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
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
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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