Sofia Pride in Bulgaria Tomorrow

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Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, will host their third pride parade tomorrow, Saturday 26 June. The event will conclude a week of Pride-related events, including photographic exhibitions, a number of social and cultural events and a conference on hate crime which included a call for such crimes against LGBT people to be criminalised in Bulgaria. Statements of support have come from both the British and Norwegian ambassadors.

The subject of gay pride parades remains a tense political point in central and eastern European countries, with opposition from right-wing extremist and religious groups leading to cancellations and even violence. Moscow’s proposed pride parade was banned earlier this week.

Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg said earlier this month that the European Court of Human Rights had made it quite clear that the state has a duty to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations, re-iterating the point that “this obligation is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimisation”.

UK Ambassador to Bulgaria, Steve Williams said in his message of support, “Many excuses – such as respect for religious doctrine or traditional values – are given to justify homophobia. Let us be clear: in today’s European Union there can be no excuse and no justification for homophobia, on any grounds.

“Sofia Pride is not just about LGBT people standing up for their rights. It is about all of us – straight or gay – standing up for those rights, and making sure that they are put into practice in our everyday actions and behaviour.”

As Sofia Pride 2009 approached, there were criticisms from both Muslim and Christian quarters. This year, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has waded in, describing the upcoming parade in a statement as a “public, brusque and shameful demonstration of the sin of Sodom”.

They also stated that they believed the parade woud have “disastrous consequences for the physical and spiritual health of people”, adding that they viewed it as an offence against the traditional values of Bulgaria and that it was confronting youths and children with “seduction”.

Mr Hammarberg’s earlier statement that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that peaceful demonstrations could not be banned “simply because of hostile attitudes to the demonstrators or to the causes they advocate” seemed to address the Holy Synod’s concerns perfectly.