The ultra-nationalist VMRO minority party in the Plovdiv City Council is continuing its campaign against the Balkan Pride event, this time with an open letter calling for its removal from the European Capital of Culture 2019 programme.
The open letter is addressed to Ivan Totev, mayor and chairperson of the board of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, to the board and to Kiril Velchev, the foundation’s executive director.
The letter, from VMRO city councillors Stefan Posliiski, Nina Gyusheva and Kamen Shishmanov, calls for stopping the GLAS Foundation’s Balkan Pride event. The call was accompanied by, incongruously, a photograph of Shishmanov and Gyusheva in front of the Sklad building, the foundation’s headquarters in Plovdiv’s Tobacco Town precinct.
It was this building that was daubed with homophobic graffiti in March, not long after the campaign against Balkan Pride began.
To be held in July, Balkan Pride “focuses 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,” according to the foundation’s website.
“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.”
The Balkan Pride project was initiated by GLAS (Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society), an organiser of the annual Sofia Pride.
The VMRO open letter came a few days after a special meeting of the Plovdiv City Council rejected calls for the resignation of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation artistic director, and heard statements from Totev that councillors should not intefere in the European Capital of Culture cultural programme.
The letter said that the motives for calling for the cancellation of Balkan Pride were “numerous, but the fundamentals are that the character of the exhibition is extremely provocative and there has been a large public response to the topic”.
“We also believe that it is unacceptable to use the platform of the cultural calendar of the European Capital of Culture Plovdiv 2019 to obtain media popularity for ways of demonstrating sexual orientation and gender identity that are extremley unpopular, unconventional and unacceptable for Bulgarian citizens .
“The struggle for LGBTI + community equality, the search for a maximum response to disseminate the core messages of the project, the desire to attract a larger audience is fully understandable on the part of the community but definitely unjustifiable and undesirable for traditional Bulgarian citizens,” the letter said.
It said that the LGBTI + community could “find other ways of building links with local and regional communities without it being necessary to do so through the Plovdiv 2019 program and even less by funding the same from the Plovdiv Foundation 2019 “.
Because the contract with the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation did not include a clause on termination, civil law provisions could be used, according to the letter.
The campaign against Balkan Pride is being stoked by nationalist city councillors, with the backing of the socialist opposition in Plovdiv City Council, in a year that Bulgaria is scheduled to go to the polls twice – in European Parliament elections in May, and in mayoral and municipal elections in October, the latter of which are expected to be hotly fought in Plovdiv.