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Skopje Pride 2021 – A liberating leave beyond the walls

If we saw the first as a test for society, this Pride should have confirmed whether the success of the first Pride Parade in Skopje was incidental, or whether we really achieve the desired effect of visibility and continuity in the fight for human rights and acceptance in the environment in which we live in. This year, the magnitude of the event meant taking into account the pandemic, and for that reason, the announcement of the Pride was delayed until the epidemiological situation allowed it. We were not afraid of the numbers, even though that Saturday was a day of tropical heat, because the double isolation that our community has faced in the past simply had to end with a gathering where we will see each other, protest and dance together, with our friends and chosen families.

We must mention that the good cooperation with the Ministry of Interior was not incidental either. As organizations, which, by the way, often criticize the actions of police officers, we want to publicly praise their professionalism and tact shown in the preparation and implementation of the security plan for Pride.

Regarding the professionalism of the media, after last year’s positive assessments, this year we noticed additional progress. In addition to reporting on activities during June (Pride Month) many of them showed an authentic interest in addressing LGBTI+ issues, following one of the basic recommendations – to follow through the prism of human rights.

The feeling of freedom and security is the main indicator of a successful Pride. Complemented by a program that moved everyone, the atmosphere was burning more than the sun above us. We ignored all the hate messages that day, because the words of support were far louder, probably because of the “fifth element” in them. Marija Kostadinovska from Bitola, stood on the stage of Shkolka, and thus completely on the side of her daughter and said parentally unconditionally: “In order to get beyond the walls, parents need to help them a little.” Marija is one of the few parents who recently came out in public in support of their child and offered to help and support other parents who are going through the acceptance process. The mothers also showed at the Pride that they are champions of change, who silence even the lowest hater.

The Pride is also a protest, at which we sent our messages to the public and the institutions. On behalf of the organizing board of Skopje Pride, Elena Petrovska pointed out that “The Month of Pride takes us back a little to the past, makes us see what we have achieved, what progress we have made, how we will continue.” Stressing how cruelly the health crisis has shown the systemic disenfranchisement of vulnerable LGBTI+ people, she called for the immediate adoption of legislation on legal gender recognition, because until everyone in the LGBTI+ community emerges from the entanglement of systemic barriers, none of us are free.

Regarding the will of our political scene for the promotion of human rights and freedoms, we received signs of support and understanding, but also of restraint and condemnation. This year, the President of the country, Stevo Pendarovski, personally attended Skopje Pride. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in a public statement expressed the government and its support for this event, and the event was attended by several ministers and other officials from the ranks of SDSM, as well as representatives of the party youth. The DOM party also supported the presence, and MP Maja Morachanin addressed on behalf of the Inter-Party Parliamentary Group for the Advancement of the Rights of LGBTI+ people. The formation of the first such parliamentary group was a big step forward, which happened in the previous parliamentary formations and in which members of the government and the opposition are members. Unfortunately, none of the MPs of VMRO-DPMNE, who are part of this parliamentary group, were present at Pride, and there was no declarative support. The National Network against Homophobia and Transphobia in the coming period will address these issues in more detail because we believe that being part of this group in the legislature implies direct involvement of MPs in the fight for equality, and not to be reduced to participation at conferences ex officio.

From the negative messages, we single out the statement of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, Arianit Hoxha, who distanced himself from the political support of the Government, emphasizing that he is guided by “family values” and using justifications for his position, which only show how necessary sex education is – both for children and adults. Alternativa addressed citizens of the Albanian ethnic community and urged them to distance themselves from the Pride, pointing out that “such parades are an unnatural phenomenon that endangers the family and strikes at conservative morals.” From DUI, although it is part of the ruling majority, there was no reaction. It is to be hoped that the rebranding as a green party will soon mean a reversal in their attitudes towards LGBTI+ issues.

Although the event itself went in the best possible order, we had an unwanted deja vu in the form of a physical attack after the Pride. The perpetrators were found by law enforcement. It is about three juveniles who attacked and injured an LGBTI+ person in the center of Skopje and will now face the aggravating circumstance of a hate crime. The price of intolerance in our country is regularly and mostly paid by young people, both as victims and as perpetrators of hate crimes, and that is one of the main messages we want to hear. Hate sowing cannot be packaged as real care for children.

In the past period, we intensively followed the hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and several reports have already been submitted to the Ministry of Interior. Pride is expected to be an occasion for an explosion of comments on social networks, but the difficult thing is that we live that narrative every day – outbursts of hatred, falsified facts, humiliation and dehumanization, and all the violence that arises from all this.

The attack after the Pride was a quick “reality check” while the moments of a well-filled and happy day are still going on. Sobering up to what we all know well, even when the inspiring atmosphere of togetherness and solidarity will make us euphoric. And that is that the struggle is constant and that between the days when we celebrate protesting, we still need shelter for the persecuted, psychological support for the traumatized, legal aid, health, and social care, and other ways to meet the most vulnerable and less privileged. The member organizations of NNHT are fully committed to this mission and we continue with all our strength, love, and enthusiasm to work for change. Without a doubt and regardless of the labels that our civic activism receives from various sides.

Heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers who joined this year’s Skopje Pride. Thanks to the support of the European Union, the Open Society Foundation in North Macedonia, the Embassies of the USA, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Civil Rights Defenders. Thanks to the artists Vera Vendetta, Sonja Ismail, Vasil Garvanliev, Fifi Janevska, Tuna, Ivana Dragshikj, Uzun Baba, and Zoki Bejbe for their performances and support. Certainly, thanks to the hosts of the Shkolka program in the City Park, Linda Socialista, and Ognen Janeski, as well as to the City of Skopje and the platform for the development of an independent and cultural scene “Terapija”.

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