On 19-23 October 2023, IGLYO's Annual Members' Conference Podgorica 2023 will gather over 70 young LGBTQI activists from across the Council of Europe Region for a 4-day programme, including joining the Montenegrin Pride March. On this occasion, IGLYO's Communications & Network Manager Jeremy met with three local young activists to understand what queer youth activism in Montenegro looks like. Here's the portrait of Enes Pucurica (he/him), 28 years old, Project Coordinator at IGLYO's Member Organisation and AMC co-organiser Queer Montenegro.
The sense of community; this is what matters most to Enes Pucurica. To this 28-year-old queer activist with a background in architecture and language education, and a passion for writing poetry, languages, and psychology, everything will always work out as long as we come together as a community, even if we do not always agree on everything. And this is essentially what Enes has always strived to do through his activism over the years: Contributing to building a close-knit community for marginalised identities in Montenegro.
Enes works as Project Coordinator for our Member Queer Montenegro, the local host of our upcoming Annual Members’ Conference Podgorica 2023. Founded in 2013, Queer Montenegro started from a small self-organised group of activists and grew over the years into one of the country’s lead organisations for LGBTQIA+ rights in general. Legal aid, free psychological support, advocacy, organisation of queer culture activities; these are all part of the organisation’s everyday activities. However, just like for Enes, what matters most to them is being present for the people of our community and allowing them to be their authentic selves.
Before joining an organisation, Enes engaged in activism on an individual basis. “The start of my activism is the typical story that goes from discovering who you are, fighting for yourself at first, and trying to survive and bloom in the harsh environment we live in.” Already from his first day of primary school, Enes understood that things would not be easy for him and that he would need to stand up for himself and for others. From then on, his inclination towards activism started to develop, and it kept on growing in his high school and university years.
In his early twenties, while working as an English teacher and studying in Turkey, most of the classes he gave were about activism. At that time, he was focused not only on LGBTQI activism but also women’s rights and other marginalised groups, addressing topics such as mental health, abortion, surrogacy, STIs, and so on. “At that time I realised this is something I can actually do really well: Fighting for myself and other people, and amplifying their voices to make society hear them.”
Joining Queer Montenegro after years of doing activism on a more individual basis gave Enes more space and manoeuvre in his activism, allowing him to expand his network of people and organisations working towards the same goal. “Before, I didn’t have a lot of queer people around me. The connections I created with the community allowed me to bring the best out of myself, to express myself the way I want to without being judged, and to contribute to creating a community where everyone is accepted.”
Reflecting on LGBTQI rights in Montenegro, Enes feels that the situation has been experiencing ups and downs in recent years. At the moment, he has the impression that the status quo is more open, more accepting than it was before. “I see more and more LGBTQI people walking freely in the city or sitting in a café without being bothered.”
This being said, Enes knows that not all queer people in the local community can enjoy this amount of freedom. “It’s mostly about how people feel empowered to be open in their own circles. A lot of queer people are still in the closet because they are scared to be rejected by their families, end up in the street, or lose their job.” For instance, he and his team just witnessed a case of a psychologist suffering mental and physical violence because of mere assumptions about their sexual orientation.
When it comes to legal frameworks, Montenegro currently ranks quite high on the ILGA-Europe Index (12 out of 49 countries). However, Enes has a hard time believing that this is the case in reality. For instance, he explains that there is currently a form of same-sex partnership in the country, which incidentally makes a lot of people come from abroad to register their partnerships, but it is not yet a full partnership because a lot of other laws need to be harmonised with it, and it’s taking a long time. And the fact that the government has changed three times in the last three years makes it hard for Queer Montenegro and partner organisations to build strong relationships with local policy-makers.
Moreover, like everywhere, there’s always a discrepancy between legal frameworks and the way society actually reacts to LGBTQI topics. Last year, right before the Pride March, a public prayer was organised in Podgorica’s church to pray for the souls of our communities. “A lot of public figures we work with attended the prayer. The Pride went well regardless, but it’s still hard to see these kinds of public gatherings happen.”
For these reasons, Enes underlines the importance of organising international events such as our IGLYO AMC Podgorica 2023 in the country: “Having so many people from across Europe come to Montenegro and walk in the Pride March with us is a wonderful opportunity for the local community. International events like these also spark the interest of the government in a small country like ours, and are a good way to draw its attention to the importance of our rights.”
When it comes to LGBTQI youth in Montenegro, Enes observes that they are currently more open about their identity in comparison to older generations. “Everyone should be whomever they feel, not everyone has to come out of course, but I can see a lot of queer young people being freer nowadays.” Enes notes again that this depends greatly on their families: “Some queer young people are very open in their circles but hide their identity as soon as their family is around.”
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In comparison, Enes remembers his own experience growing up in Montenegro. “Figuratively, Montenegro is divided into three parts: The Centre and the South, both quite open-minded; and the North, which is more close-minded and conservative. That’s where I grew up.” On the first day of primary school, he was labelled as a “faggot” although he didn’t even know yet what it meant. “It’s only when I heard my father use the word faggot when seeing two men kiss on TV that I understood what it was.”
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Enes couldn’t find support within his school, as he didn’t trust the school staff enough to let them know about his situation. The best support he found was in himself: “For a long time, I asked myself a lot of questions, wondering what was wrong with me. It was a long process of healing growing up. But the most important step in my journey was when, as I was exploring my identity years later, I understood that being queer is not the only part of my identity.”
Thankfully, LGBTQI young people in Montenegro now have many more opportunities to seek support and connect with each other. At Queer Montenegro for instance, they have multiple ongoing activities and upcoming plans for young people to come together and find their safe space. A few weeks ago, they started providing psychological support to LGBTQI young people and their families, where a psychologist aims to identify the barriers on both sides and attempts to find a way to overcome them. And queer youth can reach out to the organisation for support via email or on social media at all times.
The most important to Enes is not the number of young people they reach, but rather the impact they actually have on those who show up at their activities, no matter the amount. “I believe that everything is going to work out for queer youth as long as civil society is there, as long as they are empowered enough, be it in the city centre, in an apartment, or anywhere else. The most important thing is to hold together, and be there for each other as a community no matter what.”
Enes and his team are currently working hard on the organisation of the Montenegrin Pride, which we and over 70 LGBTQI young activists from across Europe will join as part of our IGLYO AMC Podgorica 2023. “This year’s format will be different from other years, including a lot of activities that the community has been asking for in recent years. I’m really looking forward to that.” Enes hopes that one day, the Pride colours will shine not only in Podgorica, but also in the whole of Montenegro.
Looking at the future, Enes wishes to reach LGBTQI equality in reality, not only on paper. He envisions a closer collaboration with the media, hoping that Montenegrin media can create more visibility for our communities and pay more attention to the language they use when communicating on LGBTQI topics. Having queer places for our community to hang out in is also part of the priorities he thinks are needed in Montenegro, as there are currently only queer-friendly places but no real space specifically for us. As for himself, Enes hopes to publish the book of poetry he has been dreaming about.
Enes believes that being a queer activist brings hope and a space for us to be united as a community, always looking out for one another. With this in mind, his message to LGBTQI young people is one of empowerment and self-love: “Start a revolution, and change will come. Make sure you do everything in your name and never allow people to do things on your behalf. And stand for yourself.”
This article was written by Jeremy Gobin (he/him), IGLYO Communications & Network Manager. Liked this article? You can also read the Portrait of Nikola Ilić (he/him, 23, Spektra), and the Portrait of Marija Jovanović (she/her, 26, Spektra).