I've been reflecting on my last few days here in Belgrade, Serbia. I have been working for sometime with the LDP (Liberal Democrat Party of Serbia) for a few years now and we have been concentrating on human rights and LGBT issues. And some of that work culminated this weekend with Pride.

In addition we laid our plans for the next stage of our programme which is to start to look across the whole of Serbia and not just Belgrade.

 

But I wanted to draw together some thoughts about Pride and about Serbia and my experience. The first is that Pride was peaceful and went well - the atmosphere was fun, positive and it felt like a very cheerful event.

As someone who was staying right on the route of the parade, the scale of security needed and indeed presented seemed massively excessive. But when you realise just how violent protests have been in the past then it makes sense. I saw two lads who were jeering when rainbow flags were being out on lamp-posts (at 7am) and they were moved on very quickly, it was especially good to see police protecting the nightclub Pleasure. But to have riot police, helicopters, drones, snipers (I think), roof-top observers - they you have to questions it all.

Afterwards I have heard that 54 arrests were made of possible far right protesters. This was not that trouble occurred, but that a number of known trouble makers were picked up by the police in advance to ensure that they didn't cause trouble - the expectation was they they would be held over and released without charge... Not sure what I think about that in all honesty.

The other element of the policing and the scale of the cordon was that essentially the parade took place in isolation - I'm used to London and other prides when you have hundred and indeed thousands of people watching, cheering. That element still feels like a long way off and certainly won't happen whilst the policing is necessary.

However, the otherside of things was that for the first time, in a way that felt tangible the authorities (city and national) were helpful and didn't obstruct matters. the Leader of the LDP Cedomir Jovanovic was there (he usually attends) and the Mayor of Belgrade, Sinisa Mali, was there (quite low profile). But also the Mayor's office made available a truck that meant there was a parade focus and also music could be played which gave it cohesion and a real carnival and parade atmosphere.

The other element was the formal involvement of the international community. Due to problems in the past, there is a very real role for international observers and for embassy and consular staff. I should add that I don't consider myself to be an international observer, I'm just a trainer from a sister political party here in Serbia - but the presence of the international community and their pressure helps to move towards normalisation of this sort of event.

So - what to conclude - everyone who was there thought it was great, special, better than usual. Indeed being the second peaceful uninterrupted Pride is significant and helps to move things forward. The volunteer team were just brilliant with stewarding and preparations and the Pride Committee have done a great job in laying the ground.

For my little part of the jigsaw I saw, I marched, I live tweeted and tried to show the world that watches me back in the UK and elsewhere that this was an event that they could be proud of and be interested in. I return to the UK pleased at having been here, more appreciative of the freedoms I enjoy, but a slightly heavy heart that such protections are needed at all. For my friends who are here in Serbia, I leave them with my most heartfelt love and affection, I urge them to continue in their work and their advocacy - they are fighting to be treated equally, not for any special rights or favours. They deserve our respect, our support and our love.