Czech capital stages first gay pride parade and festival

Organizers of Prague's first gay festival and gay pride march have expressed their hopes for the five-day event.

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Organizers of the first ever gay pride parade and festival in the Czech capital have spoken about their hopes and fears for the five-day Prague event.

Prague Pride 2011, a program of concerts, sports events, theatre and seminars across the city with a carnival-style march through the historic center, will be the most ambitious event of its kind if organizers’ expectations are met.

 “We are hoping for about 1,500 people on the march and for 5,000 for the main concert, but if we get 4,000 we will not hang ourselves,” chairman of the organizing committee of Prague Pride 2011, Czeslaw Walek, told Czech Position.

All major gay pride events in the Czech Republic have been subject to attack or counter demonstrations.

He underlined that the number of participants was not the main or only criteria of success. “We want to show that we are a colorful group that can contribute to society. We want to show off our sexual and gender identity and have some kind of celebration of tolerance and diversity,” Walek added at a news conference on Thursday outlining the event taking place from August 10-14.

But in spite of the high hopes of success shared by organizers, the event is also overshadowed by the threat of violence.

All major gay pride events in the Czech Republic have been subject to attack or counter demonstrations from extreme right-wing groups since the first major event staged in the Czech Republic’s second city, Brno, in 2008.

Around 150 extremists showed up for that event with tear gas being thrown at the gay, lesbian and trans-gender marchers during the main parade. As a result, the march which had to be cut short. Police arrested 15 people and said that the violence would have been much worse if it had not been for the 450 officers deployed for the event.

Around 150 members of the now disbanded Workers’ Party, a small Czech neo-Nazi movement, met in the small central town of Tábor, a year later with the aim of disrupting the event. Last year in Brno a massive police presence of around 600, together with helicopters and mounted police, was on show to counter the around 150 far-right extremists who turned up. The police presence almost matched that of the gay pride participants. Six extremists were detained following sporadic clashes.

“Last year in Brno was quite peaceful,” said Walek, adding that another small gay pride action in the western spa town of Karlovy Vary timed to coincide with the international film festival in 2000 also passed off without any major problems.

“We are working closely with the police and have a set of rules for participants,” he continued, adding that these include instructions not to respond to any violence but to report it to police and organizers to prevent a free for all.

'There was never a feeling that there was a need for this or which kicked this off before.'

Walek, who originally comes from near the Czech-Polish border but now lives in Prague, is at a bit of a loss to explain why a gay pride event was so slow to be staged in the Czech capital. “Life for gays and lesbians is pretty okay in Prague. There is an active scene and clubs. There was never a feeling that there was a need for this or which kicked this off before,” he explained. “I am sure Brno is similar, but the scene is a bit more modest than in Prague,” he added.

The last gay pride event in Brno was also accompanied by a march by young members of the Christian Democrat party (KDU- ČSL) in support of family values and against same sex couples being given the right to adopt children.

The Czech Republic was one of the first countries in Central Europe to allow state registered single sex partnerships, or so-called gay marriages, but stopped at allowing adoption by such couples in spite of calls by gay activists for this to be permitted.

The KDU- ČSL is traditionally stronger in the eastern region of Moravia compared with Bohemia.

Basically, Walek says there was just not the organizational impetus to get the event going until now. That impetus appears to have been considerable judged by the range of events that have been prepared, including dance and thematic parties in many Prague bars, steamboat trip, picnics and a children’s day.

One of the guests of honor at Prague Pride 2011 will be 1980’s Scottish pop star and gay rights activist Jimmy Sommerville, of Bronski Beat and The Communards fame, as well as other international and Czech performers.