Serbian gay right activists marched with their first openly lesbian prime minister through the streets of Belgrade on Sunday, amid tight security.
Holding balloons and a banner reading “For change,” hundreds of participants gathered for the parade, which was was cordoned by riot police, while a helicopter flew low overhead.
“Serbia respects diversity. My message today is that the Serbian government is here for all of its citizens … the people have the right to march,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said as marchers waved rainbow flags and blew whistles around her.
Many approached Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, greeting her and taking selfies.
Serbia’s Gay Prime Minister Marches in Belgrade Pride Parade for First Time as Extremist Groups Protest: WATCH https://t.co/AXgSZ3ZlCA pic.twitter.com/cEilcVBO6x— Towleroad (@tlrd) September 17, 2017
Campaigners described the event as a test of the conservative Balkan state’s rights record as it seeks to join the European Union.
The EU said in 2016 Serbia needed to do more to help minorities including Roma, disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Co-organiser Goran Miletic told reporters human rights had improved over the past decade. “We still have to work a lot more to make it even better,” he said.
Seven years ago, hardline nationalists attacked people at the march, prompting authorities to cancel it until 2015.
Homophobia remains widespread in Serbia and other societies in the Balkans.
Just last week, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church last week compared homosexuality to paedophilia and incest.
President Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who has rebranded himself as a pro-Western reformer, said this week he had “no intention” of joining the march.
Pride parades have largely passed without trouble in Serbia since 2015.