Europride and processions, hooligans and cops: Serbia on trapeze hovering over its contradictions

by Biagio Carrano

Life in Serbia is peculiar – depending on the day (and sometimes even the time of day) you don’t know whether you are living in 2022, 1982, 2052 or 1322.

Belgrade has had a crowded and confused Saturday. In the morning, the city centre became a mini-car circuit to host Oracle Red Bull Racing Show Run, a promotional event that drew thousands of spectators, an extraordinary diversion from the tensions that had been growing for days. While also the former Formula 1 champion David Coulthard was speeding in his Formula1 car between Terazije and Student Square, a few hundred metres away, in front of the Parliament, the swearing-in ceremony of 126 military academy cadets had just ended. In his address to the cadets, President Vucic did not miss the opportunity, after the parliamentary debate which this week paved the way for the recognition of Kosovo, under the auspices of the USA and the EU, to revive nationalist rhetoric: “those who threaten Serbia and our people today have never understood our strength, our determination and our resolve to protect what is ours. We only want what is ours, and that is why we will not give Kosovo and Metohija away, or any other part, not an inch of our land, our homeland, to anyone”.

Contradictions, one might say. Prestidigitations of words. Geopolitical contortions, too.

And so the European homosexual pride parade, first cancelled by Vucic after the demonstrations of the ultra-traditionalists, was transformed into a 200-metre walk between the Central Post Office and Tasmajdan Park, officially authorised a few hours earlier before it was due to start. And so, after having been blatantly challenged two days ago in Belgrade for not expressing herself clearly on the Europride issue (and in general, in all her years of government, on civil rights), the prime minister agreed that her partner would attend the walk. And so, before the walk, the police were attacked by the usual under-20 years old hooligans, but this time the clashes were limited to two or three points in the city, with really violent clashes only in one case (see the footage on our Twitter account), with the rain cooling the spirits and well-guarded gates preventing any possible infiltration of the troublemakers.

At the end of the day, Brnabic was almost satisfied that there had been 64 arrests and ten injured officers against the deployment of 5,200 policemen and dozens and dozens of ordinary and armoured vehicles. She was satisfied to be able, once again, to say that she had fulfilled her obligations to everyone.

A country in the balance

In the global circus of politics, the current Serbian rulers are perhaps the best tightrope walkers, acrobats, contortionists, jumpers, trapeze artists, jugglers, transformers and tamers (of lions, but more often of fleas) available on the market, worthy of a Cirque du Soleil show, maybe, for example, the legendary shows Delirium or Bazzar. What was already a diplomatic art cultivated in the former Yugoslavia that had its own specificity, since 24 February has become a complicated necessity in order not to be crushed by a global clash in which Serbia risks becoming one of the fronts.

It was no coincidence to see, in the front row, parading with the rainbow flag this afternoon the ambassadors of the European Union and the USA, while last week the traditionalists paraded a very long banner with the Russian tricolour through the centre of the Serbian capital. But the Serbian leaders are well aware that to survive at this stage they must demonstrate realism, which means accepting the diktats of those who are winning and those who are geographically closer. Nevertheless, decades of nationalist rhetoric have deeply affected the population’s feelings. Nevertheless, the promotion of a traditional view of social relations and the emphasis on the demographic crisis have narrowed the space for tolerance and acceptance of heterodox sexual orientations. Nevertheless, the economic and social strengthening of the Serbian Orthodox Church, once again seen as the foundation of the legitimacy of those in power on a par with the popular mandate, has spread an anti-Western, implicitly anti-Catholic and xenophobic sentiment that is a significant component of Serbian conservatism.

The economic growth of the last few years and the EU crisis combined with Angela Merkel’s exit from the scene has developed in many Serbs the ambition to be able to free themselves from the European membership commitment and to offer themselves almost as a free port for people and capital from many parts of the world. Within this framework, the idealisation of Russia does not only stem from Kremlin lobbying, which does exist. If anything, certain fascinations are ancient and long-lasting, and Putin’s tsarist Russia is much closer to the one idealised in Serbia than the republic that shared the adjective socialist with Yugoslavia.

Yet everyone who thinks that Serbia is almost a satellite of Russia is wrong. To break that link with Russian Federation will not move, almost by inertia, Serbia closer to the acquired values of Western Europe. At a deeper level than the affinities of international politics, there is a prevailing conservative, identity-driven, nationalist, traditionalist and therefore homophobic substratum that aligns Serbia with other Eastern European countries where homosexual parades are strongly disliked by the majority of the population. 

The great contradiction in which the artists of the Serbian political circus are struggling today is that they may even be ready to make political contortions to recognize the limits of their power and launch themselves towards the political realities on the ground, but their electoral base, in which they instilled a backward political culture during these years, is not ready to follow them. Hence their current condition, like a trapeze artist ready to jump without a net but who strongly doubts that his colleague will throw the trapeze at him at the right time to grab it. And so the trapeze artist remains stationary, on the edge of the trampoline, while below the orchestra continues the drum roll.

By Biagio Carrano


This post is also available in: Italiano

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