Pride in Sofia could be a “step forward” for Bulgaria

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The Rainbow Friendship Rally that will take place on Sunday in Sofia could serve “as a step forward in attitudes of acceptance and tolerance in Bulgarian society,” a leading commentator has said.

The Pride event has proved contentious in Bulgaria.

The country joined the EU in 2007 but social attitudes towards homosexuality remain hostile.

Writing in the Sofia Echo, Clive Leviev-Sawyer said that the rally “is about promoting respect for fundamental human rights.”

“In 2008, the first such rally in Sofia was marred by attempted disruption by far-right thugs and skinheads. Reports at the time said that police were ineffectual in responding to the hooliganism,” he wrote.

“Given that the Bulgarian constitution asserts the right of peaceful assembly for demonstrations, the state failed in its duty last year, and it is to be hoped that the rally is enabled to proceed in the spirit in which it is intended.

“It is to be hoped that the parade proceeds as a peaceful celebration of the diversity of humankind, and serves as a step forward in attitudes of acceptance and tolerance in Bulgarian society.”

Earlier this month the British ambassador to Bulgaria was criticised for his support for the event.

Steve Williams had extended a message of support to the Rainbow Friendship Rally.

He said: “Guaranteeing human rights of LGBT persons requires an active, consistent, determined policy of the authorities, both at the level of central government and at the level of local government, as well as by other state institutions.

“We express our wholehearted support to all those who – whether as individuals, working for government organisations or for nongovernmental organisations – are working to ensure that all of us can fully enjoy our human rights, without distinction of any kind, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Celebrating diversity is not about promoting a lifestyle – it is about promoting respect for fundamental human rights. It is about the very essence of our European democratic values.”

However, Bojan Rasate, the leader of the Guardia Bulgarian National Alliance, attacked the remarks, saying Williams should “mind his own business and his country’s business”.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Rasate added: “He has no right to tell Bulgarians how to live in Bulgaria. Europe has been ruled by homosexuals for a long time. We do not care how they live, but we do not want them to impose their pervert values on us.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The FCO promotes human rights around the world regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Showing support for Pride events, where people seek to assert their rights and highlight the challenges they face, is part of this work.”

Bulgaria was named in an EU report in March as one of the member states thast routinely block gay events.

A 2008 poll found that 80 per cent of Bulgarians have negative attitudes to gays and lesbians.

Seventy per cent would not allow their child to be educated by a gay teacher and 50 per cent would not work with someone who was gay.