As USB we were invited to meeting of Balkan Pride in Capsis Hotel on 29th June. Mr. Apostolis Karabairis from Thessaloniki Pride welcomed and assisted us during seminars. When we arrive to the meeting there were many happy, smiley faces from all around Balkan countries. You could easily feel the positive energy in the air. We immediately take our seats and started to listening participants during workshops. They created ice breaking games for explain their problems in public freely.
Some of the main purposes of the meeting were about; supporting/representing community, creating an ability to answer all kind of questions for the society, educational and psychological help for youngsters, setting role models for LGBT community and awareness about media, social media bullying against LGBT members.
During workshops, they created small groups from different participants from Balkan countries to discuss media problems about LGBT rights. I saw interesting and sincere questions such as ‘’what makes me happy regarding media appearances?’’, ‘’what annoys LGBT on media?’’, ‘’how do we want to be seen in media?’’ or ‘’what kind of change presence in media can make in my life/our lives?’’. Security issues, social media bullying, violent actions against LGBT community still exist and those topics are extremely important for the community. Members of the community just want to live like a human being, without paranoia and fear about attacks against their families or friends. Law, religion terms, phobia in society and discrimination make the situation worse most of the time. LGBT members are tired to answer private and stereotype questions about themselves such as ‘’are you gay?’’, ‘’are you a girl or boy? ’’. During workshops, one participant tried to clear the situation about this problem and said ‘’But we have to reply to those stereotype questions again and again and again… breaking ices among society, clichés had to be answered!’’. When she was speaking I saw one poster on the wall, few words were written on it and this poster completed the topic: BE LIKE ZEN!. One question turning on my head all the time; how can we be part of the solution? Answer is simple as much as the question: empathy…
I was really happy to see some Turkish participants during this event because coming out and expressing your identity (freely) is very hard thing to do among the society of Turkey, if we try to compare with other western societies. This year Turkish government banned the pride all around the country because of the fear of terrorism. For my opinion the idea was just a cover… I saw many terrible violent attacks on social media from Police forces in Taksim Square during past years of Pride. Same show, every each year… When Police forces start to attack with water cannons and tear gasses last year, they created a rainbow under the sky and this moment smile appeared on activists faces…
When workshops paused for a small lunch break we got chance to make an interview with; Apostolis Karabairis (Thessaloniki Pride, Thessaloniki/Greece), Lejla Jerkovic’ (Visionary Youth LGBT+, Zagreb/Croatia), Veneta Limberova (Youth LGBT Organization, Sofia/Bulgaria).
USB : Hello. We are really happy to be here today as USB. We are working on the area of social/cultural awareness as you know. First of all, I want to congratulate you about such a colorful and courageous event. My first question to Apostolis… Can you introduce yourself and the main goals of this event?
Apostolis: Well, building up a reginal pride event was a vision of the Thessaloniki Pride long time ago. So we thought that the first step could be build up the capacity around all pride organizers of the cities in the region and then threw interaction we can agree on setting up this reginal pride event named ‘’Balcan Pride’’ in few years’ time let’s say. This project is a series of 3 capacity building seminars. We worked on a ‘’legal frame’’ work, this seminar about communication and the next time in Serbia will be on ‘’Human Resources Management’’. And later in this year in autumn we are meeting in Tirna to agree on what our next steps will be? And our aspiration is to unite all pride organizers in the region in to rotating pride events in the region. For example one year will be in Thessaloniki, next year in Istanbul, third year in Belgrade so on…
USB :How are the percentage levels of sexual crime in your country if you try to compare with other Balkan countries? Have you ever faced off hate speeches lately or do you think awareness about sexual freedom reaching success because of the globalization?
Lejla : Hey, I’m Lejla from Croatia. I’m talking from a bit different perspective. About the hate crime, about the law frame that we had in Croatia… Currently we have a long exhibited partnership; we don’t have a law on marriage equality, although the law that was supposed to prevent us having hate crimes on the street is not being implemented well enough. And I think in other countries of this Balkan region is worse, definitely worse. For example in Albania it is really a problem to come out, first step… And in many other countries that are the basic problem so without firstly coming out: we cannot have a community, if we don’t have a community we cannot define the problems, we cannot make them public and we cannot do any lobbying towards the legal frame.
USB : During Gay pride events in Istanbul, Police forces attacked people in Taksim Square with water cannons and gas bombs. Do you have any message for them or other people who get attacked around the world?
Veneta : We did our campaign, you can see posters around you, and we also prepared video for supporting. We also have one participant who was part of Istanbul Pride. He was detained without any charge after he released early enough to join us.
Apostolis : What is important to Istanbul Pride is one of the oldest pride after Zagreb Pride. There is a strong tradition has been made in Istanbul and it cannot be wiped out like this. Because Balkan 2014, it was a super successful pride with almost 100.000 people. That year back then I visited 7 Pride parades and I experienced in Istanbul were far the most strong because people were enthusiastic, there were many sound systems, good planning and colorful people from around attended and it was the most noisy, excited and great atmosphere.
 USB : United Societies of Balkans
 Zen : Famous Buddhist teachings
 Empathy: Understand feelings of other people