New Serbia May Have to Hurry Slowly
New Serbia May Have to Hurry Slowly
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 2 minutes

New Serbia May Have to Hurry Slowly

Viewed from outside, Serbia is not changing fast enough. Thus the impatience of diplomats: How can this government still shelter indicted war criminals, how can it keep political prisoners in jail? Thus, too, the impatience of foreigners like me, who ask friends here: How can you live in a country where ethnic and sexual minorities are persecuted, where political killings and disappearances go unresolved? Still, given the brainwashing that Slobodan Milosevic applied to his subjects, a swift change imposed on Serbs, who for a decade were forced to live in a lie, might backfire.

Mr. Milosevic's transfer to The Hague on June 28 and the protests it provoked went relatively smoothly. But two days later a clash between the two extremes of the society occurred on the streets of Belgrade.

Gay and lesbian groups decided that is was now a new Serbia and they could have their first Gay Pride parade. Fans of the Red Star and Partisans soccer clubs planned a riposte. The Orthodox Church put up posters calling on the faithful to "gather for a spiritually healthy Serbia" and oppose "the perverse orgy."

With angry Milosevic supporters joining in, anyone thought to be gay was beaten up. Why? Said Zarko Gavrilovic, from the Orthodox Church, "God gave them private parts and they want to misuse them." He added a few words of warning about the "Satanic evil" of "so-called intellectuals."

According to a recent opinion poll, more than three-quarters of Serbs think gays are "sick," and almost half would refuse to have any contact with a homosexual.

The new Serbia was put to another test on July 12, the sixth anniversary of the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica. The only public commemoration, held on Belgrade's Republic Square by an anti-war group, Women in Black, drew almost zero attendance. Only friends of the organizers and journalists were present.

That evening the state television channel broadcast a BBC documentary called "A Cry From the Grave," about the Srebrenica massacre. The next day an entire session of the Serbian Parliament was devoted to the documentary. Milosevic supporters demanded a special commission to find and punish whoever was responsible for allowing such defamation of the Serbian nation.

At about this time, three Serbian friends and I discussed whether it would take a decade, a generation or two generations before Serbs could deal with their past and be willing to have a feminist to dinner.

Radovan, a television journalist, has been thinking about emigrating since the gay parade was attacked. (He is not gay.) Zoran, a print journalist, was disgusted by the reaction to the Srebrenica documentary. Ana, who soon starts a fellowship at Columbia University, seemed to look forward to it for more than just educational reasons.

The only non-Serb around the table, I was feeling optimistic. A few days before in my native Poland, the president had made a difficult but frank apology for a massacre of 1,600 Jews, committed by the Poles 60 years ago in a little town called Jedwabne. Being of mixed origin, I felt satisfaction because some justice was done to my fellow Jews and some repentance was shown by my fellow Poles.

If only Serbs had a leader who knew that saying "sorry" is a proof of strength.

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