I am pleased that this year this dangerous, always threatened event was a truly “gay” parade. People threw flowers at the participants instead of spitting on them or beating them. I wasn’t there myself, but I saw the social media coverage, because various notable political and other stars marched along with the gay activists, attracting plenty of attention. The parade looked rather normalized, like a gay pride parade anywhere outside the Balkans.
Normalized, that is, except for the presence of Women in Black. Women in Black were, of course, the first group in Serbia that ever supported gay rights. They sheltered draft evaders, especially gay ones, in their own homes. But that was then, and this is now, so when a Woman in Black delivered an activist speech during the Pride Parade, she got as much sexist and offensive reaction as the gays used to get in the bad old days.
How did Women in Black became the new gays of the present season? It’s ironic to see modern politicians, academics and intellectual stars in Serbian contemporary life hastily seizing credit for this long, bloody, twilight struggle, while Women In Black become objects of blame.
The pioneers, those who were prematurely correct, are often attacked by the new status quo they created themselves. They get insults instead of public credit, while the usual boring limelight seekers sweep up whatever the situation offers in the way of political correctness and lucrative gain.
This doesn’t surprise me, I’ve seen it happen everywhere. So I said to myself: never mind it, this is the victory condition. When you truly succeed in changing society, everybody steals your clothes. The dismal epoch of the Yugoslav 1990s is behind us. A new generation has reached adulthood, new political styles have arisen. It’s parochial to dwell on Yugoslav civil wars in an era when Ukraine and Syria are bleeding as badly, or worse.
These are new times, and there is a wrongness to clinging to the condition of warfare. Resolving a trauma needs the courage to accept the sad truth, to find value in the life after the suffering.
But on mature consideration, I was still angry and sad about the way Women in Black were disrespected by those they had always helped. I know that history was often written by the winners. I know that the first voices of protest are never heard. I know that women who change history never got the public credit for the change. On the contrary: they would not be merely ignored, but harshly rejected. But this is not like that anymore.
Women who seek to serve the public good tend to choose a dignified and diffident form of activism. They don’t want fame, they want change. I can remember Juliet Mitchell, a famous feminist activist and psychoanalyst writer, telling me how she avoided putting her name to her own writing; everyone in her group acted in public unity.
Much the same went for “Women in Black:” they were never female stars dressed in fashionable little black dresses, they were women publicly united by the harsh reality of their grief. I know those humble, intelligent and shy faces of my friends. They would never step out in the glare of limelight, unless to speak some unspeakable truth, or to protect those who needed help.
In 2001 I was one among those persecuted and assaulted in the streets of Belgrade for defending gays. It was not a popular political position, so I was ostracized by the very same political factions and cynical celebrities who now so easily steal our clothes. Never satisfied with their own fame and glory, they are driven to deny us the pioneer work we did with insults.
Thank you, straight and fancy modern Belgrade, for not being brutally antigay anymore. It’s a modern marvel to see Belgrade as a moral exemplar compared to Damascus, Budapest and Moscow. Enjoy that, but you’d better watch your step, for the primrose path of opportunists and liars is beset with thorns. Those who dig a pit will fall in it, even when they try to rewrite history. Beware, for women everywhere are forced to dress in black today.