A Serbian man who was bashed in a homophobic incident has forgiven his attackers, telling local media he “believes there is good in people”.
Ilija Vucevic, 39, was in a restaurant in Belgrade with his wife earlier this month when he said he was attacked by two men who believed he was gay because he was carrying a pink transporter dog bag. He lost three teeth in the attack and suffered cuts and bruises.
In a Facebook post, Vucevic shared photos of his injuries and described the incident as “brutal”. He said he was “proud” to be mistaken as gay.
His attackers, 26-year-old Stojan Katanić and 26-year-old Nikola Jovović, handed themselves into police and received suspended sentences. Vucevic told local media he has forgiven them and said he was glad they weren’t given prison sentences.
“I truly believe there is good in people, I always start from that,” he said. “We sat down at the table, held out our hands, listened to both sides and tried to resolve this conflict in the best possible way.
“I don’t want anyone in prison, especially not them, and after getting to know them now I’m even more certain, because if they had been given a more rigorous sentence, they might have gotten out of all this in a worse state than I did. They would not come out of prison as functional members of this society, and I therefore hope that they will draw important lessons from all this.”
According to local media, Katanic and Jovovic used homophobic slurs during the attack and only stopped when Vucevic’s wife showed them her wedding ring. But they denied assaulting Vucevic because they thought he was gay and claimed they thought he had cut in line.
Despite having an openly gay Prime Minister, homophobia is widespread in Serbia. A 2015 survey by the National Democratic Institute revealed 23 per cent of LGBTI people in Serbia have suffered physical violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the Equal Rights Association, 38 per cent of the Serbian population believe homosexuality is a disease, 48 per cent of parents would seek medical treatment for their LGBT child, and 90 per cent oppose allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
In September, thousands took part in Belgrade Pride, marching under the slogan, “I’m not giving up.”