SKOPJE – Members of the LGBT community in North Macedonia held on Saturday the first-ever Pride march in the capital Skopje.
Sexual diversity remains a relatively taboo subject in the conservative Balkan nation, which has a population of just two million.
Around 1,000 people, most aged between 20-40, gathered for the Skopje Parade 2019 as it wound its way down the capital’s avenue, which had been closed off to traffic in advance.
“This parade is a symbolic act to see if our society has become tolerant toward us. I am happy it’s all going well. I know that things can’t change in a day but 15-20 years ago this was not possible at all, now here we are walking in the center of Skopje, it’s a good start,” Angela, 30, told EFE as she walked with her girlfriend and friends in the parade.
Angela’s girlfriend, Emilia, raised the issue of human rights for LGBT Macedonians.
“Look, we still have the basic problem, it’s same-sex marriages. We don’t have it here yet,” she said. “Maybe now we are more visible but it could change with some other government,” she said.
“These human rights cannot depend on the issue of who governs the country in one particular moment,” she added.
Only a few public figures have opened up about being gay, one of them being former Secretary General of the Macedonian Foreign Ministry, Emil Kirijas.
“Being different in Macedonia is a handicap. In every successful society and in every big city and metropolis, diversity means advantage. But there is no education in Macedonia about sexuality,” he told the media before Pride kicked off.
LGBT supporters from neighboring Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania joined the march, which came to an end in the city’s central park.
“Since we informed the public that we would be holding the first Skopje Pride, the threats and animosity have been coming in. But we also got huge support from many other people from here and abroad,” Kocho Andonovski, the president of the LGBT community in the Republic of Macedonia, told Efe.
Several members of the ruling Social Democratic government also came out in support for the parade.
Under the conservative government (2006-16), several attacks against the LGBT community office in downtown Skopje were reported although no-one was ever detained.
Around 65 percent of Macedonians are Orthodox Christians while 30 percent are Sunni Muslims.
A counter-protest was organized to coincide with Skopje Pride, although no tensions were reported between the groups.