A group of opposition members of Plovdiv city council is petitioning for a special meeting of the council to demand the resignation of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation leadership and the cancellation of the Balkan Pride event scheduled for July as part of the city’s European Capital of Culture programme.
The petition has gathered 21 signatures out of the 51 members of Plovdiv city council. It was initiated by the nationalist VMRO and the minority Union for Plovdiv councillors, and is being backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, other nationalist councillors and two independent members of the council.
This is the latest twist in the targeting of the Balkan Pride event, previously criticised by the nationalists and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and a campaign by these groups against Plovdiv 2019 Foundation artistic director Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva.
The Balkan Pride event and the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation leadership were the target of homophobic graffiti daubed on the foundation’s headquarters in March. Earlier, stickers attacking the planned Balkan Pride event were put up illegally in the city.
Organised by the GLAS Foundation, Balkan Pride is described on the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation’s website as a project focusing on human rights and the struggle for equality, “seeking to present a contemporary reading of Balkan traditions in the context of global society and our digitalised reality”.
An exhibition, a public discussion and a Balkan Pride musical event will present photos, artefacts and audiovisual installations from pride parades in big Balkan cities, including Sofia.
“The project challenges certain stereotypes, but also aims at a dialogue between different social, age and ethnic groups in order to improve urban culture and expand public horizons. Organisers of pride parades in Thessaloniki, Belgrade and Bucharest will also take part.”
Speaking at a news conference on April 1, VMRO city councillor Stefan Posliiski said: “We decided to call a special meeting of the municipal council, because the cup runneth over – we realised that the notorious Balkan Pride exhibition in July would show photos from gay parades from all the Balkan countries. That’s why the exhibition is no different from holding a gay parade in Plovdiv”.
Alexander Sidi, a member of Parliament from Plovdiv for the nationalist United Patriots, was quoted by the website marica.bg as saying: “No one says what the true name of the GLAS Foundation is, it’s ‘Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society’…we are against this exhibition and we will fight against it with all legal, and if need be, illegal means”.
Dani Kanazireva, the leader of the Union for Plovdiv, which has six seats on Plovdiv city council, said that the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation “only formally” fulfilled its obligation to submit quarterly reports to the council. “These are accounting reports of which nothing is understood,” she said.
Kanazireva said that there was no dialogue, communication and transparency between the foundation and society. Besides Kuyumdzhieva, other resignations could be requested at the special council meeting, she said.
VMRO leader Borislav Inchev said that radical changes to the leadership of the foundation are needed to save the cause of the Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 initiative.
According to the rules of procedure of Plovdiv city council, the special sitting should be scheduled within seven days, with an agenda in accordance with the petition for it to be held.
In March, after the graffiti incident at the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation headquarters, GLAS released an open letter to Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev.
GLAS Foundation head Simeon Vassilev said: “The attempts of political parties in the city to derive dividends on the back of the cultural programme will discredit Plovdiv 2019. Hate speech, discrimination and misunderstanding contradict the very idea of the European Capital of Culture”.
The lies and seeking of media sensations already had had a negative impact on the city, the vandalisation of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation facade and the insults and threats against the director of the foundation and the LGBTI community being the most recent example, Vassilev said.
“Plovdiv and its residents have always and rightly prided themselves on their spirit of acceptance and peaceful co-existence between different ethnicities and minorities. We therefore call on you to condemn the politicisation of the European Capital of Culture initiative and the attempts at party dictates on the Plovdiv 2019 programme, and to take measures to preserve public order and municipal property in order to carry out the various events of the cultural calendar of the city,” the GLAS Foundation open letter said.
Kuyumdzhieva said in March that any attempt at external and political intervention in the content of the European Capital of Culture 2019 programme was unacceptable. “Such attacks on the programme can only be treated as manifestations of censorship and discrimination, for which there are responsible authorities at national and European level,” he said.
She said that the main goal and concept of the Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 programme was “to show different aspects of contemporary society, to include diverse communities and minorities, to include art and culture in helping and protecting basic human rights of the first and foremost value in the great European family – freedom”.
(Archive photo of Plovdiv municipal headquarters: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)