An April 8 special meeting of the Plovdiv City Council, called at the request of nationalist and socialist critics of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation and of the planned Balkan Pride event, rejected a call for the resignation of the foundation’s artistic director.
The special meeting was denounced by those who rejected its premise as nothing more than an electioneering event and a platform to allow the language of hatred to enter the council chamber.
For weeks, the Balkan Pride event – part of the programme of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 – has been under fire from far-right and ultra-nationalist politicians in the city.
The acrimonious meeting saw a direct reference to the motto of the Plovdiv 2019 European Capital of Culture – “Together” – as one of the Patriotic Front councillors criticised his fellow nationalist councillors, even though he was among those 21 councillors in the 51-seat council who petitioned for the meeting.
“Today, it is clear that the word ‘Together’ in Plovdiv does not exist. Neither in the municipal council, nor in the foundation, nor anywhere. It is, unfortunately, a dead word. A slogan that failed to materialise. What is happening today is shameful. It damages everyone,” Patriotic Front councillor Slavi Georgiev said.
In the debates, on the financial records of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation and the call for a request for the resignation of foundation artistic director Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva, it was made clear that the city councillors do not have the authority to dismiss the artistic director. They may only recommend that the executive board dismiss Kuyumdzhieva, but that proposal did not win majority support either.
The meeting also saw a call for the resignation of Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev as chairman of the management board of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, a proposal that was rejected. A call for the entire management board to resign also was rejected.
“I will not allow the munitions of the Plovdiv municipal council to be thrown against the European Capital of Culture 2019 project. There is a fundamental misunderstanding about this massive initiative and I am very annoyed that the quality of the debate is being reduced to such a low level,” Totev said.
The debate on the foundation’s 2017 report on the funding of events went on for more than two hours, with foundation executive director Kiril Velchev telling the meeting that the preparations for the events had begun a long time ago and, he said, the team had managed the matter responsibly and successfully.
Local media in Plovdiv said that the foundation’s accounts for the years 2017 and 2018, which had been requested by those who wanted the April 8 meeting, had long since been dealt with the council and its committees, which had approved them.
Nationalist VMRO councillor Stefan Posliiski, who has been among the most vocal critics of the Balkan Pride event, put questions to Velchev about how the project was funded, what artistic value it has and what its cultural effect is.
Velchev did not go into detail in his replies, emphasising that the inquiries about the foundation’s reports were in black and white and any city councillor could read them.
Totev said that there were clear rules on the financing of projects. “Who are we to say which project is nice? We have no right to interfere in the work of the foundation.” The municipal council had no right to comment on the cultural content of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019, he said.
Referring to the fact that Guardian had reported on the homophobic controversy around Balkan Pride, Totev said that those behind the controversy had crossed a line that damaged the image of the city.
“We are throwing mud at the moment, we are throwing mud on the city. This should not happen. That’s why I’m a little annoyed. Because I do not want to read such articles about Plovdiv,” Totev said.
The mayor also criticised councillors who complained about an error in a caption at an exhibition about the history of the tobacco industry. “From six halls with hundreds of exhibits, we, at a special meeting of the municipal council, are commenting that the caption of a picture was wrong. Is this the level of a municipal council? Is this what is most important?”
In a statement, the Plovdiv branch of the reformist Yes Bulgaria party said: “We are witnessing how the language of hatred enters the Plovdiv municipal council”. It said that dismissing anyone because of homophobic concerns would be an extremely dangerous precedent.
The party called on the management board of Plovdiv 2019 “not to succumb to political influence by distorting the concept of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 and subjecting it to clear discrimination”.