Riot police in Montenegro on Wednesday clashed with stone-throwing extremists protesting against the first gay pride parade held in the staunchly conservative country that is seeking to join the European Union.
More than 100 anti-gay protesters, mostly young hardline football fans, chanted “Kill the gays!” as they hurled rocks and bottles to disrupt a march by several dozen gay activists in the coastal town of Budva.
Police officers pushed back the attackers and formed a cordon around the marchers, who waved rainbow flags and blew whistles.
Five of the protesters were detained.
No one was seriously injured in the scuffles but police later used boats to escort the marchers away from the town’s historic centre in an attempt to avoid further incidents.
“This is a success for the (Montenegrin) gay community… and for European Montenegro,” one of the organisers, Zdravko Cimbaljevic, told the activists after the march.
The parade was supported by the Montenegrin government which began EU membership talks with Brussels in June 2012 and has since adopted a strategy to protect the gay community and improve gay rights.
“I have come to show that the principle of equality is in effect in Montenegro and I congratulate you on holding the Gay Pride parade,” said Jovan Kojicic, an advisor to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
Several gay activists came from neighbouring Balkan countries, most of which are facing rising conservatism and anti-gay sentiments.
“Even though it was a bit uncomfortable, I feel really happy as many brave people are walking with us,” said 21-year old Elvis from neighbouring Albania, which has yet to host its first gay march.
In a highly patriarchal society, surveys show 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 fear of hate attacks, claiming they do not trust the authorities to protect their rights.
There are few openly gay-friendly bars, restaurants and hotels and gay people mostly meet in private homes or in the offices of the few rights groups that deal with gay issues.
On the coast, there are several gay-friendly beaches which are largely avoided by other visitors.