Serbia said Saturday it would not host EuroPride -- a pan-European LGBT event -- next month as the country faced growing problems but the organisers vowed to proceed with the parade.
Despite being one of few nations to have an openly gay prime minister, Serbia's macho society leaves many LGBT people living in fear and prone to physical and emotional abuse.
"The pride parade, however you call that thing, scheduled for September, will be postponed or cancelled," President Aleksandar Vucic told a press conference.
Vucic said Serbia was "pressured with all kinds of problems", underlining recent tensions with its former province Kosovo, but also issues revolving around energy and food.
"Simply, at some point, you can't handle everything. In an another time, a happier one," Vucic said.
EuroPride is a pan-European international event dedicated to LGBT pride, hosted by a different European city each year. It is due to be hosted by Malta - a national first - in 2023.
Organisers struck a defiant note following Vucic's announcement.
"The state cannot cancel EuroPride -- if can only attempt to forbid it, which would be a clear breach of the constitution", EuroPride 2022 coordinator Marko Mihailovic said on Twitter.
"Pride will go ahead as planned on September 17," he added.
Serbia's hosting of EuroPride was "an important step along the path toward achieving equality for the LGBTI+ community in the Western Balkans", the organisers had said earlier.
Holding hands in public remains taboo for same-sex couples in Serbia, where almost 60 percent of LGBT people have reported physical or emotional abuse in the course of a year, according to a survey by human rights organisations IDEAS and GLIC published in 2020.
Violence has trailed every inch of progress for the LGBT community, from hooligan attacks on Belgrade's Pride parades to tense stand-offs with the police over an art exhibit in 2012 that presented images of Jesus among transgender people.
A law to regulate same-sex unions was due to be voted in parliament last year, but Vucic said he could not sign it as the Serbian constitution "defines marriage as a legally regulated union of a man and a woman".
The influential Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) has historically played a key role in shaping public opinion, such as branding the annual Belgrade Pride march "a parade of shame".