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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

1 July 2001
Subject: Gays/Lesbians Attacked by Milosevic Supporters


My closeness with Lepa Mladjenovic, with whom I share this “living room” thanks to Joan Nestle’s generosity, runs far deeper than our both being lesbians. For years, progressive Israeli and Serbian women have been linked in solidarity against oppressive regimes. In both countries, Women in Black are alive and well (and are the two groups who represent the international movement for the Nobel Peace Prize nomination this year). Lepa and I met only once, but I sensed the deep bond of our common struggle.

The following report, written by democracy activist Jasmina Tesanovic, also from Belgrade, describes last Friday’s attack on a small band of gay pride marchers by pro-Milosevic supporters, and draws clearly the connection between fascism, homophobia, and all forms of racism.

Gila Svirsky

30 June 2001

It was supposed to be a feast, the first public demonstration of the gay lesbian movement, celebrating their international day, in the main Square of the Republic, where all our democratic history has happened. The only thing we feared, was bad weather. OK, let’s be honest, a big amount of homophobia is going on for years in Serbia, strengthened by the wars, nationalism... But also marginalized by all those men’s issues, the latest being the extradition of Milosevic, the guy who was the role model for much of that “manly” behavior, which included bombing, killings, ethnic cleansing and finally mass graves on our doorsteps, under our living bodies.

Two days ago when the ex president was suddenly transported to Hague, his supporters organized a meek and under control demonstration by the police in this same square. Not today: a lively, colored and happy group, of 30-50 gays and lesbians, was supposed to sing and dance in the square and afterwards a conference was supposed to be held at the Students’ Cultural Center, a traditionally free alternative space for politics and culture. This is what I saw happen:

At three p.m. I was at the square, approaching a heavy crowd of mostly young males with bald heads , big muscles and tight T-shirts, wondering where is my lot... I heard a cameraman standing next to me say: now this will last only a few seconds, no way such a thing will pass in Serbia... I wanted to answer him , no way, this is my Serbia too, but I was already on guard. After few seconds I was overtaken by the stampede of a wild lot running to the other side of the square: I spotted the gay group with balloons singing... I ran towards them too: it was a few hundred screaming, insulting, violent people against the few. The police were invisible, here and there you could spot a special forces guy. The flock attacked the small group which begin to disperse in all directions...

I followed a few of them: next thing I saw was a unknown guy to me with dyed blonde hair being repeatedly beaten with sticks... his head was bleeding, his nose... My friend was trying to drag him away, ten policemen made a circle around us... but hundreds of them were breaking the circle. There were many journalists, with cameras... I thought I will assist a lynching, I felt utterly helpless and lost. But the police started shooting in the air, the hooligans draw back for a second, the next minute they were hurling screams “whores, degenerates” towards the square again. And there were other common policemen standing and watching: as they hit a woman from a feminist group giving an interview, throwing eggs at anybody who seemed a participant... as a girl passerby was dragged and insulted...

With other two friends we started going towards the Students’ Cultural Center: a group of guys followed us, insulting us and spitting on us, among crowds of common people. My friend turned around and said: calm down honey... I felt like killing him. The passersby were commenting in different ways, mostly, why bother with queers, kill them all, they are ruining our clean Serbia. Some were just afraid or dumbfounded. Nobody I heard said: let them be, they are people as we are, they have their human rights.

We arrived at the Center, it was closed, police forces were all around and some women onlookers were screaming to them: so you voted for democracy and this is what you get, you should protect us, the straights, you assholes, because these decent men are protecting our honor. A very ugly fat elderly man was screaming and sweating, give me the lesbians I want to rape them... We just stood and watched, giving interviews to all who wanted to hear a statement: the only words I could say was, this is my Serbia too... this is fascism.

Only afterwards, in the Center, when hooligans were being arrested and broken in small groups, I managed to put a more complex picture together: Milosevic is in Hague, the hooligans are frustrated, instead of beating their wives and children, they are beating everything that doesn’t resemble their picture of a patriot. Later still, while sitting in the Women’s Center and trying to see how many people were hurt (8 policemen and about 8 civilians) all of us admitted that this kind of violence and reaction never happened before and it was, notwithstanding all the fears, definitely not spontaneous.

We gave many interviews, there were many crews, but after a few broadcasts of spontaneous news, the official version became: a conflict between homosexuals and their opponents. The official statement of the chief of the police ran the same: everything under control, thanks to brave policemen. Three days before the meeting was officially reported to the police: leaflets of the right-wing organization threatened violence...

That is not enough for me, I know better, behind that huge organized mass of violent, ethnically superior patriots, besides the radical party, homophobic organizations, illiterate democrats, is a bigger issue: the silent majority... including people in power, those from the ex regime and these today. Those people, in few words, would say that Serbs have suffered enough disgrace and dishonor to have this latest shame in public... digging dead Albanian bodies is just about enough. And those people, to purify the national self-esteem, would love to impose religion in schools, restrict abortion, cut the voices of the minorities, ethnic or sexual.

Now I still tremble from the fear I suffered, maybe the biggest in my life, because it was personal and yet the deed impersonal, as lynching is. But I do not want to speak or let my comrades speak as victims: this is an occasion, no matter how painful to speak out, to denounce, to claim the justice, the names of the organizers... Getting rid of Milosevic and digging dead bodies from mass graves is not enough, we have to get rid of all small Milosevics cruising around our cities and lives, and dig out of our conscience and bodies all the intolerance and homophobia that for many years was neglected and upheld. I want to stay upright and say: this is my Serbia too, though I am a woman, a marginal, a feminist... whatever... I want to strike back at those whom I want to declare outlaws and marginals, those who use violence and hate. This is why I am writing this message, to all, demanding support and publicity.

Jasmina Tesanovic
Belgrade 30 June, 2001

Sorry - I don’t have an email address for Jasmina. You can try writing to her through Lepa Mladjenovic in Belgrade at

For a BBC report:

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
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© 2001 Gila Svirsky, Jasmina Tesanovic.

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