Pride and Shame

On Wednesday 24 July 2013, in Budva, a SeaSide Pride was held, the first pride parade in Montenegro, organized by the NGO LGBT Forum Progress. Although announced on short notice, in the middle of the tourist season and in a city that is considered to be the capital of Montenegrin tourism, recently been present in the media also within the black chronicles of crime fights, it ultimately went with a high degree of professionalism and commitment of members of the police forces. Around 400 of them, on that day, have been protecting around 30 of those who came to walk for human rights and against discrimination of the LGBT community, from about 2000 hostile citizens, out of which 500 were extremely aggressive and violent, among whom were those who, in addition to curses and calls for lynching, were also willing and equipped to throw on SeaSide Pride participants various rocks, bottles and whatever they got or they could find at hand. This was preceded by putting on, throughout the city, the death certificates with a photo and the name of the leader of the LGBT Forum Progress, who so far, unfortunately, is still the only publicly declared gay person in Montenegro, Zdravko Cimbaljević, which was criticized by the NGO activists, few officials at the national level and members of the international community.

These figures and the appearances are symbolically the real measures of relations in Montenegrin society – a minority discriminated by sexual orientation, also another minority that protects them in different ways or advocates for their rights, the overwhelming majority which discriminates them and also disturbing sub-majority that is willing to demonstrate violence against the LGBT persons.

In a situation where the local parliament in Budva cannot really gloat about unanimity between ruling and opposition councilor when it comes to many, for this municipality, very important development issues, SeaSide Pride showed that they can still find a common language. And as it usually happens in this Balkan region, rather or easier about retrograde than progressive ideas. Namely, as soon as they heard the announcement that the pride parade be organized in Budva, 18 councilors from various clubs, as well as 2000 citizens of this municipality, have urgently demanded from the Municipal Assembly to ban this gathering on a special session. President of the Assembly of Budva denied this request with a brief explanation that the convening of an emergency session would violate the Rules of Procedure, which provides that it may be called only three days in advance. By this, he run away from condemning such a request in any way whatsoever, and practically sent a message that only this formal step is unbridgeable for everyone to stand united against the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of assembly and expression. This kind of unprecedented mobilization of the citizens of this city, with a clear majority of councilors, regardless of all the differences, has not been recorded in decades of the systematic devastation of the same town and its potentials, as well as during the process of bringing the former richest Montenegrin municipality in the position of financial unsustainability. The mayor didn’t find it necessary to make announcement the day before and to, at least, invite his fellow citizens to show openness to diversity, to restrain themselves from violence and to allow one discriminated group to highlight its position for one hour. His phone was, in the days of all these developments in Budva before, during and after SeaSide Pride, turned off!? Perhaps herewith he shows that for him nothing ever happened!? Or, he thinks that the shame because of such outburst of hatred and responsibilities of local government, which did not show the slightest attempt to influence the reduction of the same, will just disappear by itself!?

For those who have wondered about silence of church officials, who have consistently promoted hate speech against the LGBT community, came a surreal answer through character of the local priest who blessed the bar in which participants of the SeaSide Pride stopped before and after walk. It is not known if a similar performance, because it is the most honest to true believers to call it like that, was played in those premises in which sat the most notorious criminals or corrupted politicians, nor whether their presence bothered the owners of these bars as nearly as short break of participants of the first Montenegrin walk of LGBT persons and those who came to support them that day.

Thereby, one circle of pride and shame was closed. Pride of a minority that will not remain within the four walls only because they have a difference. And shame of a majority which has no power to resist those who have led the country, with their bad decisions, to a state of affairs coloured with hardly bearable economic crisis, sick of metastatic corruption, and the vast majority of citizens of Montenegro on the very edge of existence.

In 2013, Montenegro expects opening of the two most difficult negotiation chapters with the EU – 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security). Its legislative framework in different areas of democratization and Europeanization is constantly being improved. However, the application of the law and change of mindset in many ways seems miles away not only from European standards, but also from what constitutes a development of a healthy society. Namely, 63% of citizens recognize discrimination in a large or great extent, especially towards members of sexual minorities (23%) who are seen as the second most discriminated group (after persons with disabilities), but there is still 59.9% of those who see homosexuality as a disease. Individuals with higher/high education are significantly more likely not to consider homosexuality a disease, while those with primary and lower education are more likely to claim that homosexuality is a disorder. Precisely this fact provides a clear guideline for further path that needs to be walked in order to lower the intolerance and built up a society of equal opportunities for all. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the existing formal education system, informal education programs in order to be freed from the long-standing prejudices, partly tradition that has lost its merits, customary that has no applicability in the world which strives to progress, in order to get introduced to other and otherness, and for the differences to start to be accepted as a basis to deepen knowledge, understanding and cooperation. Because there is no democracy if there is no tolerance and respect for diversity, namely, respect for others and different ones, their lifestyles, orientations and preferences, even when they are contrary to the values and experience of the majority.

The position of minorities and minority orientations, including minority groups of sexual orientation, namely the LGBT population, as well as granting and protection of their rights is a kind of test of democracy in societies with strong charge of traditionalism and authoritarianism in which certainly belongs Montenegro and its neighboring countries. Montenegro has passed this test with barely a passing grade: Seaside Pride took place, there were no casualties if we exclude a few participants and police who suffered lighter injuries, there was even no major material damage. But, as evidenced by some of the participants of the parade itself, whose blood froze in the veins because of the expressions of hatred and intolerance that they felt it was on the edge of terror that eventually escalated to the fact that participants were evacuated by boats because the police assessed it was not safe to escort them differently. Pride has shown to have the strength to resist shame, but there is obviously a long way at the end of which we will encounter, even in Montenegro, with the culture of human rights.

Daliborka Uljarević, The author is an Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) in Podgorica.

Column has been publicized at the portal