Ed Fordham’s Letter from Belgrade

I am sitting in a hotel here in Belgrade eating my breakfast. It’s Serbia so meat is the dominant feature.

But I have just walked around the corner of the block to the hotel where they are issueing the accreditation to volunteers stewards who are marshalling the Pride March today and in the course of that short journey I have passed over 200 riot police (I stopped counting). The roads are closed and the streets ghostly quiet.

I am fairly confident here and know Serbia pretty well – but I found myself nervous, uncertain and even tearful as I walked through the streets. I was clutching my phone, hiding my camera and very mindful that as best I try I probably look like a visitor.

In three hours I will meet other friends who are LGBT activists in the Human Rights Council of the Liberal Democrat Party of Serbia whom I will march with. In London, the UK, much of Europe we can be confident of who we are and who we love. Here people, friends, folks I know, are fighting, literally, for the right to exist and be themselves.

This morning as people, mainly young people, travel by car, bus and bicycle into Belgrade – often alone to come and be in Belgrade Pride – please spare a thought for them. It already feels tough and slightly grim and I haven’t yet unfurled my rainbow flags.

But here in Serbia, it is the Liberal Democrats of the United Kingdom who are working with parties to advocate LGBT rights. As my Lib Dem political friends gather in Bournemouth to discuss most things – please make sure you don’t forget the basics of equality and internationalism. Serbia is a country struggling to cope with handling 500,000 refugees, has had its borders closed by foolish neighbours and is being cold-shouldered by Europe – they deserve better.

Right, back to breakfast in order to gird myself ready for walking alone past the riot Police lined up outside my hotel in order to meet friends and fellow LGBT activists at a named statue where we will seek to join the march. As daunting as it sounds I know I have a flight home and to remind myself of my good fortune in life I can roll my wedding ring round on my finger. My friends here do not have that fortune… Yet.

I will be tweeting from @edfordham during the day and retweets from Liberal Democrat Voice readers would be appreciated. 

* Ed Fordham is a party member and activist in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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5 Comments

  • Paul In Wokingham 20th Sep '15 - 11:51am

    Good stuff, Ed. My partner and I were in Belgrade a few years ago for Eurovision. There were several memorable aspects of that trip (leaving aside the interesting insights into Germany’s attitude to the Eurovision voting system provided by the German diplomat we happened to find ourselves sitting next to).

    We went to the Red Star Belgrade Museum where we were the only visitors and the friendly curator (who spoke perfect English) invited me to hold the 1991 European Cup. We went to the Tito mausoleum where we were virtually alone even though it was clearly designed to cope with thousands of visitors. We went to the Nikola Tesla museum, which was perhaps more interesting as a reflection of Serbian national pride in Tesla than of his achievements.

    So I was left with a sense that this was a country more interested in its future as a sovereign nation in Europe than in its past.

    But my guide book advised me to avoid certain public toilets as they were well-known cottages – a word I associate more with Orton’s diaries than with the 21st century. I was left with the impression that LGBT rights in Serbia are about 50 years behind us. But given the triumph of the equal marriage referendum in Ireland this year – only 20 years after decriminalization – we know how quickly attitudes can change and events like this will be the agents of that change. So my thoughts and solidarity are with you.

  • Hi Ed – hope all goes well. Also hope the weather is better than here – although its quite mild today here in Bristol!!

  • Bill le Breton 20th Sep '15 - 6:19pm

    ivan Grubanov has produced a stunning contribution in the Serbian pavilion to this year’s Venice Biennale, United Dead Nations, http://eng.msub.org.rs/serbian-pavilion-at-56th-la-biennale-di-venezia

    ” The installation United Dead Nations aims to establish a dialogue on what does the notion of the nation represent in our post-global times by putting in focus the nations that no longer exist as such, but whose ghosts are still conditioning the geo-spheres they had occupied (Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic, Yugoslavia, etc.). By doing so, the multifaceted spectrum of desires and conflicts, which the notion of nation embodies, is considered and the questions of nature and permanence of today’s nations are being imposed”.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 21st Sep '15 - 6:41am

    Well said Ed!

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