ZAGREB—Thousands marched Saturday in Belgrade’s biggest Gay Pride Parade under tight police protection, a week after a similar event in a provincial Croatian city was marred by violence.
The city 10th gay rights march went off peacefully, a week after an earlier parade in the city of Split saw a dozen injured in attacks.
The marchers held up banners saying: “The More You Resist, The More It Will Hurt You,” and “Split, Keep Your Head Up! Next Year Will be Better!”
Up to 4,000 people took part, organizers and local media said. Police put their number at roughly 2,000.
Many participants, who assembled at a central square from where they started their hour-long march through downtown Zagreb, waved rainbow flags, blew whistles and beat drums.
Police security for the march was the biggest so far. Members of the special police marched alongside all the time to separate the participants from onlookers.
“What a shame for our nation. This is not the will of the majority,” Milan Pavicic told AFP angrily as he watched the marchers pass by.
But Tamara Sajko, who waved to the marchers as they briefly stopped at the main Trg Bana Jelacica square, said it was “important to support the basic human right to live freely without the need for hiding.”
The march ended at a downtown square where Franko Dota, speaking for the organisers, read a letter of support by President Ivo Josipovic hailing the marchers’ “courage and persistence in the fight for the right on difference.”
“Croatia does not want the evil and the dark from where it comes,” the letter said in a reference to violence in Split.
Ivana, a 21-year-old student who held a banner that read ‘Fag Hags Have More Fun,’ was delighted with her first parde.
“It is very joyful, a real party. Due to events in Split and EU authorities did everything to prevent any incident,” she told AFP without revealing her family name.
The march, held under the slogan ‘The Future is Also Ours,’ concluded with an open-air concert.
Seventeen people were detained for insulting the marchers, police said.
Croatia, a largely patriarchal society in which the Roman Catholic church wields considerable influence, held its first gay pride parade in Zagreb in 2002. More than a dozen participants were beaten up afterwards.
Since then, parades have been held in the capital annually without major incidents, but always under heavy security.
Last Saturday, a dozen people, including four journalists, were injured in attacks on some 200 participants of the first Gay Pride parade in Split, a stronghold of nationalist conservatives on the southern Adriatic coast.
Some 10,000 opponents of the event hurled stones, bottles, bricks, cigarette lighters and stones at the marchers, who were eventually evacuated by police vehicles.
Police have arrested some 34 people suspected of involvement in the violence that came just a day after the European Commission gave the Balkan country the green light to complete EU accession talks and become the bloc’s next member on July 1, 2013.
The violence in Split was strongly condemned by President Ivo Josipovic, main opposition parties, politicians, public figures, non-governmental organisations and Western ambassadors here.
The powerful Roman Catholic Church here has publicly branded homosexuality a “handicap” and a “perversion.”
But although some priests tried to downplay the incidents in Split, the Croatian Bishops’ Conference said it condemned “any kind of violence.”
Almost 88 percent of the former Yugoslav republic’s population of 4.4 million are Roman Catholics.