Serbia's growing drag scene has its own flavor

Serbia's strongly masculine culture has traditionally oppressed LGBT+ expression, but the community has embraced self-expression, nonetheless. Especially in the form of the drag queen (and king) scene, which has boomed in recent years. 

Editorial Team
Jessica Sirotin NewsMavens, Europe
Serbia's growing drag scene has its own flavor - NewsMavens
Boka, drag queen from Belgrade, Youtube

Why this story matters:

Popularized by RuPaul's Drag Race, drag -- a visual art form that plays with gender, sexuality and power -- has grown in popularity in the West in recent years. But the drag scene has grown elsewhere as well, including highly conservative countries like Serbia. 

Local Serbian performers have noticed the rise in numbers. According to Dekadenca, a drag queen from Belgrade of "dubious age" -- “All of these kids have popped up on the scene.” But as Dekadenca points out the drag scene in Serbia has its own flavor and aesthetics 

“It is inspired by some Western culture, but we don’t have a history of drag in our Balkan culture as performance art, so it is really quite new,” she says. “It is not like [contemporary] drag in the US, where it has been around for the last 30 or 40 years.”

Modern drag is typically associated with the LGBTQ+ community, modern drag mostly contains drag queens: usually gay men adopting female personas who then perform lip syncs, dances or skits in front of an audience.

But there are also women who are increasingly getting involved in drag as well and their numbers are growing. 

Serbian feminist actress and teacher Zoe Gudovic performs regularly as a drag king named Zed Zeldic Zed. He has a dark moustache and a nasty tongue. “I like, in this life, to provoke,” Gudovic, 41, a lesbian “art activist” says.

One of the very few drag kings performing in Serbia, and in the Balkans in general, Gudovic sets out to shock: “Zed is very dominant, macho, kind of an asshole,” Gudovic says. “He is an ordinary Balkan guy. He thinks he is allowed to do anything. He can pee on you, spit on you, tell you ugly words without any consequence. Zed thinks women are made for men. In that sense, he is not so different from any other man.”

The growth of the drag scene while inspiring, is still not a sign that the LGBTQ+ community is fully accepted by Serbian society.

“The LGBTQ+ group here is one of the really marginalized groups,” said Marko Milosavljevic, 27, a programming assistant at the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, an NGO dedicated to reporting on human rights violations and campaigning for fair laws.

Details from the story:

  • In 2001, the first Belgrade Pride parade ended in violence. Subsequent attempts to stage parade resulted in cancellations and riots.
  • 2009 marked a change of policy. For the first time, the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination in Serbia included language that protected people from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • In 2014, the first Pride parade without homophobic incidents took place in Serbia. Ever since, the parades have been peaceful, albeit with heavy security.
  • In 2017, there was a boom in the drag scene. Now we have over 20 queens,” said Mihailovic, who follows the scene.
  • The performers have noticed the rise in numbers, too. “All of these kids have popped up on the scene,” says Dekadenca, a drag queen in Belgrade of “dubious age”.
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