Protesters have projected a rainbow flag on the parliament building in Sofia, calling on authorities to recognise ultra-nationalist violence ahead of this weekend’s Pride celebration
Yesterday (June 12), thousands of people gathered on the streets of Sofia for the Bulgarian capital’s 14th annual Pride celebration. For many, the event marked a return to in-person Pride events, following a year in which hundreds were cancelled or forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, it also raised concerns about the safety of those involved, following a spate of attacks against similar events by far-right groups.
As explained in a petition to Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Boyko Rashkov, by the global LGBTQ+ advocacy group All Out: “An ultra-nationalist mob has declared war on Bulgaria's LGBT+ community” in the run up to the country’s snap elections in July. This isn’t just an empty threat, either; several events have already been attacked in the last few months alone.
On May 15 this year, the inaugural Pride parade in the city of Burgas saw around 40 participants outnumbered by a mob of counter-protesters, who burned a rainbow flag in the designated protest area and pelted them with eggs, rocks, and smoke bombs. On May 27, a group described as “football hooligans” also targeted an LGBTQ+ book event in Plovdiv, following the city’s wave of homophobic assaults in 2020.
Since May, counter-demonstrators have also disrupted film screenings organised by the GLAS Foundation and Sofia Pride Film Fest, vandalised Pride billboards, and handed out homophobic and transphobic flyers. During a meeting of the Sofia City Council, right wing politicians have continued to spread Anti-Pride rhetoric.
The aggressive opposition to Bulgaria’s Pride celebrations has discouraged many members of the LGBTQ+ community from participating in public gatherings, All Out notes in its petition, which urged authorities to intervene ahead of yesterday’s event.
Speaking to Dazed, Stana Iliev, a campaigner for All Out and co-organiser of Sofia Pride since 2011, adds: “The government has the duty to guarantee peaceful and safe assembly for everyone and to publicly condemn the verbal and physical attacks against them. Our message to the Bulgarian government is: The world is watching. Act Now! Keep the LGBT+ community safe!”
This message was also highlighted via the guerrilla projection campaign that lit up the national parliament building in Sofia on Friday night. Besides lighting the building up in rainbow colours, activists also projected words of solidarity, reading: “Unity makes us strong. Hate makes us weak.”
Nevertheless, All Out’s petition was reportedly erased without being read after it was sent to the Interior Minister ahead of Sofia Pride, having gained more than 17,000 signatures. Four registered counter-protests — “three by ultra right wing groups and one by a nationalist orthodox group” — were subsequently allowed to go ahead nearby, while a truck with pictures promoting “family values” was seen driving around the city.
Thankfully, the counter-protests were very small, says Iliev. The city’s Pride celebrations took place without complications, though attendees were still fearful that they could be attacked at the after-party, or on the way home, as has happened at previous events.
View more images from All Out’s projection campaign, calling on authorities to recognise the threat of far-right violence and help keep Pride events safe, below.