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May 11, 1999

Gay Serbians find acceptance is a casualty of war.

Serbian regime equates homosexuality with western powers

By Steve Friess

Hours after NATO bombs began to rain down on Serbia in April, a news anchor appeared on a Belgrade TV station to describe for viewers the menace facing the Yugoslav province. "One of his points," recounted gay Serbian journalist Dusan Maljkovic, "was that the leaders of the West are gay, only he used our word for fag, pealer. He talked about the gay government of [British prime minister] Tony Blair, about how the wife of Tony Blair is a lesbian, and that her best friend, the wife of Bill Clinton, is also a lesbian."

Maljkovic, 23, wanted to be amused by the report, but he knew it meant the end to the tiny gay movement developing in Serbia. "He was so funny because it was so stupid, but he was using that to explain how bad, bad, bad are the leaders of the West. And the people, they believe what they are told."

Days later the independent radio station B92, where Maljkovic worked, was closed by Serbian police. Maljkovic felt the crackdown even harder than his colleagues, for he was weeks away from co-hosting the first gay radio show, GAYTO! In a culture where doctors still urge electroshock therapy to "cure" homosexuality and where celebrities and intellectuals alike openly disdain gays and lesbians, Maljkovic hoped GAYTO! would change some minds.

"We expect greater discrimination after the war and the banning of all gay activism," said Maljkovic, who also was poised to teach the first gay studies college class this fall. "Anyone who doesn't fit the standard model of a strong man defending his native land, determined to fight for it until the last drop of blood, is a possible victim of discrimination, ranging from verbal insults to physical violence and even murder."

The blame, say Maljkovic and other Serbian gays and lesbians, belongs as much to the NATO alliance's invasion as to the tyranny of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. They don't dispute the portrait of Milosevic as a ruthless killer, but they note that the bombing hastened the very decimation of Kosovar Albanians that the mission hoped to avert.

In the process gays and lesbians are atop the list of scapegoats used to rally Serbians against NATO. The first gay casualty was the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Serb project mainly funded by philanthropist George Soros, halted when the Soros Foundations Network stopped payments amid the conflict.

Serbian journalist Aleksandra Ajdanic, who fled during the first wave of bombs and now is staying in Minneapolis with the president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Karen-Louise Boothe, is similarly frustrated. "If you want to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, why make it worse?"

Ajdanic landed one of the last visas issued by the American embassy before the war, though she had to leave behind most of her belongings. Her family, including an 87-year-old grandmother and a 2-year-old niece, are now holed up in a mountainside home away from the shellings.

Ajdanic plans to return when the bombing ends. But Maljkovic, who spends his nights holed up in his Belgrade apartment writing a diary and listening to nearby explosions, hopes to leave as soon as possible. "All our efforts to change me opinion of the Serbian population toward accepting homosexuality as a normal aspect of sexuality are now destroyed. I want to go," he said.

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