115 years ago, British writer Oscar Wilde, convicted of homosexuality, appealed: “People will have to show some attitude to me, thus judging me and themselves”. Several weeks ago many young people in Pazardzhik showed their attitude to the sexually different, judging them to be: “Freaks, scum, trash, animals, sick minds, raff, anal sluts and aberrations who need to be beaten on their heads, swept and expelled” from their city. Were the rallying youths judging themselves in this way? It is said that words are like a boomerang, turning against the speaker. We may therefore sum up that the raging homophobes reveal themselves as people who are unable to leave the trap of constant violation of human dignity, that they have never asked themselves whether it’s worthy to seek reasons for goodness and friendship with the different others, that they are helpless to find the boundaries of both mutual acceptance and their own belonging.
A ‘cake’ crushed
This is my first time in this city. The story of the infamous article 14 of the Municipal Ordinance on Public Order, which bans the manifestation of sexual or other orientation in Pazardzhik, has attracted the attention of the media. Heated television debates generated boiling passion long before the protest of the LGBT – Action Youth Organization, scheduled for March 20. Nevertheless, Konstantin Velichkov Square in Pazardzhik felt calm. A small round dais is installed in the middle of the square. The locals call it “the Cake”. Despite the warm and sunny afternoon of the first day of spring, the place is almost barren. I move to the dais, where five or six boys and girls are squatting. “My name is Dimitar”, one of them greets me and explains why they have come here and what the meaning of their protest is. “We have a message to the citizens of Pazardzhik, which is that all of them, without exception, have equal rights guaranteed by Bulgarian and international law. That is why we use color sprays to paint on white canvas key excerpts from the Constitution, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says Mitko. I realize that suddenly his voice has become lower. Then everything moves with the high speed of a black-and-white movie. In the blink of an eye, the tranquility of the spring day is obliterated. Like Attila’s Huns, young men with shaven heads swipe over the Cake, the painting girls and boys and the posters with the constitutional texts.
„Boo-o-o-o, freaks, get out of our town, get out of Pazardzhik, get lost, Bulgaria is moving on a national path, boooo, raff, euthanasia for you!” A mob of youngsters, most of them looking like 7th or 8th graders, swarms in the square. Some of them carry posters, surgical masks and badges of the far-right Bulgarian National Union.
The movie gradually gets back to normal speed. The police line around the ill-fated dais and cuff some of the belligerent youngsters.
„I haven’t done anything”, screams one of them. “They can’t detain me, I was just reaching for the stupid posters. My mask is a symbol of the virus that wants to corrupt our society.”
„Boooooo, sick minds, you’re not wanted in Pazardzhik, get lost, boooooo”, keeps yelling the mob. Mitko and his friends smooth the creased posters and continue to write: “ALL HUMAN BEINGS ARE BORN FREE AND EQUAL IN DIGNITY AND RIGHTS. THEY ARE ENDOWED WITH REASON AND CONSCIENCE AND SHOULD ACT TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER IN A SPIRIT OF BROTHERHOOD”.
Vera, Maria and Katya
They are students in the 7th grade. They live and study in Pazardzhik. Vera, Maria and Katya are among the few girls in the raging mob. They shout as much as the men and walk around the Cake screaming “Raff, get out of Pazardzhik!”
I approach them.“Why are you here, girls, what made you come?”
”We came to see what’s happening, this is a provocation and we don’t approve it”, they answer, almost at the same time.
”What is it that you don’t approve?”
”As a whole, I’m against gays, lesbians and everything like that”, says Katya.
”Do you approve of violence?”
”No, I can’t approve violence. They’re people like us but they shouldn’t express it, they shouldn’t ask for rights because they are like this. If they’re like that, let them hide and deal with it themselves. This has nothing to do with us. Otherwise they’re also people with equal rights but…” Maria doesn’t finish.
I keep prodding. ”If they are people with equal rights, don’t they have the right to rally and protest?”
”Maybe they do, I don’t know. I said what I think, I’m against them.
”Do you know people who are homosexual?”
”Yes, I know several”, admits Vera.
”What’s your attitude to them?”
”Well, it’s their life. It makes them happy. They’re happy with the people they’re with and I approve their opinion if it makes them happy. I’d just rather not have them express it in public, not make such demonstrations and provocations.”
