LGBTI activists send open letter to mayor after extremists disrupt Sofia Pride Film Fest

Rights organisation LGBTI Deystvie has sent an open letter to Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova following a June 10 incident in which far-right extremists – many wearing t-shirts with the name and logo of pro-Russian party Vuzrazhdane – prevented the screening of a film that is on the programme of the Sofia Pride Film Fest.

The open letter is copied to Sofia police chief Kaloyan Miltenov and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Rossen Zhelyazkov.

As The Sofia Globe reported earlier, the demonstrators first held a placard protest, shouting abusive slogans and allegedly assaulting a woman, before barging inside the Odeon cinema building, behaving aggressively, taking close-up shots of the faces of those present and shouting “paedophiles” at them. Allegedly, police did not prevent the demonstrators from entering the auditorium. Organisers of the festival cancelled the showing of the film that had been scheduled.

The open letter said that an organised protests by extreme nationalists had prevented the screening that was part of the Sofia Pride Film Fest, an annual part of the cultural programme of Sofia Pride, the biggest event of the LGBTI community in Sofia and in Bulgaria.

“The gathered crowd, as well as the refusal of cooperation by the Interior Ministry officials to ensure the smooth progress of the screening and public access to it, forced the organisers of Sofia Pride in the person of LGBT Deystvie to cancel the screening.

“In front of witnesses from the organisation, the manager of the cinema received a threat from protesters that if he allowed the next screenings in the programme, new such protests would follow,” the letter said.

“The film that should have been shown is Close by Belgian director Lucas Dhont. It has been shown several times in Bulgaria without causing similar reactions.

“The current events, however, come after days of vandalising billboards and posters for the upcoming Sofia Pride parade in the capital, as well as several years of smear campaign against the LGBTI community.”

The letter said that according to the constitution and the international treaties to which Bulgaria is a party, the authorities owe protection to the freedom of peaceful assembly. This protection is due both to assemblies held in public places and to assemblies held in premises of private property.

It said that according to the law, the mayor of the capital is obliged to terminate meetings that are not peaceful and violate the exercise of the rights of others, and the police to assist the mayor in this, as well as the organisers to remove provocateurs or persons who are not part of the peaceful gathering.

“This did not happen yesterday,” the letter said.

“It is unacceptable in 2023 in Sofia, where Sofia Pride has been held since 2008, to thwart the exercise of constitutional and basic human rights of LGBTI people, in the absence of action by the authorities,” it said.

“That is why we urgently call on you, before tonight’s screening of the programme of the Sofia Pride Film Fest, the city mayor and the management of the Sofia regional directorate of the Interior Ministry, to do everything necessary according to their competences to ensure the peaceful progress and peaceful access to this and the following screenings within the framework of the film festival programme.”

The letter called on state institutions and political parties “to condemn the defamation of the LGBTI community and treacherous actions that thwart the exercise of their constitutional and human rights”.

“We call on the National Assembly urgently to adopt amendments to the Criminal Code, incriminating crimes motivated by the sexual orientation of the victims,” the letter said.

“We will not allow the rights of LGBTI people to be trampled with impunity , and our community to be slandered and denigrated with stereotypes, and we will fight for this with all the means of the rule of law,” the organisation said.

In a post on Facebook, We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria MP Ivailo Mirchev said: “Vuzrazhdane supporters attack a film showing. What are the police doing? Saluting the assailants”.

Mirchev said that the Interior Ministry owed a very detailed and serious explanation why their employees did not ensure that the planned screening of the film Close ran smoothly.

“Why did they allow the audience and cinema workers to be intimidated by the protesters which also led to cancellation of screening,” he said.

“The most harmful effect of Vuzrazhdane lies is that they try to equate patriotism with bigotry. They stoke hatred of anyone who is different, whether that difference is based on political bias, background, or sexual orientation. And with all their hysterical actions, they are gradually changing the very essence of being a patriot.”

WCC-DB MP Elisaveta Belobradova said on Facebook that on June 12, she would request an explanation about the case from Interior Ministry Kalin Stoyanov.

On June 11, the ministry said on its website that Stoyaonov would ask for complete information on the case in order to familiarise himself with the actions of the officers sent to the scene.

According to preliminary data provided by the Sofia regional directorate of the ministry, after a signal, uniformed personnel were sent to the location.

“There, it was found that supporters of a political party and a group of citizens who had come to a screening got into a verbal clash.

“The organiser of the screening has decided to cancel it, and returned the money for the tickets that had been purchased. There was no physical violence between the two groups,” the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry was taking additional measures to ensure the security of upcoming events, the statement said.

On the afternoon of June 11, Sofia Pride posted on Facebook: “After a hard day of negotiations with almost the entire country, we tell you that tonight we continue as planned with the screening of Blue Caftan at Sofia Pride Film Fest! From 8pm at the Odeon Cinema.”

“We have the assurance of the authorities that the security of cinema viewers will not be compromised,” Sofia Pride said.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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