In Serbia, people are naturally very opinionated. They seem to have a tendency to see things as being clean cut and without any moral ambiguity. Quite commonly their views are set in stone and any discussion, if you can get that far, will make little difference. Everything is seen as either black or white, with little breathing space allowed for the rainbow of diversity in opinions or viewpoints.
Usually the basis for such set views is not because of an evaluation of information or a willingness to see the perspective from both sides. More often it is not even borne of any insight or consideration of there being another side to the issue. At best it is because an ingrained opinion has been accepted at face value and has served its purpose for generations. At worst it is because people have soaked up the propaganda spread by interested parties, taking as gospel whatever ruling best fits their needs, values or religious leanings.
In today’s world, which includes a modern Serbian society, I would suggest that not enough is questioned, not enough is reconsidered and not enough is rationalised with a good level of understanding before passing judgement. There is a lot to be said for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see matters from a different perspective. I believe that is a responsibility we all hold – but too few maintain.
The recent Belgrade Pride Parade was a case in point, when otherwise level-headed people backed the cold-hearted ban on basic human rights and the Serbian government trampled on the principles of democracy. It is natural and should be broadly encouraged for people to have an opinion on any subject and many people feel they have a right to a view on homosexuality. To me, that is as outlandish and irrational as questioning whether to accept people with ginger hair or if people over a certain height deserve the same rights as the majority. You can like something or not, but it does not make sense to proclaim something natural as right or wrong. That is my opinion. We should take comfort in our similarities, embrace our differences and celebrate our diversity.
How many of those people who came out with lame questions such as ‘why would these people need special rights’ actually stopped to consider the possible answers. Because, the answer is obvious: that do not. The LGBT community neither need nor wish for special rights – merely equal rights. We are all cut from the same cloth and deserve equal rights. I firmly believe that. The basic entitlement of equality should be unquestionable to all but the most stone-hearted bigot. Extreme right-wing activists have their own special place in this discussion, of course.
In Serbia, I was saddened and a little shocked to see how effectively the right wing media and Orthodox Church had indoctrinated people with this view that Pride was some sort of promotion for being gay and a demand for more rights than other people. I saw how friends of mine, many of whom I would otherwise consider quite liberal, had been taken in by the false message that Pride is somehow about special rights for members of the LGBT community. Fact: Pride is not about special rights for anyone. It is about equal rights. As for Pride promoting being gay with some sort of feathers and lycra party on Terazije: Get real. Pride in Serbia is far from being the extravagant atmosphere seen in cities such as London, Berlin or New York. In Serbia it is still more about acknowledgement, recognition and acceptance, despite what has been spread by the scare-mongering media.
Every person who felt inclined to march for LGBT rights would have taken that decision after weighing up the pros and cons. For many it would have been their first public confirmation of how they really are. They would have been saying ‘this is me and I am proud of who I am’. Others would have been there to provide valued support to friends and family. Because let us not forget: everyone who campaigned and intended to march in that parade was somebody’s son or daughter. Everyone there had friends and family. Everyone there was brave enough to step out on the streets of a hostile city to make a stand for greater acceptance from a society to which they contribute as much as any other person.
In Serbia, where the Orthodox Church has risen since the fall of Milošević to exert control with a doctrine that is unremitting and unforgiving in its fervour, a great many people, quite literally, take its guidance as gospel. While religion is often a staff to many in times of uncertainty and need, it is sad to see some people blindly follow without question, issue or contest. Most of the world’s great religions started when prophets debated and discussed teachings with their followers, as was the case with the Christian Orthodox Church.
As well as being a basis for most religions, equality for all is a founding principle of almost every constitution in the world. Every man and woman is created equal and should be treated as such in the eyes of the law. It is not only in later years that we find ourselves living in a society where right wing politicians and the dogmatic peddlers of religion are so conservative and resolute in their orthodoxy (with a small o) that they fear dialogue about such issues. People have been kept in the dark by many regimes for whom there was benefit in compliance. For them it has always been a case of laying down doctrine that cannot be questioned. They preach that to question what they have been told is to doubt their faith, and in some societies today, that blatant form of religious enslavement is still used to silence many who are too afraid of being castigated by their church.
Famously, Karl Marx remarked that religion is the opium of the masses (‘Die Religion… ist das Opium des Volkes’). That rings just as true today as it did when he first wrote it in 1843.
In Serbia as across the world, there is a lot of soul searching going on right now. We have seen the pillars of society shaken by various scandals and the abuse of power. Now is a time when we should be questioning our leaders and mentors, whether in politics, society or religion, and reevaluating our lives. It is time to break away from the reliance on blindly accepted norms where uncertainty does not hold credence. Most things in life no longer work that way, if they ever did. We need to get used to that, because there are many more colours in life than just black and white.
A friend once told me it was impossible to be a gay Serb. I laughed at the time and was slightly disturbed after. Well, if you do not already know, let me tell you once and for all: there are plenty of gay Serbs. You probably even know some.
Marcus Agar been commissioned by Wannabe Magazine to write a series of reports. Click to read in Serbian or for an interview in English or Serbian.