March 24, 2023

Belgrade, Serbia (AP) — Leaders of Serbia’s powerful Orthodox Church on Tuesday backed a ban on a pan-European LGBTQ event in Belgrade next week, saying the topic was “artificially imposed” and threatened traditional values ​​in the Balkan country.

Patriarch Porfirije’s special video statement comes amid intense debate in Serbia, where the authorities’ announcement to cancel the EuroPride event from September 12 to 18 has come under growing international criticism due to threats of violence from right-wing extremists.

Three years ago, members of the European Pride Organisers Association chose the Serbian capital to host the annual event, in what was seen as a major breakthrough in a traditionally conservative Slavic country with strong influence from the Orthodox Church.

Serbia has committed to advancing LGBTQ rights as it seeks to join the European Union. While the country has held pride marches in high security over the past few years, plans for this year’s event have sparked growing protests from pro-Russian right-wing groups.

Opposition and rights activists say the cancellation of the Pride march, which was threatened by extremists, is a blow to democracy. But Patriarch Porfirije said the ban was “necessary and justified”.

“This topic is artificially imposed on us and is totally against our country’s value system,” he said.

The event, which was supposed to include a pride parade and an open-air concert, is just days away, and organizers say they have yet to receive an official ban. Several EU officials said they would join the march, while those calling on the Serbian government to lift the announced ban included US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Serbia’s EuroPride coordinator, Goran Miletic, said on Monday that organizers had been in talks with the government. Preparations for the gathering, which is expected to attract 15,000 people, are still underway, he said.

“We’re not going to give up any part of Europride Week, including the parade scheduled for September 17,” Militic said.

“We are ready to reach compromises and agreements so that Europride can be held in an orderly manner and spread the image of beauty and unity from Belgrade and Serbia to the rest of the world.”

Porfilier’s public statements put additional pressure on the government and could also fuel further public opposition.

Serbia’s populist leader, Aleksandar Vucic, also cited the Kosovo crisis and growing economic and energy problems caused by the war in Ukraine as the country’s inability to deal with a potential conflict with right-wing groups.

In a statement issued by state RTS television, Porfilier warned against the use of violence.

“Evil is not cured and defeated by violence, it is only multiplied,” he said.

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