I try to explain. “Maybe they do it because they have a problem with hate. They are just making their problem visible.”
”Maybe, I don’t know. But if they don’t do this in the square, in front of the whole city, I suppose no one will have a problem with them. No one will start chasing them in their homes. They do this to themselves by provoking us”, concludes Vera and hurries to catch up with Maria and Katya who have already rejoined the boys and are shouting with them.
A mix of normal and abnormal
“Personally, I’m from the Bulgarian National Union, I’m its co-chair”, admits Zvezdomir, adding that he was born in Pazardzhik and came to express his displeasure with the demonstration of an abnormal sexual orientation, which is in fact a violation of the law.I’m puzzled.“Which law?”
”Article 14 of the Ordinance on Public Order in Pazardzhik. This ordinance is absolutely normal and no one in Pazardzhik opposes it, except those who have nothing in common with Pazardzhik and have never even set foot here. They try to impose on us, Pazardzhik’s citizens, their perverted and abnormal opinion.” ”I’m surprised by the energy of the people demonstrated by the people you gathered here”, I admit.
Zvezdomir is quick to deny. “I haven’t gathered them”. Then sums up: “We focus our energy on different cases. We have a great problem with the Gypsy minority”.
Back in Sofia, I search the BNU’s website for more information about the boy with the starry name. I recognize the photo and I find out that Zvezdomir Andronov is a member of the national leadership and the head of the BNU’s Sofia organization. The short CV tells me also that the “citizen of Pazardzhik” was born in Sofia, has studied in Sofia and is currently working in Sofia.
In the meanwhile, the tension round the “Cake” is building up. Elderly citizens are sitting on the benches in the wide periphery of the square. Smitten by the “new democracy’s genocide”, which forces them to live on a retirement allowance of BGN 130, the settled, gray-haired citizens watch with almost an apathy the excesses of the young generation. “Girl”, one of them stops me, “who are you sympathizing with?” “Not those who are full of aggression and hatred”, I tell him. Then follows a short preaching on how we shouldn’t go against nature and neglect the boundaries of normality, because it will all get back to us. The elderly person, however, quickly forgets the problems of the youth and goes back to the drawbacks of new democracy and the abuse of thousands of retired people. Then his voice trails, too, and the “Cake” once again shakes with the high speed of a black-and-white movie.
„Sick minds, out. Hit the fagot on the head, hit, hit, hit, booooo, out of Pazardzhik, freaks!” The mob swings to the left to intercept the slipping homosexual boys and girls. The police get them away under a shower of stones and eggs.
I approach a young man with a shaven head and a surgical mask. “Why are you carrying a broom?”
”Because we need to clean, now that the trash have left, we can’t let the children play where they were. I have a son in the first grade.”
”And you raise him to shout “hit the fagot on the head”?
”It’s normal for us to get nervous because of an abnormal situation, and it’s normal that we say some rather unusual and harsh things, because it’s normal for a virus which is not normal and cannot be accepted normally by us, the normal people, to make us behave abnormally while counteracting everything abnormal in our society”.
On 12 November 2009 the city council in Pazardzhik adopted an ordinance that put a ban on demonstration and expression of sexual orientation at public places. The depositor of the proposal is a municipal councilor from the nationalistic party VMRO. The local authorities stood by the discriminatory text and gave the city mayor the legal right to withhold permission on the organization of gay parades, for instance. On 20 March 2010 a few girls and boys from the “LGBT - Action” organization carried out a demonstration against the controversial ordinance. During the peace protest the representatives of the gay community were attacked by demonstrators who had organized a parallel counterprotest in support of the ordinance. On 12 May 2010 the Commission for Protection against Discrimination announced the text from the Ordinance on Public Order in Pazardzhik that forbids public demonstration of sexual orientation to be discriminatory, and enjoined on the city council to repeal that ordinance. On 6 September 2010 the Plovdiv bishop Nickolay awarded the mayor of Pazardzhik Todor Popov and the prosecutor from Pazardzhik Stefan Yanev with the “St. Apostol Erm” order for standing up for Christian values and moral because of their support of the scandalous article 14 of the ill-famed ordinance. Article 14 puts people with homosexual orientation in an unfavourable position and prevents them from freely exercising their rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.