The annual Sofia Pride march would be postponed to avoid the risk of unrest, the event’s organisers said on June 20; this year’s march was scheduled to be held on June 22. One of the organising NGOs, however, warned that this created a dangerous precedent for the future.
In a statement posted on sofiapride.org, the organisers said that they did not postpone the march because of fear, but because of the “danger that our peaceful and pure intention might be used to cause unrest that will besmirch our common, peaceful civic conscience.”
“It would be egoistic and irresponsible to all of us if we knew of such danger and ignored it,” the statement said. The organisers said that they had the full support of Sofia city hall to hold the Sofia Pride march before the end of the year; the other events, including an art week and film fest, would go on as scheduled.
The organising committee said that it supported the ongoing anti-government protests. “If, with our actions over the past six years, we have tried to heal just a part of the sick body of our country, the process now is one that could lead to Bulgaria’s complete healing,” the statement said.
However, one of the NGOs involved in the organisation of the Sofia Pride – the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee – said in a separate statement that it left the organising committee and disagreed with the decision to postpone the Pride march.
The decision came under pressure from Sofia municipality and the Interior Ministry, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said. In addition to the security concerns, the city hall also warned that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church would react even stronger than usual against the Pride march because June 22 is one of the four days in the 2013 church calendar dedicated to commemorating the dead.
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said last week that the parade “threatens the moral foundations of our society and our children’s health and the Bulgarian nation as a whole”.
The Church’s position “should have been censured by the city hall, not served,” the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said. Equally “scandalously”, although the city hall asked to postpone the Sofia Pride, it did not make a similar request to the organisers of the traditional counter-march held every year by opponents of the gay parade, the NGO said.
“The postponement of the Sofia Pride until an unspecified point in the future represents a dangerous precedent. The argument about the risk of provocations can always be used – such danger has existed in the past and will in the future; it is the duty of the state institutions to defend civic rights and ensure that the peaceful march is held,” the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said.
The first edition of the Sofia Pride was held in 2008, but this year’s edition presented the toughest organisational challenge yet – in addition to the Pride and the church holiday, Sofia is also scheduled to host on June 22 a meeting of the Party of European Socialists Council at the National Palace Culture (NDK), the starting point of the Pride parade.
Additionally, the Bulgarian capital city has drawn the largest crowds in the ongoing anti-government protests, which started on June 14 and show no signs of abating – the route taken by protesters every evening partially overlaps with the traditional route of the Sofia Pride.
(Photo: Patrik Millikin/sxc.hu)