String of homophobic incidents ahead of 2021 Sofia Pride

The 2021 Sofia Pride is a week away, and is approaching against a background of a string of homophobic incidents in Bulgaria in recent weeks.

This year’s event is being held in-person, in contrast to last year’s cancellation because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At noon, in the hours before the afternoon start of Sofia Pride, there will be a demonstration by the ROD association (“Parents United for Children”) “in defence of the traditional Christian Bulgarian family, consisting of a father – a man, a mother – a woman and their children”.

This association, which uses inverted commas around the word rights when referring to the LGBTI campaign for rights, is among groups that have made opposing Pride their stock-in-trade.

Others include the ultra-nationalist VMRO party – presumably, apart from its traditional homophobic messages also seeing the event this year as a chance to try to drum up votes ahead of the July elections – and people connected to the organisation of the Lukov March, the annual event held in Sofia for several years in honour of a pro-Nazi general.

LGBTI activists have compiled a chronology of recent homophobic attacks in Bulgaria over the past more than three weeks, starting with the incident at the first-ever Bourgas Pride on May 15, when opponents threw eggs, cucumbers, stones and a smoke-bomb at participants.

ROD and the pro-Russian Vuzrazhdane party were involved in the opposition to Bourgas Pride. Local ultra-nationalist politicians had tried to have the event banned.

Ten days later, at The Steps venue in Sofia, there was tension as anti-LGBTI protesters gathered outside to object to the presentation of a children’s book for same-sex parents.

On May 27, the presentation of two books by the LGBT youth organization Deystvie on Radio Plovdiv also saw objecters gather outside the station’s building.

On May 30, at a screening of Slava Doycheva’s film Cherupki (“Shells”), a group of young people, apparently from the Bulgarian National Union – Lukov March circle and led by the head of the VMRO youth branch, occupied several seats, in an apparent attempt to intimidate participants.

The month of June began with a number of incidents, including stickers being plastered on the door of the Rainbow Hub community centre on its opening day. Apart from homophobic messages, there were stickers reading “White lives matter” and “Keep Europe for Europeans”.

On June 1, in the Serdica metro underground railway station, six men from an ultra-nationalist group spread homophobic messages and threatened a person they recognised from the LGBTI community.

The same day, the façade of The Steps was vandalised with eggs and foam.

First held in 2008, Sofia Pride has consistently been the target of intolerance. At that first Pride in Bulgaria’s capital city, police intervened as a group of ultra-nationalists and skinheads essayed an attack on participants.

In ensuing years, larger numbers of police were deployed and organisers spelt out security arrangements for participants. Events passed off largely peacefully, while counter-demonstrations by ultra-nationalists and others claiming to defend “Orthodox Christian values” and the “traditional family” became routine. Equally routine has became condemnation from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Displays of homophobia are not confined to the opposition to Sofia Pride, given incidents such as the graffiti and death threats at the time of the Balkan Pride event in Plovdiv in 2019.

As routine as the opposition have been the annual messages of support – mainly solely from the foreign diplomatic corps.

So far this year, Sofia Pride has posted on its Facebook page video messages of support from the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy, France, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Ireland, and more are expected.

Over the years, attendance at Sofia Pride has grown considerably, from the just more than 100 in 2008, to thousands at the most recent event, in 2019.

However, either when it comes to public condemnation of homophobic attacks or expressions of support for Pride events, nothing is heard, or ever has been, from Bulgaria’s significant political forces.

The only politicians who speak out are those who propagate homophobia and rejection of so-called “gender” (a contemporary Bulgarian expression that distorts the original English meaning, and which arose around the time of the campaign against the country adopting the Istanbul Convention).

In their own peculiar world view, groups such as ROD hold that the “traditional Christian family” is under attack, including through legislation; a rather astonishing claim in a country that has been criticised by rights groups for failing to adequately legislate against hate crimes against LGBTI people and religious and ethnic minorities.

There is an irony in the intolerance shown by such groups being proof why Sofia Pride is a necessary campaign tool (apart from being thoroughly enjoyed by participants, whether or not they are members of the LGBTI community). But ever has it been that among the characteristics of extremists, such as those opposing the Pride, is a difficulty in understanding irony as a concept.

(Main photo via the Facebook page of Sofia Pride)

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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.