BELGRADE, Serbia -- The head of Serbia's powerful Orthodox Church on Tuesday supported a ban on a pan-European LGBTQ event due to take place in Belgrade next week, saying that the topic has been “artificially imposed” and threatens traditional values in the Balkan country.
The special video statement by Patriarch Porfirije comes amid a heated debate in Serbia and mounting international criticism over the authorities' announcement that the Sept. 12-18 EuroPride events are canceled because of threats of violence from right-wing extremists.
Members of the European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, in what was seen as a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and under strong influence from the Orthodox Church.
Serbia has pledged to boost LGBTQ rights as it seeks membership in the European Union. While pride marches had been held in the country under strong security in the past several years, plans for this year's event triggered protests by increasingly vocal pro-Russian rightist groups.
Opposition groups and rights activists have said canceling the pride march over extremists' threats is a blow to democracy. But Patriarch Porfirije said banning the event was “necessary and justified."
“This topic was artificially imposed on us and is completely contrary to the system of values of our nation,” he said.
Just days away from the events that are suposed to include a Pride march and open-air concerts, organizers say they are yet to receive a formal ban. Several EU officials have said they will join the march, while those calling on the Serbian government to reverse the announced ban included U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken.
Goran Miletic, a EuroPride coordinator in Serbia, said on Monday that organizers have been holding negotiations with the government. He said preparations are still underway for the gathering that is expected to draw 15,000 people.
“We will not give up on any part of the European pride week, including the march scheduled for Sept. 17,” Miletic said.
“We are ready for a compromise and an agreement so that EuroPride can take place in an orderly manner and so that an image of beauty and solidarity is sent to the world from Belgrade and Serbia.”
Porfirije's public statement puts additional pressure on the government and is likely to further fuel public opposition as well.
Serbia's populist leader, Aleksandar Vucic, also cited a crisis with Kosovo and growing economic and energy troubles caused by the war in Ukraine, as the reasons why the state cannot handle potential clashes with right-wing groups.
In the statement carried by the state RTS television, Porfirije warned against violence.
“Evil is not cured and defeated by violence, only multiplied,” he said.