Police protect gay-rights rallies across the Balkans

A gay couple prepare to kiss in front of the monument of the Soviet army decorated with rainbow flags and paint during the fourth gay-pride rally in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
A gay couple prepare to kiss in front of the monument of the Soviet army decorated with rainbow flags and paint during the fourth gay-pride rally in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. (VALENTINA PETROVA / Associated Press)

Marches were held in Bulgaria and Croatia. Antigay groups sought to block the parades.

Posted: June 19, 2011

SOFIA, Bulgaria - Gays and lesbians marched in several Eastern European capitals Saturday protected by hundreds of riot police after some extremist groups urged members to stop the gay-pride rallies.

Nearly 1,000 people joined the fourth Gay Pride rally in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, organizers said. Twice as many paraded through the Croatian capital of Zagreb under rainbow arches of balloons and banners for that city's 10th Gay Pride March. Hungarian gay-rights activists also took to the streets in Budapest, flanked by police in full riot gear.

Gays and lesbians face widespread hostility in the region's macho-dominated societies, and opposition to their public events has been fierce.

"I am here because I am tired of being afraid," Deya Georgieva, 19, said in Sofia. "It is really ridiculous that in a country pretending to be European its citizens are denied some basic rights."

Police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said that 2,000 people marched through central Zagreb, protected by more than 700 police officers. Police detained 17 people for insulting the marchers and holding antigay banners.

Some prominent public figures joined the Zagreb parade, which was dubbed "The Future Is Ours."

The Zagreb rally came a week after thousands of extremists disrupted a gay-pride event in the coastal city of Split, throwing rocks, bottles, and firecrackers.

Croatia, which has pledged to protect human rights as part of efforts to join the European Union, provided extensive security for Saturday's rally. After years of tough negotiations, EU officials said earlier this month that Croatia could join the 27-nation bloc in 2013.

Because of extremist violence during previous gay-rights parades, Sofia city hall rejected an antigay group's demand to hold a parallel rally. Organizers of gay-pride events, however, said extremists used social networks to drum up resistance.

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