PRISTINA — LGBT rights groups held the first-ever pride parade in Kosovo on October 10, amid tight security measures prompted by anonymous threats against the participants.
The parade, dubbed In The Name Of Love, started at Pristina’s central Skanderbeg Square and ended some 500 meters farther, at Zahir Pajaziti Square, where a concert was held.
At the start of the parade held on the final day of the Pride Week, President Hashim Thaci told participants and the media that Kosovo was built on the principles of equality and freedom for all communities.
“We will not allow anyone in Kosovo to impose fear and threats against any individual or against any group,” said Thaci, who did not join the marchers.
With banners in hand, participants chanted “There is no gender in love” as they walked peacefully between the two squares.
Pristina resident Gresa Isufi told RFE/RL at the beginning of the parade that she was there, despite threats, to show support for acceptance of “everyone regardless of gender or sexual preference.”
U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie joined the crowd at the end of the march.
“I am so happy to see so many people today, so many supporters,” Delawie told participants. “I want you to know that the U.S. Embassy stands with you.”
Supporters of the LGBT community from Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia were also present.
The parade was the first such event announced in advance, unlike three small previous LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) marches held over the past three years.
Those marches have drawn support from political leaders and diplomats in Kosovo, which passed an anti-discrimination law in 2004 that guarantees the rights of sexual minorities.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj attended the opening event of Pride Week on October 6.
He promised that state institutions will protect the rights of the LGBT community and said that the first-ever pride parade shows the commitment of Kosovo toward respecting the rights of the LGBT community.
But he then announced he would skip the final parade because of his busy schedule.
And with the campaign for local elections due on October 22 in full swing, no Priština mayoral candidate announced plans to take part in the parade.
Observers say members of the LGBT community face substantial discrimination in the predominantly Muslim country of 1.9 million, where much of society is socially conservative.
A study of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute found that Kosovo is the region’s most homophobic country, with members of LGBT community suffering widespread discrimination.
Ahead of the parade, organizers appealed for the public’s participation in the parade in support of their “sensitive” cause after they received anonymous threats.
An e-mail sent to local media outlets and signed by “revolted citizens” called on all those who “wish good for the country“ to stay away from the event, warning that otherwise, they would “share the same fate with those who go out on that day.”
The message called the LGBT community a “degenerate part of society” and said that preparations had been made so that “once and for all, this filth of society will cease to exist.”
Ismet Mujesi, a bystander who watched the parade from the sidewalk, lashed out at the LGBT community in comments to RFE/RL.
“They represent a biological risk for a community. They are destroying the population and they represent a risk for our society. They cannot increase our population,” Mujesi said.
The parade took place amid a strong but discreet presence of mainly plainclothes police.
“We have actually received threats from people,” Pristina resident Isufi said. “To accept everyone regardless of gender or sexual preference — that is why I am here.”
Source: Radio Liberty