SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Rights activists in the Serb-run part of Bosnia were assaulted late Saturday, hours after police banned an LGBT event planned there over the weekend, citing security concerns.
The attack took place as the activists were leaving a meeting at the offices of the Bosnian branch of the global anti-corruption group Transparency International in Banja Luka. The meeting was organized after the event they hoped to stage in the northwestern city on Sunday to promote LGBT rights was banned by local police.
The activists said a few dozen men chased them through the streets, hurling insults and punches. Before police arrived on the scene, several activists were hurt, including one who required medical attention.
The Banja Luka police said law enforcement officers had escorted the activists to the police station to take their statements and were still looking for the perpetrators.
The canceled LGBT event, organized and supported by several rights groups from across Bosnia, was to include a movie screening followed by a panel discussion. Its announcement provoked a strong homophobic backlash last week, including from the Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, who said LGBT people were “harassers” and that he hoped the “official bodies will prevent them from gathering both in closed venues and in the open.”
Banja Luka Mayor Drasko Stanivukovic also denounced the event saying the LGBT community should restrict itself to Bosnia’s multiethnic capital, Sarajevo, because Bosnian Serbs cherish “patriarchal, traditional families and are clear about our faith and our identity."
Bosnia remains highly conservative and torn by divisions stemming from a 1992-95 ethnic war involving Bosnia’s Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Homophobia remains deep seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.
Since 2019, an annual pride parade has been organized regularly in Sarajevo without any notable unrest, but with a large law enforcement presence.
The violence in Banja Luka prompted condemnation from European Union officials, several Western embassies and international organizations.
“Words have consequences,” the EU mission to Bosnia tweeted, adding that regular verbal attacks by Bosnian Serb politicians against civil society activists and journalists create “a climate where physical attacks can follow.”
British Ambassador to Bosnia Julian Reilly concurred in a tweet that the “shocking attack on civic activists … showed the real impact of hate speech.”
The U.S Embassy in Sarajevo tweeted that the Bosnian Serb authorities “must identify and prosecute those who committed this heinous act.”