Boban Stojanović is an admirable Human Rights advocate. He has dedicated his life to working for gender equality, non-violent social change, tolerance and democratic freedom for all members of Serbian society. In last several years Boban's primary advocacy focus has shifted to LGBT civil rights, as Serbia’s LGBT community daily confronts intense discrimination and violent opposition.
Born in the small eastern Serbian town of Zajecar, Boban was exposed to the brutalities of domestic violence from an early age. Consequently, even in his youth, Boban worked with local NGOs toward eradicating violence against women. Growing-up in a dissolving Yugoslavia, Boban witnessed the emergence of aggressive misogyny and oppressively heteronormative nationalism in Serbia. As this escalating xenophobia gave way to the persecution of Serbia’s increasingly marginalized populations, Boban worked in Zajecar’s swelling refugee camps, teaching non-violent conflict resolution strategies and basic literacy to Roma children from Kosovo. Despite the fact that his outspoken advocacy posed a mounting threat to his personal safety, Boban frequently used local television and radio to promote human and civil rights and to advocate non-violence and inter-ethnic tolerance.
As war became an inevitable reality in Yugoslavia, Boban reached the age of mandatory military conscription. Openly refused military service, Boban joined Belgrade’s emerging anti-war movement and promoted the Rights of Conscientious Objection. He found a home within Serbia’s feminist, anti-militarist activists, Women in Black. His public opposition to military service and participation in Women in Black’s controversial public actions made him a popular target for mass media ridicule and frequent public intimidation. Still, Boban’s commitment was not shaken.
In the immediate post-war period, Boban assisted Women in Black ‘s efforts toward regional peace-building, social repair and post-war accountability. Once the most pressing issues of the war’s aftermath began to subside, Boban turned his attention to LGBT civil rights. Though public attitudes toward homosexuality in the Balkans had always been oppressive – treated at best as a pitied disease, and more often as a deviant perversion – Serbia’s post-war milieu of residual nationalism and aggressive misogyny fostered a vehemently unrestrained homophobia. As Serbia’s LGBT community faced persecution in this openly hostile toxic atmosphere, Boban drew upon his wealth of activist experience. As one of Serbia’s very few publically declared LGBT persons, he has once again proven a prominent oppositional presence in Serbian media and civil society.
In 2005, Boban founded the Queeria Centre for promoting a Culture of Nonviolence and Equality. Beyond public advocacy for LGBT civil rights in Serbia, Queeria Center engages youth in tolerance education programs and promotes public education about LGBT issues. Through creative popular culture campaigns, such as their annual calendar which uses images of well-known people from throughout the former Yugoslavia to advocate LGBT rights Queeria Center works toward greater tolerance. Further, during the last year, Boban has promoted Serbia’s Antidiscrimination Law, organised Belgrade’s LGBT Pride parade and advocated for Serbia’s public and official recognition of culpability for the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide. After intense debate and fierce opposition, Serbia’s Parliament passed the Antidiscrimination Law, soon followed by the equally contentious Declaration for Srebrenica. Boban’s advocacy played an important role in both processes.
Still, Boban’s commitment sometimes exacts a great cost. He is still the frequent subject of public defamation and private intimidation. Serbian nationalist organizations have published his address and phone number on social networking sites, and he often receives harassing phone calls in the wee hours of the morning. Boban’s house has been repeatedly vandalized with homophobic and nationalist graffiti, accompanied by images of war criminal Radovan Karadzic. He has even been physically attacked several times, most brutally in 2004 in Belgrade’s city centre as police stood-by. In the last year, these threats have only intensified.
During the Parliamentary debates on the Antidiscrimination Law, nationalist posters in 13 cities used Boban’s face to weaken support for the law and delegitimize the LGBT rights struggle. International pressure to censure the offenders motivated some Serbian politicians to act, but Serbia’s Public Prosecutor soon closed the case. The reluctance to strike back at fascism in a meaningful way speaks to the continued strangle-hold that radical movements have on Serbian society, a point exemplified by Belgrade’s 2009 LGBT Pride Parade.
As a primary organizer of 2009’s Parade, Boban received multiple death threats. One of Serbia’s notoriously aggressive nationalist groups created a “shoot to kill” video game with Boban’s likeness as the target, and maximum points earned by shots to his head. As date of the parade drew closer, threats to the safety of all participants intensified. Despite initial support from the Serbian government, and a groundswell of support from civil society, on the eve of the parade, as nationalist thugs patrolled Belgrade’s streets, the Serbian government cancelled the event, claiming that police did not have the power to protect the demonstrators. That night, a group of fascist hooligans staged an intimidating demonstration outside Boban’s apartment.
Yet, even while nationalist thugs and publically respected politicians have attempted to silence him, Boban stands strong. He seems at his best in situations that would make a most people’s knees shake with fear. His steadfast and calm commitment in the face of intimidation and violence make Boban a highly effective activist. His unwavering commitment make him an inspirational role model, infusing others with the strength to act toward a more just and equitable world. His perseverance and staunch dedication afford him a place among the most fervent defenders of LGBT civil rights and broader human rights in the region and the world.
Boban Stojanović is a powerful presence in Serbia, often at great personal peril and dear cost. He is fully committed to eradicating injustice, and his life has been an exemplary enactment of this commitment. His accomplishments as a true Human Rights defender are all the more pronounced when one considers that he is still just 33 years old! Boban is truly deserving of this award. His perseverance of non-violent advocacy and his devotion to the protection of human rights prove that Boban is truly a person worthy of recognition.
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