While having rocks thrown and jeers aimed at her was not on her summer agenda, master’s student Anna Kirey experienced both when interning in Croatia. Kirey marched in the country’s first Gay Pride Parade, held in the city of Split. About 200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and allies marched in the parade, which about 8,000 people came to watch. Observers included both supporters and protesters, with some of the protesters throwing tear gas at the marchers in the June 11 parade.
Kirey helped organize the event as part of a two-week internship from late May through early June with an LGBT and feminist organization in Croatia. She said despite the violence that occurred during the march, she sees it as an important step for LGBT rights in the country and the European Union (EU) as a whole. Croatia was just accepted to join the EU the day before the march.
“Even though it was scary, I can see how much it pushed the LGBT movement further, just by this one march,” she said.
Kirey was not harmed during the march, but many participators were injured. About 600 police officers were present to help maintain order at the event, which was cut short early due to the violence. Kirey said other marchers and she waited about two hours while the parade was canceled and safely cleared out, then police escorted them to a women’s organization’s headquarters in the city.
Kirey said many locals in Split did not attend the parade due to the anticipated violence, but that she learned the importance of working with police in these situations to keep people from being harmed. She also said the event taught her about what can happen, despite resistance, when people and countries are supportive of social movements.
“It was a good experience for me to see what is possible when the political context is ripe enough to support this kind of controversy,” Kirey said.
After helping to plan and participate in Split’s Pride event, Kirey spent two weeks interning with another LGBT organization in Belgrade, Serbia, where she focused on fundraising and research, and helped develop a strategic 2011-2013 work plan for LGBT efforts in the country.
When her separate, two-week internships in Croatia and Serbia finished, Kirey traveled to other countries, including Romania, Ukraine and Turkey. She attended Turkey’s Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul on June 26, which she said was much calmer and less violent than Croatia’s parade. Kirey said Turkey’s history of having the event, which celebrated its 19th anniversary this year, and culture of having more parades overall likely contributed to the march’s peacefulness. Thousands of people marched in the Istanbul parade.
Kirey said her experiences in the different countries this summer made her believe that despite the challenges and stigma LGBT populations and organizations face, Europe and the EU are supporting the movement for rights.
“There is definite political will to advance things and the EU has commitments to improve the situation of LGBT people.”
Kirey said some people’s resistance to LGBT rights in Croatia and other European countries is not just a concern there but also in the U.S. She mentioned the recent bill in N.C.—that proposes a state constitutional amendment to ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, and also not recognize non-legal marriages and benefits for some opposite-sex couples—as an example of domestic LGBT rights issues.
As a second-year M.A. student in Russian and East European studies at UNC, Kirey said she would like to work with human rights organizations, focusing on LGBT rights, or funders that support these and women’s issues in the future.
While at the Split parade, Kirey ultimately saw support for LGBT rights is present, as people from surrounding Balkan countries also came to the event to show their support. Even a Dutch Member of European Parliament who was pregnant, Marije Cornelissen, participated and gave a speech at Split’s Pride parade.
“I loved her courage,” Kirey said, “I was so amazed she could do it.”
Anna Kirey is a second-year master of arts student in Russian and East European Studies from Nikolaev, Ukraine, and works at UNC's Center for Slavic, Eurasian & East European Studies. She received funding to intern in Croatia and Serbia through the Center for Global Initiatives' C.V. Starr Scholarships. To learn more about this and other funding opportunities through the center, please visit the website's Awards and Fellowships section.
The Center for Global Initiatives also is hosting the annual Visualizing Human Rights conference on Saturday, November 5. Tickets are free and open to everyone. To learn more about and register for this conference, please visit its page on the website.