Ultra-nationalists try to disrupt protest in Bulgaria’s capital against violence against women

There were tensions on the night of November 25 as a small group of ultra-nationalists tried to disrupt a protest in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia against violence against women.

According to eyewitness accounts, the group arrived at the well-attended protest bearing a Bulgarian flag and a banner saying that campaigning against violence against women should not be equated with “gender rights”. In Bulgaria, the term “gender” has become associated with homophobic sentiments.

The group allegedly tried to take away the microphone of the person speaking at the gathering, outside the Court of Justice in Sofia, reportedly bruising her arm.

After some minutes, police arrived and escorted the group away, where they remained, shouting at the participants in the protest. Shouted demands for the group of extremists to be arrested went unheeded.

Later, a video by the group was posted on the Facebook page of one of them, Alexander Alexandrov. In a rambling narrative to camera in the video, lasting more than 10 minutes, the group claimed that they had been the target of assault and mocked the protesters for calling them “fascists”, “Nazis” and “murderers”.

A screenshot from the video in which the group, displaying the flag and banner they took to the protest, narrate their alternative version of the evening’s events.

Responding to the allegations against the group, one of the participants in the incident, Tsanislav Tsanev, said that it was not true that they had been the cause.

“We are completely against all forms of violence, including violence against Bulgarian biological women, Bulgarian mothers, Bulgarian grandmothers, Bulgarian sisters, etc, as well as violence from young people to old people and from old people to young people, violence by parents against children. and from children to parents, and so on,” he said.

“We were infinitely surprised, disappointed and offended by the fact that the Bulgarian women we wanted to support in their fight against violence reacted in such an aggressive way. We are committed to a broad public debate and building strategies to minimize violence in Bulgarian society. Violence has no religion, gender, race, skin colour and should not be tolerated,” Tsanev said.

The group has denied that they were there to disrupt the protest, saying that they came to join it.

Participants in the protest against violence against women – held with the motto “not one more” – complained of inaction on the part of Bulgaria’s institutions and politicians on the issue.

The protest, held not only in Sofia but also in other major cities in Bulgaria, was accompanied by an open letter calling on Bulgaria’s newly-elected MPs and the president to take urgent measures to combat violence against women.

Starkly, just before the protest began, it emerged that a 21-year-old woman had been murdered and her body left in an abandoned building in Sofia. Media reports alleged that the suspect was her 28-year-old partner.

The Bulgarian Fund for Women said that since the beginning of 2021, there had been at least 17 murders or attempted murders of women.

A poll by Alpha Research found that 16 per cent of Bulgarians believed that domestic violence was a problem to be resolved within the family, four per cent believed that it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman if she “provokes” him, while 15 per cent believed that women exaggerated when they complained of sexual harassment.

The protest was accompanied by an open letter to the newly elected deputies and the president to take urgent measures to combat violence against women.

Bulgaria’s Alliance for Protection Against Gender-Based Violence said that in the months since Bulgaria declared a State of Emergency in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, calls to the national hotline for victims of domestic violence had soared by 150 per cent.

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