With some misgivings, gays in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro have begun preparations for their first gay pride parade planned for May 31.
"We seriously intend to organise the pride, but we lack political support, which means that it (...) is not safe to hold the march," said Zdravko Cimbaljevic, head of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) forum Progress.
AdvertisementCimbaljevic, whose forum is the first non-governmental organisation dealing with gay rights in Montenegro, has come under attack since the plans for the parade were announced.
Even within the generally conservative Balkan countries Montenegro stands out as particularly hostile to gays. Its own minister for minorities said he was insulted that they were lumped together with ethnic minorities.
The government, under pressure from the European Union, has agreed to include two officials in the gay pride organising committee but has yet to announce their names.
Cimbaljevic has faced verbal attacks in the street and threats to lynch him via the Facebook social networking site.
"Podgorica will not be included on the list of homosexual towns without an uproar," read one of the threats.
"We (the activists) are all under enormous pressure," Cimbaljevic told AFP.
"The circle of people supporting us is unfortunately getting smaller."
In a highly patriarchal society the latest surveys show that 70 percent of Montenegrins still consider homosexuality an illness, while 80 percent believe it should be kept private.
Sexual minorities are largely invisible in the tiny Adriatic state with some 650,000 inhabitants. Gays and lesbians live in isolation, in permanent fear of hate attacks and do not trust the authorities to protect their rights.
There are no openly gay-friendly bars, restaurants or any other public places, so they can only meet in private homes or in the offices of the rare NGOs that deal with gay rights.
On the coast there are several known gay beaches which are largely avoided by other visitors.
Gay activists stressed that a march would be a good way to show Montenegrins that gays do exist in the country.
"I support the gay pride in Podgorica because it is high time for the LGBT population to become visible by this kind of positive provocation," a gay activist, who typically asked not to be named, told AFP.
Prime Minister Luksic has formally supported the gay pride parade, saying that "by allowing the people to walk we will show that we are civilised".
However he insisted it would be better to have a kind of general human rights march rather then focusing on the LGBT community.
But Minister for Minority Rights Ferhat Dinosa is squarely opposed to any pride march.
"This society is patriarchal and has its tradition and moral code," Dinosa told AFP.
Referring to gays, he said, "The position of that population should be resolved in a way that would not spark a social conflict. We have seen in the region that pride parades do not produce positive things for (gays)."
Dinosa pointed to neighbouring Serbia where in October last year ultra-nationalists protesting the country's first gay pride parade in 10 years clashed with police.
The riots in Belgrade left 150 people injured and caused millions of euros (dollars) in damage.
However social commentator and psychologist Radoje Cerovic dismissed fears of violence directed at the Montenegrin parade.
"Not because society is ready for it, but because in Montenegro there are no militant political organisations and hooligan groups like in Serbia that could prevent the parade by conflict or aggressive attacks," he said.
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