The Sofia District Court on October 31 acquitted two people who had been charged with hooliganism in connection with the redecoration of a monument to partisans outside the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s Positano Street headquarters in November 2013, with the court underlining that the repainting of the sculpture set was an expression of a political opinion protected by EU and Bulgarian bills of rights.
The incident took place amid the anti-government protests of the time, demanding the resignation of the government that had been put in place with a mandate handed to the BSP.
The monument was redecorated in pink and purple, and the words “BCP – disgrace” and “Who?” added. These were references to the BSP’s predecessor, the Bulgarian Communist Party, and to public demands to know who was behind the abortive appointment of Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security.
With Judge Miroslava Todorova presiding, the court found that prosecutors had not provided proof that the two accused, Assen Genov and Tsvetelina Sarbinska, had written the words on the monument.
The court also found that the redecoration of the monument was not hooliganism but the expression of a political opinion through artistic means.
The court found that the right of expression was guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and Bulgaria’s constitution.
“The debate about the past, about the fate of ideological monuments, cannot be subject to criminal proceedings,” Judge Todorova said.
“The role of justice is not to take over the functions of public debate by introducing order and the imposition of sanctions or by expressing a preference for one political view over another through government coercion. The opposite would be, in itself, inadmissible government intervention in the sovereign area of civil society,” the judge said, citing in her judgment findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The court could not take sides in this debate, because to do so would be a violation of political pluralism and thus a manifestation of oppression, Judge Todorova said.
The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the painting of the monument constituted contempt for society and so should be classified as vandalism. The intention of those who committed the act was just the opposite, to attract the attention of the public to the debate on the communist regime.
The court took into account the social context of the event, “in a period of government crisis and escalating public discontent with the government of the state and the participation of the parties in it, public discussions on understanding the effects of the government of the Communist Party on the current state of government, and the fate of monuments associated with communist ideology or the method of socialist realism.”
Prosecutors have 15 days to lodge an appeal in the Sofia City Court.
* In recent years, there have been a number of incidents of redecoration of monuments connected to the communist and Soviet past, with the Soviet Army Monument in Sofia being a popular canvas, much to the repeated annoyance of the Russian embassy.