Monday, November 15, 2010

(Gay) Ljubav/Love, Hiding or not, in Belgrade

Last year I arrived in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, just in time for a canceled gay parade. The timing was coincidence -- I was going to visit cousins. The ad campaign for this non-event was, as they say in Britain, brilliant. It was also appropriate for an event that never was.

The campaign, as far as I saw, was four variations on one theme: The word "love", in Serbian (also known as Croatian or Bosnian) and in English, in a red-and-white or blue-and-white field (see top photo of my friend Jeff and me at the airport in front of the blue English version). The posters were in mechanical displays, so a red version would alternate with a blue one (see middle photo of this transition).

The graphic was in the style of 1960s and 1970s op art: Now you see the word, now you don't. Same-gender love is and isn't visible. It is and isn't emerging.

These posters worked on multiple levels and they derived their power from embracing the ambivalence they question. The message is so tender and soft that, once you realize its meaning, it's almost revolutionary. "Recognize me? Recognize me!" So revolutionary that the authorities refused to allow the parade to go forward. Various people, ranging from members of the Serbian Orthodox church, to soccer hooligans (no offense to my soccer-loving cousins), to right-wing political parties, threatened violence. The government, either honestly assessing the situation or in collusion with opponents, said that the parade goers' safety couldn't be guaranteed.

In 2010, the parade was allowed, there was protest against it, and the government intervened (on the correct side). Sometimes there is progress.

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