Several thousand people marched in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s first-ever Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, protected by a major security operation including anti-sniper units after some conservative Muslim groups organized counter-rallies.
More than 1,000 police officers secured the event, shielding the walking area with fences and concrete blocks. Anti-sniper units were placed on the roofs of buildings along the main route in the city center in case of violence.
Bosnia is the last Balkan country to hold a Pride parade, seen as a test of tolerance of minority rights as it seeks to join the European Union.
Parade leaders carried a pink banner with the slogan ‘Ima Izac’ or ‘I Want Out’ in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Marchers carried placards reading “Love is not a Privilege” and “Queer Resistance”, waving rainbow flags and singing anti-fascist songs.
“We, LGBT persons, fight every day for our existence, identity and love,” said Branko Culibrk, an organizer, adding that passivity of institutions in Bosnia, where discrimination against minority groups is legally banned, had encouraged violence from homophobic groups.
About a mile from the parade route, dozens of followers of a conservative Islamic group earlier held a rally against Sunday’s event. They described the pride march as a “sin” and “humiliation” for Sarajevo.
Another protesting group — the Svjetlost (Light) — called on people to rally against “un-values propagated by the LGBT community.
Male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Bosnia. However, households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.
Despite being legal, LGBT people in Bosnia complain about widespread harassment and attacks that are rarely prosecuted.