On Sunday afternoon I was piddling in the barn when I heard a National Public Radio report crackle over the old General Electric Transistor about a violent clash between the police and a group of anti-gay protesters in Belgrade Serbia. My first thought as I listened to the story was that my friend Nathan Sprinkle was presently in Belgrade, via a short stint in Spain earlier in the year. I met Nathan in 98 when I started my non-career as a bike messenger here in Charlotte where he was already following the two wheeled path. As I listened to the brief description of disorder in Belgrade on FM Radio, I wondered what Nathan had seen and if he was close to the confrontation.
I swiped this portrait of Nathan from his FB Account then changed the composition to Black and White. Photographer Unidentified. Perhaps this is a self portrait making him subject and photographer.
here. He kindly obliged and filed the report below yesterday. Thanks Nate, I appreciate the effort you put into this chronicle.
On Saturday afternoon I was taking the bus home from the language school where I
work. Just a few blocks from Slavia Square the bus inched by a small group of
peaceful demonstrators who were holding large crosses and listening to one man
make a speech. As I don't speak Serbian I couldn't tell what it was about, but
it was so sedate that I didn't give it much thought. It turns out that it was
a sort of pre-protest by older, conservative Orthodox Christians. They had heard
about the Gay Pride march planned for the following day and wanted to make
known their opposition to the march.
On Sunday my girlfriend, Nela, and I were lazily preparing lunch when she got an
excited call from her brother. He was here in Novi Beograd, a few kilometers
from the old part of town, and he had seen a pillar of smoke rising from the
city center. We turned on the TV to find out what it was about and were shocked
by the sight of row upon row of police in riot gear. Live and recorded
images were being broadcast in no particular order, but the footage seemed to
fall into two main categories: early shots of a few hundred worried-looking men
and women holding rainbow flags, and later shots of a phalanx of police with
helmets and shields fending off a barrage of stones.
I have never been to a Gay Pride march but from the media images I have seen of
those in The US and western Europe they tend to be rather raucous, lively,
colorful occasions. In contrast, the march here Sunday was a calm, sober affair.
Faces were serious, clothing was modest, even the soundbites were dull. In the
past few years, marches have been canceled due to threats of violence. Previous
marches have been the sites of beatings. That's why the police force was
prepared. The small parade was protected as it went around the block, and when
it was over they had a meeting where a few short speeches were given. Police
vans were used to take the peaceful marchers to their homes in safety. By that
time the area had already been overtaken by the riot.
Cameras were positioned behind the lines of police so it was hard to get a sense
of how many people were involved, but it became obvious who was involved. The
rioters were young, white and male. Angry and brazen, they would approach the
phalanx and shout, then retreat and throw stones. Not just any stones, either,
they were plucking cobblestones out of the street. The thick cubes of granite
sent at least 80 police officers to the hospital. I haven't been able to find
out how many rioters were injured or arrested. In one scene the camera zoomed in
on a bloody, hooded teenager splayed out on the street, cops standing over him.
Nela translated the dialogue: "Protect this guy, he's going to be arrested."
The fire, it turned out, was coming from the headquarters of the Democratic
Party of Serbia. There wasn't much fire but the smoke was thick and black. I
suspect a burning tire had been heaved into the courtyard. The garage was a bit
singed but the main building was okay. A few cars were set alight, and a city
bus was overtaken and pushed around. In the scheme of things there wasn't a huge
amount of destruction. I walked around for a while today and didn't see much
damage. If I hadn't watched the news I might not have known something
had happened. I would say that the city was roughed-up.
That, of course, does not excuse the behavior of the rioters.
"Hooligans" is too nice a word for these guys. "Thugs" gets closer. Several
people I spoke with expressed the opinion that the rioters used the Pride march
as an excuse to riot, that they were looking for a reason to smash up the city
anyway. In fact the mayor of Belgrade said this as well. A couple of radical
right-wing nationalist groups have been active in the city, putting up anti-gay
posters, anti-European Union stickers and nationalist graffiti. I don't know
enough about what is going on to give a full interpretation. There are a lot of
factors and factions at work. Suffice to say that the dynamics are very
different from those in the USA and its going to take a while to figure out.
Your humble correspondent,