Bratislava had its fourth gay pride parade this weekend. It started with a rally in Hviezdoslavovo Square, in the Old Town, where some people got up and spoke and then sang to some annoying, pumping euro-disco. Once the parade got going, it snaked its way through a cluster of streets between the historical center and the river.
Attendance was estimated at around 1,000. Organizers were apparently expecting 2,000, but said that this weekend's intermittently rainy weather may have kept some away. This may seem like a staggeringly low number in this day and age, but remember that Slovakia is one of the most conservative and catholic countries in Europe, and its record on human rights and diversity is spotty, at best. Equal rights for the LGBT community are probably a long ways off here, so the fact that there were even 1,000 people (presumably from all around the country, not just Bratislava) is a promising step.
There were quite a number of hetero couples there to lend support, as well, which was nice to see. And I have never seen so many hip, alternative sub-culture types in one spot in this country, ever. I saw a number of goth/industrial types, and plenty of artsy hipsters with sideways haircuts - the kinds of people who are, sadly, way too elusive in this city on a typical day. Of course the parade was extremely tame by San Francisco standards, but that's to be expected in a country like this.
Security was super tight. The kick-off rally in Hviezdoslavovo was barricaded off from every possible entrance, with hordes of police everywhere - on every street and every corner. I even saw a cop going around with what appeared to be a bomb-sniffing dog. You could only enter the rally from one end, and everyone was asked their reason for going in and whether they had any weapons or bottles on them before being let through the barricades. The parade was led by a team of cops in full riot gear.
This may seem extreme, but there have been incidents at past parades where lunkheaded homophobes threw smoke bombs and rocks into the crowd. In 2010 the parade was actually re-routed and drastically shortened because of the presence of these totally-insecure-with-their-manhood, violence-prone thugs. I saw zero presence of homophobes this year, and if there were any lurking around they would've had difficulty getting through the extremely wide, heavily fortified buffer zone. Thankfully, no major incidents were reported.
You could occasionally see people looking out from their apartment windows above the streets and waving to the crowd in support.
Bratislava's mayor, Milan Ftáčnik, has been a vocal gay-rights advocate, and he made a point of marching in this year's parade (I actually saw him walking with the US ambassador). It's not all that common for politicians in this country openly support LGBT rights, so this was a nice gesture on his part. A whole bunch of enlightened embassies in Bratislava signed a joint document of support for the event as well.
At any rate, the atmosphere was positive and upbeat. People were pretty excited, albeit still kind of in that sort of dampened, low-key way that seems to be typical of Slovaks.