It was already known in 2019 that Belgrade would host this year’s EuroPride. However, as the event approached and as intensive work was done on its preparation, the opponents of this event, from individuals to the media, worked just as intensively as the organizers – and they worked to demonize the participants and misinform the public.
The spread of monkeypox served as a kind of introduction for disinformation to the media. When reporting on this disease, the media, including tabloids such as Kurir and Informer, as well as the provincial public service Radio-television Vojvodina (RTV), mistakenly and homophobically called monkeypox a “gay” disease. RTV published the headline “Don’t panic: Homosexuals are mainly infected with monkeypox” – wrongly suggesting that heterosexual people cannot get infected, but also that homosexuals are a second-class category of citizens whose illness is not a cause for concern. The title was changed shortly after publication without apology.
Myths about Europe
The campaign against EuroPride was based on a narrative that has long been rooted in a significant part of the population in our speaking area – the decadent West and Europe are imposing distorted values on us. There were frequent examples of “indicating” that the “disease” came from European countries.
In mid-August, FakeNews Tragac wrote about the texts of web portals Srbin.info and Nulta tacka, which claim that in Germany, any adolescent over the age of 14 could change their gender without parental permission with a simple statement. A member of the LBGTI+ organization LSVD from Germany, Sara Ponti explained to Tragac that it is a complex process, where the court, in case the parents do not support the child’s decision, has the option to replace the parents’ decision if it is in the best interest of the child.
Srbin.info also wrote that same-sex marriages were legalized in Slovenia “even though Slovenians voted against it three times in referendums”. Lana Gobec from the Slovenian LGBT+ organization LEGEBITRA confirmed that Slovenians did vote against similar laws three times, but that they were not about the same laws, and that seven years had passed since the last “no”.
During August, there was also the “cancellation” of EuroPride. The first to “cancel” it was the editor of the tabloid Informer, Dragan J. Vucicevic.
“EuroPride has been canceled until further notice because it is not the time for it. We are in serious danger of war and it is a topic on which our fate depends. It is easy for us from the comfortable armchairs in Belgrade to talk about the fate of Serbs from the north of Kosovo and Metohija. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it’s like for them”, said Vucicevic. The organisers soon denied this, stating that preparations were ongoing, that no one had informed them of the cancellation and that the event would take place as planned. Although the Serbian authorities later announced the cancellation of EuroPride, at the end of the day, reality denied it, EuroPride was held, but the war was not.
After the authorities in Serbia announced that the EuroPride would be cancelled, it was followed by a statement from the Western embassies that they hoped that a solution would be found to hold the walk. At that moment, the narrative about “villains from the West” returned. Informer wrote that “America is pushing Serbia into an LGBT war!”, while Vecernje Novosti stated that “in Brussels, a parade is more importnat than life” and that Western diplomats are defending “allegedly endangered human rights in Serbia” while at the same time “they are not reacting to attacks on Serbs in Kosmet”.
From the Time of sensationalism
Web portal Vreme (Time) published a text about an absurd event in a Belgrade elementary school where four mothers – as stated – rebelled because the teacher used the word “route” while addressing the class, which, they believe, “influenced the sexual orientation of the students”. This text was taken over by Luftika web portal and sensationally titled: “Because of a teacher from Belgrade, 10-year-olds become gay, with one word, she influenced the sexual orientation of students”. Namely, the text by Vreme does not talk about 10-year-olds becoming gay because of the teacher, but about the teacher explaining to the children how to get from school to the Pedagogical Museum. Four mothers criticized her for how she did it, as they think the teacher influenced the students’ sexual orientation by repeatedly saying the word “route”, which they associate with EuroPride terminology.
At the time of the most intense discussions regarding the holding of EuroPride, a piece of misinformation from Serbia “set fire” to the region. This is the case of Milka M from Munich, allegedly punished for refusing to send her son to school dressed in girl’s clothes.
This video was recorded and published by Ivica Bozic’s profile, from the right-wing organization “Antiglobalists of Serbia”, which collected signatures against holding the EuroPride. Faktograf was the first to receive the refutation of such a claim by the German federal ministry, who said making such a command would be “absurd”.
“Sister Milka” later told the weekly “Vreme” that she was manipulated, that she made a mistake in the video when she mentioned the ministry and that no one obliged her to do anything. As she explained, it was an action that is organized in some German schools when boys and girls are able to switch roles. Her son did not go to school that day, so she really had to pay a fine, but for unjustified absence.
Myths about the anti-Serb nature of Pride
During the EuroPride, several media broadcasted events from the streets of Belgrade via YouTube video streams. A video made by the web portal Srbin.info, with over 270 thousand views, at the time of writing this analysis, is in the top ten videos on YouTube trending in Serbia. The director and editor of Srbin.info, Dejan Petar Zlatanovic, repeatedly notes during the broadcast that those gathered at EuroPride carry various flags, but that there are no Serbian flags (1, 2, 3, 4), and he conveys this information not only to the viewers but also to the opponents of the event that he meets on the street. This observation is embedded in the weeks-long narrative that Pride is an anti-Serb, anti-Christian and “pro-NATO” group. That Zlatanovic’s information is not correct is shown, among other things, by his stream, during which the Serbian flag appears in the frame, which the journalist does not mention. However, a video by another media outlet features a larger-scale Serbian flag carried by the participants of the walk.
After Belgrade, Banja Luka?
In the article of the anonymous web portal Politicki.rs published on September 11, 2022, it was stated that the candidate for the President of the Republic of Srpska, Jelena Trivic and the current mayor of Banja Luka, Drasko Stanivukovic, and the candidate for deputy in the National Assembly of Srpska representing the List for Justice and Order, Nebojsa Vukanovic, are planning to organize EuroPride in Banja Luka. Sources of information regarding the organization of Pride, planned by opposition members from the Republic of Srpska, on the anonymous web portal Politiki.rs are also anonymous.
Despite this, the article was shared by the news agency SRNA and web portals such as: ATV, InfoSrpska, Info Drina, Savamedia, Alo… In this way, during the election campaign, fake news about EuroPride was used as an attempt to discredit Milorad Dodik’s political opponents.
Although this is a lone example of a media spin based on false information to use homophobia against political opponents of the ruling party in the Republic of Srpska during the pre-election campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation is a little different on social networks.
In posts from private profiles, EuroPride was interpreted as a provocation of believers and a mockery of Jesus (1, 2 ), a war against the Russian world (1), and the participants were exposed to disgusting insults and hate speech, in which it is almost inevitable that the claim includes calling members of the LGBT community “sick” and “satanic” (1, 2, 3). In addition, the promotion of violence against LGBTIQ participants was recorded in these posts (1).
Kosovo and transfeminism
Reporting from the event, Sputnik Serbia filmed a group that participated in the walk and chanted. As the chanting mentioned Kosovo – Sputnik reported that “a group of Kosovo Albanians are chanting slogans dedicated to the so-called “Republic of Kosovo”. The video spread with the speed of light on numerous regional web portals and Facebook pages with the same claim – Kosovo Albanians glorify a “fake state”.
How Sputnik’s reporter concluded those people were Albanians from Kosovo remains unknown. However, it is known what the group chanted – From Rozava to Kosovo – transfeminism, which was confirmed to the editorial office of Raskrinkavanje by activists who are not from Kosovo but from Turkey.
In the end, the walk, or “taking to the concert”, as the Serbian Minister of the Interior put it, was held with a series of incidents, and with, for now, an unprecedented disinformation campaign that followed the well-trodden path of blaming America, Europe, and Kosovo.