman Fighter. After several keynote speeches, it continued as a protest march through the streets of Skopje and it ended with a dance party at the Army Stadium in the City Park.

When asked why they named the 2024 parade “Spectacularly disobedient,” the organizing committee member Kočo Andonovski responded:

Непослушни затоа што сакаме да ја реафирмираме таа наша опозиција на патријархатот кој нѐ владее доста векови. Спектакуларно како едно обележје на самата заедница која е забележителна и како одбележување на јубилејот на петти Прајд. Дури и „Њујорк тајмс“ објави фотографии од првата Парада на гордоста во Скопје и ништо помалку спектакуларно не очекуваме и за овој Прајд. Тој ќе биде еден од најдобрите и најпосетените настани во Скопје како и претходните години.

Disobedient because we want to reaffirm our opposition to the patriarchy which rules over us for centuries. Being spectacular is one of the features of our community, which is remarkable and that's how we mark the jubilee fifth Pride. Five years ago even New York Times published photos of the first Skopje Pride, so we expect this Pride to be as spectacular, as one of the best and most visited events in Skopje.

Organizers claim that Skopje Pride, like the other Pride parades, is a holiday of love, day of visibility of the marginalized people and of course, a celebration of the resilience of the fight for equality.

Feminist activist Rita Behadini speaking at Skopje Pride 2024. Photo by Meta.mk, used with permission.

The march started with two keynote speeches, one by a mother whose child is a transgender person, speaking in Macedonian; and another by a feminist activist speaking in Albanian, reflecting the cultural diversity of the country. The mother explained that she  could only bond with her daughters after she came out, and addressed the needs of community members who are afraid  to come to the Pride and express their authentic selves, especially teenagers living under pressure.

Додека се радувам гледајќи ја ќерка ми како го вее знамето на заедницата не можам, а да не се сетам на сите ЛГБТ кју тинејџери кои жиеват во страв од своите родители или се соочуваат со отфрлање.

While I feel joy watching my daughter waving the flag of the community, I'm also mindful of all the LGBTQ teenagers who live in fear of their parents or face rejection.

Skopje Pride 2024. Photo by Meta.mk, used with permission.

The event received support from the international community with some staff of the European Union (EU) countries and US embassies actively participating in the parade.

During previous years, while pro-EU center-left parties were in power, top Macedonian government officials regularly attended the Pride events. This year, after a change of government, only few opposition politicians came to express support like former Minister of Culture Bisera Kostadinovska-Stojčevska and former Minister of Labor and Social Policy Jovana Trenčevska.

Prior to the event, the organizers visited the new president Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, who also came into power as a candidate of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE. She tweeted about the audience:

Meeting with the representatives of the organizing committee of the Pride Parade. We spoke about their activities so far, and their future plans to raise public consciousness about respect for diversity, in the context of fulfilling the basic human rights.

The tweet draw many negative comments from supporters of the ruling right-wing parties, expressing disappointment that the president allegedly failed to uphold the conservative values she was voted to promote.

Skopje Pride 2024. Photo by Meta.mk, used with permission.

Right-wing counter protest in Bitola

On the same day as the Skopje Pride, right-wing citizens supported by the Macedonian Orthodox Church organized a counter-protest in Bitola, the third largest city in North Macedonia. Several dozen participants of this third “True Parade of Pride” marched through the main pedestrian street displaying a banner with the image of Jesus Christ, the portal Bitola News  reported.

Local TV station Tera quoted one  of the organizers, Igor Petrovski, who said  that their main tenets were “given by God” – home, family [that can only consist of] mother and father as parents and children. According to him “anything else is refusal of our future” and “working against our dearest, our children.”  

Pride marches challenge endemic homophobia in the Balkans

Similar to previous years, several more Pride marches took place on the same June day, notably in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

The fifth annual Bosnian and Herzegovinian (BiH) Pride March was held in Sarajevo under the slogan “I love: no fear in living freely”, aiming to highlight everyday violence against LGBTQ+ people in the country .

Similar to Skopje, the Pride March in Sarajevo ended with a party, with acclaimed Bosnian-American writer Aleksander Hemon closing the fifth Sarajevo Pride with a DJ set.

Radio Free Europe in Bulgarian reported that the 17th edition of Sofia Pride gathered thousands of people under the slogans “Let's love a little more,” and “Bulgaria is our home, too,” addressing the issue of patriotism promoted by the members of LGBTQ+ community.

The Bulgarian Pride included a concert of various music genres, including popular singer Irina Florin, heavy metal band Overhook, pop-folk singer Lidia, and the Ukrainian performer Orfi, who in February had been subjected to homophobic attack in the coastal city of Varna.

Thousands of people gathered for the 17th protest march Sofia Pride on Saturday evening.
It takes place every summer to protect the rights of the people from the LGBT community in Bulgaria. This year under the  title “Bulgaria is our home, too.” #SofiaPride

On the morning of the Pride day, Bulgarian right-wing groups held a counter-protest titled “March for the Family,” gathering over 10,000 participants. It was supported by members of parliament from the ruling party GERB (member of European People Party) and the leaders of the pro-Russian party Revival (Възраждане) and extreme right party SWORD (МЕЧ). Their stated goal includes the protection of the traditional family and demanding implementation of concrete state policies on dealing with the demographic crisis.

Bulgaria is a full member of the EU but many LGBTQ+ rights remain unprotected by national legislation. Recently, the European Court of Human Rights obliged Bulgaria to recognize same-sex partnerships. In 2023, the Supreme Administrative Court has forbidden transgender people from legally changing their sex.

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