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The first pride march ever in Bosnia divided both society and the LGBTIQ community

August 09, 2019
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#LGBTIQ, #Bosnia and Herzegovina, #human rights, #civil rights
located:Bosnia and Herzegovina
by:Katarina Panić
On September 8 Sarajevo is going to host the first ever Pride March in Bosnia Herzegovina. The announcement itself produced an avalanche of reactions, enormous hate speech, a wide range of threatens, and even physical attacks, but also divided the LGBTIQ community itself.

“I would rather say all the gender-fluid individuals, not only LGBTIQ community. There are people who support the event, but there are those who believe they will not be able to hide their sexual orientation anymore. They think they’re going to come out of perforce, against their own will,” Branko Ćulibrk, one of the Pride March organizers told FairPlanet.

Branko (33) is a human rights activist in Bosnia’s northwestern town Prijedor. He runs the youth centre KVART, and has just gotten back home from the LGBTIQ sports camp organized by the centre. The sport camp's location was hidden in order to protect the participants from homophobic attacks.

“We were very careful during the procedure. We had a lot of fake applications as we expected. We asked for enough personal data in order to check every single person. Then we disclosed the location to those we found out proper candidates,” Branko explained.   

Some 18 people attended, only 5 of which had come out at that point. The rest of them were afraid, initially, since they were supposed to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity in front of people they had met for the very first time.  

“That period of fear doesn’t last long. They accept each other very quickly once they feel in a safety environment. It turned out a group of Wahabi were there too and it could be tricky, but nothing bad had happened. Moreover, we even had some small talks with them. The point is that we knew who they are; they hadn’t a clue who we are," Branko laughs.

Branko has been in a relationship for more than a decade. He has never walked down the street in his hometown with his partner holding hands, nor have they ever displayed any type of affection in public. He used to be attacked both physically and verbally for being gay.

"The one was fined with some EUR 150, the other with some EUR 100. Both were qualified as a violation of public order, instead of hate attacks committed on the grounds of sexual orientation what they really were," Branko said.

Branko will be one of the very few people who will deliver a public speech in Sarajevo on September 8. The main concern is safety, and there are plenty of talks and meetings with relevant institutions coming up in order to secure the parade.

“I really believe everything is going to be fine on that day. It is possible some radical groups gather against us and we are going to be prepared on that, but we believe the police will do everything they can to protect us from potential violence. I rather think there won’t be problems as it was the case with the first Pride March last month in Northern Macedonia,” Branko added.

Branko emphasises the conservative sentiments prevalent in Bosnia, according to which heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexuality, and mentions that the fear of not being accepted is one of the strongest emotions of human beings.

“That is why we have divisions inside the LGBTIQ community as well. People are afraid to be exposed to discrimination because of their hair cut, clothes or behaviour. In the same time, we cannot get back because of someone’s fears. We fight for their right not to be afraid of who they are," said Branko.

Branko himself had gone through a partial coming out process. He had lost his father when he was six, and mother when he was 25. He lives on his own since he was 21. He has a Bachelor's degree in biology and works in the non-governmental sector.

“I had never come out to my grandma. She is somewhat suspicious, especially this year since I’m exposed to media as one of the Pride March organizers, but I explained her that I only support the LGBTIQ people. I avoid to tell her the truth because she resorts to emotional blackmails immediately:  why do you have to expose yourself, do not do this till I’m alive, and so on," Branko said.

The hate speech in response to the announcement of the first Pride March appeared to not only emanate from isolated radical groups, but also from politicians. One of the ruling parties, the Party of Democratic Action, asked organizers to call off the event. Their MP, Samra Ćosović Hajdarević, wrote on her Facebook profile: “I want these people to be isolated and moved away as far as possible from our children and our society. Let them go somewhere else to make their cities, their state, their laws, and their rights which won’t be denied by anyone.”

Civil Rights Defenders’ intern Ehlimana Elma Muslija was attacked while walking with her girlfriend in Sarajevo. The man first approached the two girls, saying they should not hold hands and threatening to attack them with a knife. He then threatened to attack the Pride March, saying that it offended his religious beliefs and that “there will be blood”. Two days later, the same man, accompanied by another man, came out of a car while Ehlimana and her friend were standing in front of a local shopping centre, hitting Elma in the face and dropping her to the ground. The two men then started running after her friend, who managed to escape the attackers.

Football fans, who constitute some of the most violent and radical groups in the country, started to use the Brunei flag after the Pride March was announced. It coincided with the Southeast Asian sultanate invoking a new set of laws authorising the government to stone to death any person convicted of engaging in homosexual activity.

“Civil Rights Defenders is requesting that the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities promise full protection during the upcoming Sarajevo Pride on September 8. We expect that the Ministry of Interior is fully prepared to guarantee security and that enough resources have been put aside for the purpose of protecting the participants and activists who will prepare the event in the coming months," the organization said in its press release.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Embed from Getty Images
On September 8 Sarajevo is going to host the first Pride March in Bosnia Herzegovina ever.
Embed from Getty Images
Many were afraid initially since they are supposed to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity in front of the people.
Embed from Getty Images
“I really believe everything is going to be fine on that day. It is possible some radical groups gather against us and we are going to be prepared on that."
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