Prague Pride festival silences detractors, promises reprise next year

Photo: Anne-Claire Veluire

Prague’s first gay pride parade passed off largely without incident on Saturday, the highlight of a five-day ‘festival of tolerance’ held in the Czech capital. Up to seven thousand gays and lesbians marched through the city centre to an outdoor music festival, with only minor disruption from far-right demonstrators. The event, dubbed Prague Pride, had been overshadowed by a heated political debate over homosexuality and tolerance in the Czech Republic.

Photo: Anne-Claire Veluire
A colourful, flamboyant, noisy parade made its way through the streets of Prague on Saturday, the sea of rainbow flags and people of all ages and sexual persuasions easily drowning out any voices of protest. At one point transsexuals dancing on a flat-bed truck blew kisses at a small group of far-right skinheads, who could do nothing but shake their fists in anger.

For these marchers the event was a celebration, and not a political demonstration:

“Why’ve we come here? We’ve come to celebrate life. We’ve come to celebrate tolerance, for everyone.”

Photo: Anne-Claire Veluire
“As my friend says, to celebrate tolerance, and to have fun.”

“...and to have a good time, that’s why we’re here.”

“...to have a good time, support love, life and tolerance, that’s all we can say.”

Is it mostly about tolerance, or are you also here to make a serious political point?

“I think we’re past the political statements. They are important, and they have been in the past, and that’s why we can be free and celebrate what we are celebrating today. Yes, of course, there should be political expression for everyone. That’s freedom no? And liberty.”

“We live in democracy, so we need tolerance, love and support of all people, and we are human beings.”

Prague Pride – the capital’s first gay pride event – might have passed off almost without notice had it not been for the comments of Petr Hájek, senior adviser to the country’s conservative president, Václav Klaus. Around a week before the festival began, Mr Hájek railed against the official support given to the event by the city council, and described gay people as deviants, kicking off an at-times acrimonious debate over tolerance and deviancy. Czeslaw Walek is the festival’s director:

“Look from the beginning we decided as a team that Prague Pride is basically a non-partisan, non-political activity. So as such we don’t want to get very deeply into the political discourse. For me personally, the statements of Mr Hájek are marginal, and I think that people should come to Prague Pride to see that we are not a bunch of ‘deviants’, we are basically a bunch of people who want to have fun and get to know each other better.”

Photo: Anne-Claire Veluire
A group of 13 foreign ambassadors later responded by signing an open letter supporting Prague Pride, a response that was swiftly condemned by President Václav Klaus as interference in his country’s domestic affairs. He said he fully identified with his adviser’s comments, explaining that he was opposed not to homosexuality per se but homosexualism, a word that left some people scrambling for a dictionary.

Indeed the debate over Prague Pride did at times seem comically semantic; at one point in his defence of Mr Hájek the president claimed the word ‘deviancy’ was neutral. But despite the heated debate, the event will be deemed a success, and organisers are already talking about a repeat next year.