A cross-party group of 145 Members of the European Parliament has urged the Serbian president to revoke the controversial cancellation of the 2022 EuroPride that was scheduled to take place later this month in the country's capital.
"Pride demonstrations are peaceful tools for political advocacy and one way in which the universal right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is crystallised," the MEPs wrote in a joint letter to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
The lawmakers also asked the government to increase police protection and ensure the safety of the thousands of people expected to participate in the Pride march in Belgrade and all related events in what is the continent's largest annual LGBTQ+ event.
"We are aware that there are threats to the security of protestors, yet we maintain that banning this event outright is not the right solution," they said.
The document's signatories include the leaders of the socialist, greens, liberal and left groups, together with dozens of their colleagues. Six vice-presidents of the parliament also signed the letter.
Manfred Weber, chair of centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the hemicycle, did not add his name, although nine of his fellow parliamentarians chose to do so.
European President Roberta Metsola, who belongs to the EPP and has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ rights throughout her career, equally abstained.
"Roberta, as the President, representing the whole Parliament, does not co-sign letters and does not vote in plenary as a general rule," a spokesperson for Metsola told Euronews. "However, she is, and has always been, a vocal supporter of [LGBTQ+] rights."
The celebration of EuroPride in Serbia came with high expectations.
Belgrade was to become the first city in Southeast Europe to host a pan-European LGBTQ+ event -- something that many saw as a huge step forward for the former Yugoslav republic.
"EuroPride in Belgrade is highly significant because [LGBTQ+] people continue to face discrimination in the Balkans, as they do in other parts of Europe," the MEPs said. "Awarding EuroPride to Belgrade was and remains the right decision."
According to ILGA-Europe, Serbia ranks poorly in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, including constitutional protections, legal gender recognition, hate crime laws and civil society space -- although it ranks higher than several EU member states, like Poland, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Vučić made the surprising announcement on Sunday, saying the Pride would be "cancelled or postponed" due to recent issues rocking the country's internal stability, such as a border spat with Kosovo.
The Serbian leader said he was "not very happy to jeopardise the rights of a minority."
Vučić denied that the decision was made due to mounting pressure from the more radical parts of the society and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Earlier in August, thousands attended a "pro-family" event backed by a religious procession known as "litije" through the streets of Belgrade, protesting the alleged negative influence of EuroPride on traditional family values.
"It’s not about them being stronger. You simply can’t do everything at one point and that’s that," Vučić said.
In their letter, the MEPs reminded the Serbian government that, according to previous rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a Pride ban is a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, of which Serbia is a party.
The ECHR case law was also evoked by the European Pride Organisers Association, or EPOA, which owns the licence to EuroPride and has vowed to go ahead with the Parade.
The event remains scheduled to take place from 12 to 18 September.