Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Thugs attack gay arts fest in Sarajevo

Organizers scale back event in face of violence

Several filmgoers attending a gay arts festival in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital were injured after a crowd of religious fanatics mounted an attack on opening night.

Reuters reported on Sep 24 that “dozens” of men surrounded the Sarajevo Academy of Fine Arts after the opening night of the Queer Sarajevo Festival, beating visitors in the streets and dragging others from their vehicles.

The hooded assailants reportedly shouted derogatory comments and “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) during the protest, Reuters stated.

At least eight people were admitted to hospital, including a Danish tourist who Sarajevo Hospital considers “the most seriously hurt,” according to the report.

Organization Q spokesperson Svetlana Durkovic told Xtra on Sep 25 that “young football fans” and “Wahhabis” — members of a puritanical Muslim sect — were responsible for the attack.

Though there was a police presence around the academy, Durkovic said many of the attackers “would follow people” until they were outside the protective zone before striking.

With at least 300 participants at opening night, she said it was difficult to arrange safe transportation for everyone.

“We called cabs, but they would not stop,” she said. “They would get attacked, too.”

Other protesters videotaped people leaving the theatre and threatened to reveal their identities to friends and family, Durkovic said.

“They would say ‘We have you. We’re watching you.'”

Protesters also clashed with police guarding the building, injuring one officer. One of the attackers was also detained by police according to Reuters.

As the only active gay group in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Organization Q battles religious subjugation in a country still recovering from a civil war fought along ethnic and religious lines in the 1990s, when it split from the former Soviet Republic of Yugoslavia.

In recent weeks, politicians and religious leaders have condemned the queer festival for coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and have made vitriolic comments against homosexuals in the media. Anonymous death threats were also made against festival organizers and their sponsors.

Durkovic noted with irony that Ramadan is supposed to be a time of piousness in Islam.

“[Visitors] were being spit on by someone doing everything in the name of Allah,” she said. “What kind of religion is that?”

She said Organization Q has decided to scale back the scope of the remaining events, modifying screening locations and scrapping some events altogether.

Durkovic confirmed a screening of Canadian film director John Greyson’s Lillies would still take place on Thursday night, but in a “different setting” than advertised in the program.

Greyson, a professor at York University, was to participate in a post-screening discussion. He could not be reached for comment.

Durkovic said she still expected his arrival and that it was important to continue with the festival to fight for the gay community’s “right to exist” in the conservative country.

“We’re very tired, but we’re holding on,” she said.