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Swede's Jesus pics fuel Serb gay pride fury

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15:08 CEST+02:00
An exhibit of a Swedish artist's controversial photographs depicting Jesus surrounded by gay men has prompted calls to ban a gay pride festival in Serbia where Swedish Minister for European Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson is scheduled to speak.

The leader of Serbia's Orthodox Church on Wednesday demanded that Prime Minister Ivica Dacic ban a gay pride parade in Belgrade, dubbing it a "parade of shame".

The event planned for Saturday cast "a heavy moral shadow on our town, our centuries-long Christian culture and the dignity of our family, as the foundation block of humankind," Patriarch Irinej wrote in an open letter to Dacic.

But Dacic faced pressure from another direction, as Sweden announced that its European affairs minister would be the key speaker at the parade in an "act of solidarity" for the event.

Patriarch Irinej said he had written on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its followers who represented the "dominant majority in Serbia".

"I never thought that I would be forced again this year to... demand the banning of the event with the tragicomic name of 'pride parade' which is really a 'parade of shame'," he added in the letter published on the church's website.

The patriarch also demanded that Dacic take steps to stop an exhibition of photographs by Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin which he called "deeply-insulting" and as provocative of Serbs as images of Muhammad are for Muslims.

"If things are to be shown that associate Jesus with homosexuals, I can't see how it can happen peacefully," he said earlier this week, according to the Metro newspaper.

The exhibition, organized as part of Belgrade Pride Week, features photos portraying Jesus among homosexuals, transsexual people and people with AIDS.

It was due to open later on Wednesday and local media said extremist groups had threatened to target the show.

The photographs, part of Ohlson Wallin's "Ecco Homo" installation, depict a number of modern interpretations of biblical scenes.

It was first shown in Stockholm in 1998, prompting a fierce debate about freedom of expression.

Last year's parade was banned after authorities said ultra-nationalists were planning violent riots and that the security risk was too high.

The far-right groups and other extremist organizations had also used graffiti and Internet messages on hacked sites to threaten this year's event.

However, pressure mounted on Dacic from other side too, as Sweden announced that its Minister for European Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson would be the main speaker at the gay parade.

During her visit to Serbia -- a candidate for EU membership, Ohlsson is also expected to meet government officials to discuss the Balkan state's EU integration and the situation of minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Roma communities, the Swedish embassy in Belgrade said in a statement.

"My presence and speech at the gay pride in Belgrade is an act of solidarity," the statement quoted Ohlsson as saying.

"It is unacceptable that people be persecuted and tormented because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Gay pride parades are a litmus test if a state respects human rights principles," she said.

In 2010, Serbia held its first gay pride parade in a decade but violent riots followed. More than 150 people, mostly police officers, were wounded in clashes between security forces and ultra-nationalists and hooligans.

AFP/The Local

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