Sarajevo banners highlight new hate in an emblematic city

As people around the world took part in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia yesterday, football supporters at the Sarajevo derby showed why human rights groups have raised concerns about attacks on the LGBT community in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

One half of a curve of the Kosevo stadium, also known as the Olympic Stadium Asim Ferhatovic-Hase, was dominated by a banner on Saturday (May 16) which read, "May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and in honor of your holiday tomorrow we want you to suck our dicks".

Images of the match showed a large presence of stewards and police, none of whom appeared to challenge the display.

‘Love for a team through hate’
Local news portal trafika.ba described the scene: "Streets across the city were filled with singing fans alongside tourists from around the world, bars and restaurants were teeming. Sarajevo presented an ideal spring picture, a time for everyone to celebrate.

"This image was cut short by the appearance of a huge banner in the stands of the Kosevo stadium with homophobic insults towards the gay population. The banner was of enormous proportions and required several hundred fans to hold it. Their love for their team expressed through messages of hate and intolerance."

The Sarajevo derby is played between FK Zeljeznicar and FK Sarajevo and is considered one of the most passionate sporting occasions in the Balkans. The city of Sarajevo has become a symbol of renaissance in a troubled region as it overcomes ethnic division and conflict, highlighted by the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1996 during the Bosnian War.

Worst act of homophobia
The Executive Director of the Fare network, Piara Powar, said, "This choreography was one of the worst displays of homophobia we have seen this season, which may be a source of pride for the people responsible for it but it may also mark a watershed moment.

"The rules of football are clear, acts of discrimination are to be challenged and sanctioned, we will be contacting the Bosnian FA and the Bosnian government asking them to do just that.

"National sporting events cannot be the means of spreading hate; the people of Sarajevo know that better than most others.

"In the meantime, we stand alongside the victims of this act, the LGBT community in Bosnia, in defying hatred and calling for tolerance and inclusion."

Homophobia in Bosnia
Several reports have called for greater action to tackle homophobia in BiH. In 2013 ILGA (the International Lesbian and Gay Association) said, "Experiences of homophobia and transphobia remain very common in Bosnia and Herzegovina with limited or no action taken by authorities to address such discrimination, harassment or violence."

In 2014 and 2015 members of the LGBT community were subject to physical attacks and outed as part of a series of unchallenged acts of hate. The US embassy and Human Rights Watch expressed their concerns at such crimes and urged action by the government.

The US embassy made its contribution to IDAHOT by lighting up its embassy in the colours of the rainbow flag for the third year. It has previously said "the LGBT community in BiH continues to be a marginalised and almost invisible group".

Trafika.ba summed up their article and the sentiments of many by saying, "We are aware of the power of football when it comes to sending positive messages, creating powerful gatherings or creating disharmony, for that reason the appearance of hate messages on football stands has huge significance."

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