Arkadia - A Lesbian and Gay Lobby in Belgrade

by Lepa Mladjenovic

In November 1990 some of us and our friends (and friends of our friends) met for the first time in one of the local cafes. After that we met off and on, mostly in private flats. The number of activists varied.

The group started with the intention to register as an association. This was impossible at the time, since no social institution was ready to lend us a meeting room. The group found no support from any political party, since social hate against lesbians and gay men was unshakable. In the Serbian Criminal Law Code (110/3) there is still an act which criminalizes adult homosexual activity. After one year of work the situation has changed a bit. The terms ‘homosexuality’ and ‘lesbianism’ have been introduced into the language of a new culture.

The main activities of our group are:

  • working on the social invisibility of lesbians and gay men, mainly through the mass media (radio interviews, protest letters against homophobic public statements, newspaper articles, etc.);
  • promoting anti-discrimination politics which hurt lesbians, but also pointing out discrimination against women and other marginalized groups;
  • collaboration with the few democratic groups, mostly anti-war and feminist movement;
  • organizing public discussions on lesbian and gay issues, the biggest one being for Lesbian and Gay Pride Day (in late June);
  • collaborating with the Roza Club in Slovenia and the Lila Initiative in Croatia;
  • collaborating with other lesbian and gay groups in Europe.

The present situation in Serbia is characterized by a militaristic ideology, and by poverty and unemployment. Women and single people are the first to be fired from their jobs, with ‘single’ often meaning lesbian or gay.

The economic situation in bordering states like Montenegro, Bosnia, Hercegovina, Croatia and Macedonia is also disastrous. This is coupled with new nationalist governments which do not promise an open democracy for stigmatized groups.

The position of lesbians and gays during war time is getting worse. All socially hated groups have become new targets for aggression, the new ‘enemy’. Only nationalist interests are legitimate now, so themes of different groups are secondary and of no importance. In the rural areas no lesbian or gay person has publicly raised his or her voice, as far as we know.

The exception is in the northern part of Serbia (Vojvodina), where the democratic tradition is more developed. There in 1992 the first gay cafe-club, Bambus, has opened. The year before a women-only restaurant opened in Novi Sad. The fact that Arkadia has no room of its own limits its activities. But our presence has still created a change in social attitudes.

Lepa Mladjenovic is an anti-war activist and lesbian feminist. Arkadia, Brace Barah 11, 11000 Beograd, Serbia. Tel. 38 11 624 701.