No price is too high for pride in one’s country

Belgrade Pride 2014 Police balloonAs rumours and half-truths spread about the claimed cost of policing the Belgrade Pride parade, it would seem  inevitable – and, no doubt, will be  embraced in some quarters – for people to be up in arms about the amount of money allegedly spent to protect the people and their city.

While no official figures have been released, some media have reported unqualified estimates of €1 million to Belgrade’s coffers.

Pride organisers have laughed off this claim as ludicrous, believing that this figure is being bandied around for political purposes, to rile up those opposed to the parade and to stoke negative feeling towards the LGBT community.

Pride organisers say that this estimated figure includes a staggeringly exaggerated €600k for loss of trade to restaurants, bars and shops.

Belgrade faces true cost of policing Pride

What is more, they believe this figure showing the assumed impact on the Belgrade economy should not even be included in the parade price tag.

Of course, security forces and ministers know the true cost of policing the event. They can easily tot up man hours and overtime, equipment and necessary facilities, to calculate the actual figure for ensuring the safety of the parade and protecting public and private property from protesters.

It remains to be seen how transparent and how speedy they will be on accounting for this, though.

Belgrade Police Pride 2014, Marcus Agar

What should not be forgotten is that the police were not only on hand to protect the rainbow flag bearers.

They were also maintaining peace among the anti-Pride protesters, arresting criminal elements hell-bent on destroying the peace of the day, and ensuring that the chaos and destruction of previous years could not reign over Belgrade this time round.

Protesters drove up cost of policing Belgrade Pride

Obviously, without the parade taking place, police protection would not have been needed at all. Equally, without such viable threats against the marchers, without more violent elements within the protesters, the crushingly powerful strong arm of the law would not have been needed on the city streets.

Next time the issue might be different, though. Other people might be marching for another cause, but their rights to walk their own streets, as set down in law, will have been secured in precedence by the efforts of the Pride community. The protesters and pressure groups that wanted these rights to be ignored did not win this time. They must not be allowed to win next time either.

Whatever the final financial figure for policing the day, there is more than money to take into account when evaluating the true cost and inherent value of upholding the rights of those who took part in the Pride parade. Some things have greater value than can be counted in coin alone.

Even in the best of times, a government’s pockets cannot be deep enough to satisfy all the demands and these are hardly the best of times.

Many hands dipping into Serbia’s state funds

Of course, there are always many hands dipping into the government purse, recognising the broad and diverse portfolio of responsibility of a democratic government.

Difficult decisions always need to be made, but some things must be enabled, regardless of cost.

People deserve to live in safety, with the right to practice any or no religion, protected by laws that allow them to enjoy a life free of prejudice. A just and forward-thinking government that works for the good of its people should promote harmony and community rather than division and bias.

It is the role of government and an active and healthy civil society to make a country where any person can go about their daily life, regardless of creed, colour or sexuality.

Orthodox Church forfeits moral high ground

Religion can be a support for many people and the Orthodox Church is undeniably strong in Serbia. For them, it calibrates their moral compass and provides a guiding hand.

Marcus Agar, Orthodox Church Belgrade PrideUnhelpful comments aside, the church was especially reassuring for those affected by recent floods.

But when that church makes statements that can only incite and inflame a situation, at the expense of the universal love, respect and human compassion that should be fundamental to any religion, it could be argued that its unquestioned right to that moral high ground has been forfeited.

As could be expected, elements within the Serbian diaspora have voiced their own anger at the allegedly excessive costs of policing Pride.

This international community of mostly second and third generation Serbs is well known for its conservative and outspoken opinions which often trail behind the comparatively progressive attitudes of those who actually live in the country.

On issues involving human rights, Balkan history, Europe and the US or, God forbid, religion, the diaspora repeatedly shows itself to be vociferously orthodox.

Serbian diaspora criticises spend on policing Pride

For them the picture is clear: money has been wasted on protecting gay people who should not feel a need to march in the first place. Social media is weighed down by comment about how money would have been better spent rebuilding homes and schools for flood victims or helping those struggling with a fatigued economy.

While the plight of flood victims is far from over and new homes and schools are still needed, it should be remembered – as hard as it sounds – that this is not the only important obligation and draw on state finances.

Nobody should say that one person’s rights are worth more than any other. Freedoms and rights are there for all people and should be protected within the existing rule of law.

A government cannot only spend money on one element of its community or one sector of society and it cannot bow to pressure from church or protesters. It has a responsibility to build a strong and productive environment in which all people can grow up, make a home for themselves and enjoy a fulfilling and productive life.

And all of that costs money.

Balkan Insight, Marcus AgarThis comment piece was originally commissioned and published by Balkan Insight, a product of BIRN, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

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