‘I got punched in the face by a presidential candidate’ says LGBTIQ activist in Bulgaria
Attacks against LGBTIQ people in Bulgaria are on the rise. The government needs to recognise them for what they are: hate crimes, not hooliganism
My biggest fear came true on 30 October. Our second home, the Rainbow Hub – a safe space where the LGBTIQ community in Bulgaria can find support – was brutally attacked by a group of nationalists led by a far-Right presidential candidate known as Boyan Rasate.
The attack opens many questions. How will we recover as a community? What led to this attack? When will the country’s institutions take the issue of anti-LGBTIQ hate crimes seriously?
Bulgarian law does not recognise anti-LGBTIQ attacks as a hate crime. LGBTIQ activists have been pushing for this change for almost 20 years, but without success.
It took two minutes to turn our LGBTIQ community centre into ruins
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The Rainbow Hub is located in an apartment building in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. A group of about ten men barged in during a trans community meeting, and destroyed everything they saw – from the oven in the kitchen to the paintings on the walls. It took them less than two minutes to turn our community centre into ruins.
I tried to stop them from entering the building. This is when I was punched in the face by Rasate himself. He hit me and just kept coming; everyone else followed him in.
Before leaving, Rasate took out a knife and cut the tyres of a scooter parked outside. By this point, I was simply praying that nobody would get hurt.
Rasate is running for president in the elections on 14 November, for the ultra-nationalist, far-Right party Bulgarian National Union – New Democracy. As a candidate, he automatically has immunity from prosecution, which meant that it was impossible to press charges against him.
However, we organised a protest on 1 November, and his immunity was removed.
The prosecutor’s office in Sofia charged him with two offences: hooliganism and minor bodily injury. The prosecutor wanted to keep him in custody, but the city court released him on bail for just 1,000 Bulgarian lev (around €500). The court argued that “being permanently arrested would hinder his election campaign”, which would violate the public interest and the opportunity for Bulgaria’s citizens to have an informed choice.
On entering the courtroom, Rasate said to journalists that he’s not admitting his guilt. He added: “Down with democracy.”
Used as a scapegoat
The LGBTIQ community has been used as a scapegoat in each round of elections – the country’s far-Right parties are targeting us in order to mobilise the conservative vote.
We have witnessed many anti-LGBTIQ attacks. The Rainbow Hub has been vandalised multiple times; all the events in the Sofia Pride programme were threatened or attacked by far-Right groups; and there have been some cases of physical violence against LGBTIQ youth in the city of Plovdiv. The first Pride demonstration in the city of Burgas also came under heavy attack – anti-Pride protesters surrounded us and threw bottles, stones, cucumbers and other missiles.
These campaigns peaked this year, mainly because it’s an election year. Parliamentary elections were held in April and July, but the elected parties were unable to form a government. The third election, on 14 November, is for both parliament and the president.
I’m sure we will recover from this latest assault with the love and support of our community, which has the ability to heal any harm. We have also received huge support from partners, organisations, political figures and businesses within Bulgaria, as well as numerous foreign embassies.
Hooliganism is not the same as a hate crime. Hate crimes are attacks fuelled by ideology
However, a major problem remains: Bulgaria does not recognize anti-LGBTIQ attacks as a hate crime – most of the time they are recorded and prosecuted as hooliganism.
But hooliganism is not the same as a hate crime. Hate crimes are attacks fuelled by ideology. The perpetrators are motivated by prejudice, which makes them hate a certain group of people – and they will probably continue to target members (or perceived members) of this group.
Hate crimes are also crimes with a message. In this case, the message is: “We hate and will hurt LGBTIQ people.” This creates fear, not only for those directly targeted; it ripples through the whole community.
An organised group attacking a specific minority is not hooliganism, it is a hate crime. It’s time for the Bulgarian authorities to make the necessary legislative changes, not only to prosecute such crimes but also to prevent them. Will they take that action right away?
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