Depressing news from Bulgaria. It turns out Garth Greenwell‘s Towleroad report this is one of those news stories where I’m unhappy to learn that an acquaintance was involved, happily someone who escaped without physical injury.
I was shocked to learn that in Plovdiv, the country’s second largest city, an LGBT film festival was violently disrupted by hooligans. The film festival (the city’s first) had already been a source of controversy, with the local Metropolitan of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church declaring that LGBT people “destroy the souls of our children”—rhetoric that is not at all uncommon here. When a local soccer club—powerful social groups in a country obsessed with the sport—denounced the festival as “gay propaganda,” the mayor of the city responded not by defending principles of human rights or freedom of expression, but instead by declaring himself “categorically opposed to all events that divide the citizens of Plovdiv.”
[. . .]
Over the last ten days, Sofia has experienced large anti-government protests each evening, with thousands of people marching peacefully through the city center. Acknowledging the burden placed on the city by the demonstrations, and told that security could not be guaranteed, the organizers of Sofia Pride decided to postpone the parade that had been planned for Saturday. Much to their surprise, an anti-gay parade took place as scheduled, with a few dozen demonstrators walking down Vitosha Boulevard, the center of the city’s fashionable shopping district.
Saturday evening, a small group of LGBT activists took part in the anti-government protests, carrying signs bearing messages such as “Let’s be united,” “I’m protesting without homophobia or xenophobia,” and “Gay, bi, hetero, trans: Love each other.” (#Обичайтесебе, “love one another,” is a hashtag associated with the anti-government protests.) They also passed out a large number of small flags, featuring on one side the Bulgarian flag and on the other a rainbow peace flag.
I was in the protest on Saturday, but among the tens of thousands of protesters I never managed to connect with this group. According to my friends’ reports and those that have appeared in the press, while these activists were sitting on the ground beside Eagle Bridge, a landmark of the city and a major gathering place for protesters, a man grabbed many of their signs and destroyed them. They were then harassed by several other demonstrators and accused of passing out “gay propaganda.” The police intervened to tell the LGBT protesters to “stop being provocative” and to go home; they then left the group alone and unprotected.
When the hooligans returned, one LGBT activist was physically assaulted, though not injured, and serious violence was only averted by the intervention of passers-by. By all accounts it was a terrifying moment, and one that could have been terribly worse.
Greenwell places anti-gay protests and sentiment in Bulgaria in the context both of rising homophobia in the Russian sphere of cultural influence as well as to growing anti-government protests–the latest Eastern Approaches post wonders if another election might be imminent.