Interview: Stevan Milivojević

Interview: Stevan Milivojević, executive direction of LGBT forum Progress, Montenegro

Have you, as an LGBT activist, felt marginalized and discriminated against, and do you think that your state would protect you if you found yourself at risk?

LGBT people in Montenegro, especially LGBT activists and people whose sexual orientation or gender identity is visible or known to the public, represent the most marginalized part of society. The large number of constant threats received over social media, insults, and attacks to which we are victim are testament to this. Sadly, feeling discriminated against and threatened are feelings that follow me every day, so that I often have to pay special care when I’m in a part of the city well-known for having a high number of homophobes and violent attackers.
The training and education which we do with police and other government workers is truly important, because of the necessity to protect LGBT persons in public. A large number of police officers and government workers completed the training, and it is important to note that they are committed to doing their jobs professionally, without regard to person beliefs towards the LGBT community. When the Pride Parade was held in Budva on July 24, the police did its job with a high level of professionalism, and there were no incidents during the actual parade. However, we should not stop there, but must continue with the criminal trials of all those who that day threw stones, chairs, glass bottles, and other objects at the Parade participants.
The LGBT Forum Progress filed over 200 complaints to the police, mainly having to do with threats before, during, and after the parade. As of now I cannot say I am not in fear for my life. I consider a safe stay in cities like Budva, Nikšić, or Bar simply impossible at the moment, and that without police accompaniment, I would almost certainly be attacked.

When a person can’t move freely in public without protection we cannot feign to speak about successfully applied human rights in a country. The police cannot be with me at very moment, so that verbal or physical attacks are always a possibility.

How much have attacks on LGBT persons intensified in Montenegro and is the police ready to offer the appropriate protection?

The frequency of attacks towards members of the LGBT population in Montenegro is high.
Unfortunately, it often happens that the LGBT community doesn’t have enough confidence in the professionalism of police work and the other relevant state institutions, and so a large majority of discrimination and attacks on LGBT persons go unreported. 
The LGBT Forum Progress in addition to its regularly programmed activities offers free legal aid, so that the community knows that they can submit claims through contact persons in the organization. We are working on the development of trust between the LGBT community and police, so that the LGBT community could submit their claims directly to the police. We consider that the police have done a good job until now, and there is a high level of collaboration between them and the LGBT Forum Progress. The police has up til now successfully secured all public activities organized by the LGBT community, but it still appears unachievable that LGBT persons be secured at all times. The obstacles which with we are now dealing include the fact of the only small number of complaints filed reach the criminal stage after their processing by the police, and most of the end up categorized as misdemeanors or minor offenses.  This poses a big problem which showcases the need for the education and training of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, which the LGBT Forum Progress aims to realize in the next period.

How can the state contribute more to the holding of the Pride Parade?

The participation of the state in organizing this and similar events is of especial importance because it sends a message about the views of the government on the question of protection of minority and threatened groups and the respect of human rights. 
The state must, through its actions and not just its declarations, support fundamental human rights and the freedom of assembly. It is recommended that representatives of the government be personally present at events like the Pride Parade because in that way they unilaterally demonstrate their support and belief that the event will be secure and without incidents.

Do you think that Montenegro, looking at Western countries, will pass a law allowing same-sex couples to marry?

The government of Montenegro adopted a Strategy for the advancement of the quality of life of LGBT persons on May 9 2013, and in this exceptionally important document is written that which the next five years models will be researched and a law about same-sex partnership passed.
The strategy is on its own a very important document which, apart from protection the LGBT population from homophobia in Montenegro, has to do with many other aspect of the life of LGBT persons such as health, participation in sports, social life, protection, LGBT tourism, and the like. This document shows the undoubted determination of the Montenegro government to commit to the achievement of equality of the LGBT population with the rest of the citizens of Montenegro.
We work daily on tracking the implementation of this document and actively and daily are included in this process. Applying this document is also the answer to your question because applying this law about same-sex partnership is a necessity for which we hopefully will not have to wait too long.

What is the relationship of the media and the LGBT population? 

Since non-heterosexuality and different gender identities are relatively new concepts in Montenegro, the media generally positively portrays all of the initiatives, statements, or information regarding the LGBT community.
These kinds of news are very widely read because the wider Montenegrin public had lived in a relative media vacuum on this topic before LGBT Forum Progress began its work and actualized these themes in Montenegro. At the very beginning, print and online media had difficulty recognizing homophobic statements and broadcast them equally. Now these statements are rare, and speaking of LGBT themes in the media is mostly done professionally.
The fact is that these types of news provoke a great deal of attention and negative comments, but I believe that it is incredibly important that the boards of media in Montenegro are mostly sensible when it comes to the question of LGBT themes.

Where does Montenegro find itself in the area of LGBT rights, in relation to other countries in the region?

This question is a bit difficult to answer because we must look at each country in the region in its own context. These comparisons are mainly based on the quantity, quality, and implementation of laws concerning the protection of the LGBT population such as anti-discrimination laws, laws about hate speech and hate crimes, legal recognition of the gender identity of trans* people, laws about same-sex relationships and the like, the existence of government politics and strategies in the struggle against homophobia in society, and the general opinion of citizens and their acceptance of LGBT persons. This kind of research is done every year in the international organization ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association), which produces its results in the form of a ‘Rainbow Map’. The LGBT Forum Progress is a member of this organization, and Montenegro found itself this year and past years on the list of countries which are thus assessed. A list of the countries is shown on the map in percentages. For the sake of comparison, Great Britain finds itself at the top of the map with 77%. When we speak about a regional context, ahead of Montenegro are only Slovenia and Croatia, while Montenegro with its 27% leads ahead of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Kosovo. Albania also finds itself in a high percentage of 38%, which is the product of tireless work by our activist colleagues in the realm of lawmaking. However, we must make clear that Montenegro would find itself in a better position, given crucial events such as the legislating of the Strategy for the advancement of the quality of life for LGBT persons, suggestions to change and add to the criminal code in the sense of adding sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes, and the holding of the Pride Parade, all occurred after the period of assessment, and that the information collected for the Rainbow Map was done in May 2013. So I may freely say that Montenegro, in its relatively short, three-year history of LGBT activism, has achieved an enviable success in the region.


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