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NEWS 17 Jun 16

Fears Grow of Clashes at Bulgaria Pride March

Pro-gay activists are dismayed that the Mayor of Sofia has given the go-ahead for ultra-nationalists to rally at the same time and place as the ninth Sofia Pride march.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Sofia Pride

Tensions have grown ahead of the Sofia Pride in support of LGBTI people on Saturday, after the municipality gave the go-ahead for ultra-nationalists to stage a counter-protest at the same time in the centre of the capital.

The routes of the two marches will even meet at one location, which worries the organizers of the Pride in terms of the safety of their supporters.

“One month after we notified the municipality [about the Pride parade] we were aghast to learn that the route of the traditional counter demonstration against the march is going to coincide with some parts of the route of the Pride,” Radoslav Stoyanov, member of the organizational committee of Sofia Pride, told BIRN on Friday.

Earlier on Tuesday, organizers of the LGBTI march sent an open letter to Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova and to Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova, saying that allowing the two opposing demonstration to collide is either “intentional” or a result of “serious neglect”.

They called on the authorities to cancel the counter-protest or at least to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the safety of demonstrators.

Among them will be representatives of nine diplomatic missions to Bulgaria, visitors from the Swedish police and, traditionally, many families with their young children.

In response, the Sofia authorities on Wednesday urged the organizers of the two marches to change their starting points.

Activists behind the Pride march have refused to make any concessions, however, as this would affect the program and the attendance of the event.

In the shadow of the Orlando mass shooting terrorist attack on June 12, the annual Sofia Pride is focusing on mobilizing the support of the heterosexual friends and families for their LGBTI close ones.

“Every time that we are asked why we organize Pride, the answer is Orlando,” the organizers said on Facebook.

Opposition to the gay rights demonstration has become something of a tradition in Bulgaria, where hate rhetoric against LGBTI people remains a problem.

Every year, the so-called “anti-gay” parade is organized by an ultra-nationalist group, led by Blagovest Asenov – a radical linked to the international neo-Nazi organization Blood and Honor, which is banned in Germany, Italy and Russia.

In 2013, together with other radical groups, Asenov’s “National Resistance” tried to register a Bulgarian Nationalist Party, but the prosecution blocked the registration of the party on the grounds of its anti-democratic ideology.

Among other opponents of Sofia Pride are two more mainstream far-rights parties, represented in parliament and on Sofia’s municipal council, VMRO and ATAKA.

They have demanded that the Mayor cancel the demonstration, deeming it against the interests of citizens who do not want “sexuality and perversion imposed on them”.

“The Pride is a political march with political demands and holding it is an assault on traditional Bulgarian values and morals and a provocation against the family,” Carlos Contrera, a municipal counselor from VMRO, said on June 8.

Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church has also endorsed anti-pride attitudes.

On Thursday, Patriarch Neophyte said in a statement that: “Once more, our capital will witness open, intrusive propaganda and public demonstration of homosexualism  as a way of life".

He particularly opposed the date of the event, which coincides with the All Souls Day, when the Orthodox Church commemorates the souls of the dead.

 

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