This interview with Asja Redžić, assistant mayor of Tuzla City Council in charge of culture, sport, youth and social issues, is part of our series “#ProgressiveLocalStories”, aiming at raising awareness on the many positive initiatives implemented by progressive cities and regions in Europe. Cities and regions have become laboratories for innovative solutions and, with this series, we want to discover how progressive mayors, councillors and presidents of regions put in place policies to promote and protect LGBTIQ rights.
Assistant mayor Redžić, Tuzla is an example when it comes to the promotion and protection of LGBTIQ rights. As a progressive leader, what are your ideas on LGBTIQ rights in your local area and in Europe today?
LGBTIQ people and their rights and freedoms are still on the margins of society when it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked 22nd out of a total of 49 European countries in terms of respect for the human rights of LGBTIQ people, and much remains to be done to improve the existing legal and institutional framework for the protection of human rights. All this affects the general attitude of the public towards the LGBTIQ population, because many citizens believe that other problems in the country should be prioritised over the problems faced by members of the LGBTIQ population. Tuzla is known for its multiculturalism, coexistence, and tolerance. We also take the lead in respecting the rights of LGBTIQ people compared to other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Every local community must create an environment in which all citizens will feel free. In their statements, government officials must acknowledge the rights of their citizens. Public officials have the greatest influence on the public and can create outbursts of hatred with the wrong statements. The homophobia they face when going to public institutions should not happen, especially in the 21st century. The social life of LGBTIQ people is not without fear, and the reality of life is overwhelmed by fear of violence and rejection. It is very important for young members of the LGBTIQ population to know that they are not invisible in their local community and that the mayor and local government employees recognise their struggles and provide them with unreserved support. Words of public support for the LGBTIQ population encourage integration and call for solidarity and understanding. Truth be told, one statement will hardly dispel the accumulated homophobia that has been precipitating in the foundations of our society for years, but taking political initiative is certainly something to start with. Any non-involvement, in fact, can rightly be interpreted as complicity. That is why articulation is important, that is why speaking out is necessary. Selective interpretation of freedom must not become the standard. We develop our local community based on these values and principles.
What concrete measures did you put in place to make your city a place where the rights of LGBTIQ people are fully respected and promoted?
NGOs and youth organizations have a major role to play in the fight for the rights of LGBTIQ people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Tuzla Open Centre (TOC), an LGBTIQ organisation from Tuzla, is one of those organisations and is a member of the Tuzla Youth Council, the umbrella institution for all Tuzla youth organisations. The City of Tuzla is a long-time ally of the Tuzla Open Centre in the fight for a better position for LGBTIQ people in our local community. The Tuzla Open Centre actively participated in the work of the task force assigned to draft a Strategy for Youth project and is one of the first youth associations to join the Youth Council of the City of Tuzla. In order to improve the status of young members of the LGBTIQ population, which is one of the most marginalized and invisible in BiH, the City of Tuzla has incorporated the LGBTIQ youth population as one of the specific categories/marginalised groups of beneficiaries in the Strategy for Youth project in Tuzla. We have also established a local LGBTIQ support network, which is active today and consists of all relevant institutions and organisations. The Strategy for Youth project, presented by the City of Tuzla, was adopted unanimously by the City Council. The Action Plan for Youth, which is an integral part of the Strategy for Youth, envisages the development of a Local Action Plan for the equality of LGBTIQ persons in the City of Tuzla. Through public calls to fund projects by non-governmental organizations, the City of Tuzla also finances projects and events related to the promotion and protection of the rights of LGBTIQ citizens. For many years, we were the only level of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina that supported – and continues to support – projects advocating for rights and raising awareness about the needs of and difficulties faced by LGBTIQ people. Tuzla is the first city in Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign a Cooperation Agreement with the Tuzla Open Centre, a non-governmental organisation that brings members of the LGBTIQ population together and fights for their rights. This agreement was made between the City of Tuzla and the TOC for the purpose of promoting the human rights of LGBTIQ people, through action in three key areas: informing and training staff on the specific position of LGBTIQ people, in order to adopt an appropriate approach to providing services; organising joint, bilateral activities (round tables, conferences, seminars, projects and other initiatives), and directing users to the services offered by the City of Tuzla and the TOC, with mutual support.
Unfortunately, this wonderful and historical news, which was shared on the portal's social networks, was accompanied by and flooded with comments of hate speech and calls for violence. There were also some very positive comments. The City of Tuzla is working to improve the living conditions of LGBTIQ citizens, but there is still a lot of work to be done to create conditions in which all citizens enjoy equal rights.
The European Commission has proposed its first-ever LGBTIQ strategy and the European Parliament has recently declared the EU as an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone. How can the European Union further contribute to advancing equality for LGBTIQ people in the Balkans too and why is this important to your city?
The adoption of the declaration and the proclamation of the EU LGBTIQ Freedom Zone is the right response to the events of the past period and the emergence of discrimination and intolerance towards the LGBTIQ population. European officials must send a clear message that this type of discrimination will not be tolerated. Such occurrences, if not sanctioned in time, can spread to other areas, and the Balkans are a very suitable ground for that. It is necessary for the European Union to support projects in the Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of the LGBTIQ population.
BiH, if truly committed to its European path and the development of democracy and the rule of law, must do much more to improve the existing legal and institutional framework for the protection of the human rights of LGBTIQ persons and to create an inclusive society offering equal opportunities for all its citizens.
Photo credits of header and of photo 3: Facebook / Tuzla Open Centre