Bulgaria’s Cabinet said on January 3 that it has submitted the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on domestic violence for ratification in the National Assembly, despite opposition from the junior partner in the coalition government, the United Patriots group of nationalist parties.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, to give its full official name, drew objections because it defines gender as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”
According to the United Patriots, the convention would lead to constitutional changes and the legalisation of the “third gender”, as well as opening the door for the recognition of same-sex marriage in Bulgaria, which the nationalist parties oppose.
“It is not an issue of political opposition, it is a position we have – everyone takes a stance depending on their competence and their convictions. It was not just the United Patriots – eight ministers voted against and I think that this is a normal way to make decisions. The majority makes the decision, as is the case in the National Assembly. There were enough supporters of normal sexual relations,” public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio quoted Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the United Patriots and deputy prime minister in charge of economic and demographic policy, as saying.
Simeonov said that the United Patriots would not support ratification on the House floor, which would require Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party to reach across the aisle and seek the backing of opposition parties, the socialists or the predominantly-ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), in order to secure the necessary votes.
After the Cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva sought to quell the fears, saying that the Convention did not introduce new concepts into Bulgarian law, but instead would raise the standards of protection to a higher level. “There is no such thing about the third gender, there is a requirement for education in tolerance and breaking stereotypes,” BNR quoted Zaharieva as saying.
Ratification of the convention would require some other legislative changes, such as amendments to the Penal Code to deal with gender-based crime, the Government’s media office said in a statement. The ratification is also part of the national programme on prevention and protection from domestic violence, which the Cabinet approved at its January 3 sitting.
(Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers building photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)