Sofia municipality has proposed changing the timing of the 2016 Sofia Pride parade and of a counter-protest, after Sofia Pride organisers expressed safety concerns following the municipality giving permission for the two events to happen at the same time.
The organisers of the two events each applied last month to the municipality for permission to hold them. Two days ago, it emerged that the hours and places of the two events on June 18 overlap.
Sofia municipality has now proposed staggering the starting times of the two events, Sofia Pride and the counter-protest, which is titled “protect children from debauchery”.
Sofia Pride co-organiser Monika Pisankaneva told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television: “It is not desirable to put these people at risk with the route intersecting with the counter-protest”.
Pisankaneva said that Sofia municipality could earlier have come up with an agreement about the respective routes of the two marches by talking to the organisers.
Sofia Pride’s organisers argue that it is too late to change the programme of the event and they said they would rely on the assistance of the police. They said that around the intersection point of the Pride parade and the other event there would be buffer zones.
Sofia Pride earlier released an open letter to the municipality calling on it to act to prevent the event being confronted with an “aggressive counter-demonstration, organised by representatives of sports hooligans and ultranationalist informal groups”.
The head of Sofia police told BNT that they would take preventative measures to avoid clashes. Security directorate and police officials reportedly have held meetings with the organisers of the two events and have been given security guarantees.
Sofia municipality said that on June 18, more than 20 events were planned. The process of co-ordinating took time. The organisers of the Sofia Pride parade had been asked to start 30 minutes earlier, and those of the counter-protest to begin 30 minutes later than planned.
The focus of the June 18 2016 Sofia Pride is Parents, Friends & Allies. Families and friends can provide a nurturing, inclusive, and supportive environment for LGBTI people, help broader society understand the challenges the LGBTI community faces, and promote tolerance between different generations and different communities, the organiser said.
This year’s Sofia Pride also takes place some days after the mass shootings at an LGBTI club in Orlando, Florida, which has increased security concerns among the LGBTI community in Sofia.
As has become customary in the years since Sofia Pride began, the parade has come under verbal attack from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and from nationalist political groupings. City councillors for the nationalist VMRO have called for the parade to be banned, citing – as did the church – objections that the date is the same as that on which the Orthodox church marks All Souls Day, the commemoration of the dead.
The organisers of the event against Sofia Pride said in a Facebook post that their aim was to keep children and young people from demonstrations of debauchery: “For yet another year, the sodomites come out to demonstrate their depravity, as they target the children of Bulgaria. For yet another year, we come out to demonstrate morality”.
In recent years, Sofia Pride generally has passed off peacefully, with a strong police presence. In counterpoint to the annual condemnation by the Orthodox Church and far-right groups, the Pride event traditionally attracts statements and demonstrations of support from ambassadors of Western countries.
(Photo: Patrik Millikin/sxc.hu)