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An exhibition of photographs by the Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, part of Belgrade’s Pride Week, opened on Wednesday accompanied by a 2,000 strong police presence.
|Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin's version of Pieta | Photo: Nemanja Cabric|
The exhibition of 12 photographs, which depicts scenes from the New Testament, and shows Christ wearing women’s clothes and surrounded by gays, lesbians, HIV positive persons and transsexuals, was deemed to be such a security risk that some 2,000 police officers wearing riot gear blocked off several streets around the Centre for Cultural Decontamination, CKZD.
One of the organizers of Belgrade’s Pride Week, Boban Stojanovic, commented on the controversy that the exhibition had caused among the religious communities – principally Serbian Orthodox Church members and the Islamic community – by arguing that the exhibition takes religion back to its origins.
“It is interesting that the artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is both a lesbian, and a believer, and made these photos as a public expression of both of those identities“, said Stojanovic for Balkan Insight.
He added that the point of the exhibition is to ask a question – whether religion and Christ gave us the right to hate others, “especially given that Christ always protected those that were outcasts“.
|The opening of the exhibition at CZKD | Photo by Nemanja Cabric|
Opening the exhibition, the director of the Center for Cultural Decontamination, Borka Pavicevic, said that the exhibition is only blasphemous for those that choose to look at it as such.
“Discussions about blasphemy surrounding depictions of Christ are as old as Christianity itself,” Pavicevic said.
Commenting on the open letter that was written to the Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, by the leader of the Serbian Ortodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, she said that the patriarch's call for the exhibition to be banned were directed only at believers, and should not be allowed to influence the choices of “secular, lay and agnostic people.“
“His statements are deeply offensive, and support homophobia, “ said Stojanovic.
The Serbian Meshihat of the Islamic Community joined the calls by the Serbian Patriarch and the far right political movement Dveri to cancel the exhibition, because it presents a bad role model for believers.
“It is neither art nor freedom of speech, because it is consciously insults faith and believers. Muslims are just as offended by this sacrilegious representation of Jesus, as with sacrilegious representations of Muhammad the blessed“, thestatement reads.
|Participants of the protest by the Dveri movement | Photo: Nemanja Cabric|
A few members of the far right movement Dveri staged their own protest in front of the police cordon that was guarding the entrance to the street where the exhibition was held.
They laid a red tape in front of the police, and asked people to come to the other side of the tape because “a crime is being committed on the other side“.
The president of Dveri, Vladan Glisic, said that the exhibition is “a crime that inspires national, racial and religious hatred and intolerance“, and announced that his movement would file charges against the Pride organizers, the management of the CZKD, and also Prime Minister Dacic.
“We will file charges against Borka Pavicevic, Goran Miletic and Boban Stojanovicat once... If we find that there are illegalities in the way that Dacic made this exhibition possible, then we will sue him too“, he promised a meeting of his supporters.
He also reminded the gathering that the exhibition by the Swedish author was banned in 1999 by the European parliament.
“The exhibition was banned in the EU parliament as antichristian and our government, which is rushing headlong into the EU insults the religious feelings of citizens by allowing it“, said Bosko Obradovic, one of the representatives of Dveri.
There were also several groups of people wearing crosses and singing religious songs in front of the police gates.
The exhibition in the CKZD was due to last just one day, and will not be open for visitors after Wednesday.
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