I have no hard feelings for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and I even believe that for many years it has been a pillar for the Bulgarians. The fact that some of its representatives are like that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. These are the words of Petar Kichashki, a student who is suing the abbot of the Troyan Monastery who expelled him from the monastery for being in a wheelchair. He adds: “The state has abdicated from the modern means of social support and if a person, no matter whether with a disability or not, wants to live actively and fully, he needs to do so contrary to the state, despite the state”.
Please, remind us briefly what happened in the summer of 2008.
On July 19, 2008 I was visiting the Troyan Monastery with a Bulgarian-Finnish group of young people with disabilities. We asked someone to tell us the story of the monastery and a young monk responded to our appeal. He was exceptionally responsive and a good storyteller. Just as the discussion was becoming interesting, an elder man entered the monastery, carrying a stick. We later found out that he was the abbot. He smacked the monk’s leg with the stick and told him: “Get out of here, you have no business with THESE, you’ve got other work to do”. He then waved us to leave and went inside the temple. I was at the end of the file and decided I should enter and pray to the miracle-working icon of the Threehanded St. Mary. Just as my mother and I were to leave, the abbot appeared again. He was visibly nervous, thumping the stick on his leg. He turned to my mother, obviously thinking that I was below his level, and told her: “Get him out of here with his wheels! Out! Come on! Out! You don’t belong here!” We were shocked, but we still slowly went to the outer premises. Preserving self-control, my mother told him that she would have been happy if I were riding a bike, but this is a wheelchair, it’s my way of moving and there’s nothing wrong with it. I couldn’t hold it, I admit, so I asked him if I were a sinner (!) so I wouldn’t belong in a monastery. He looked at me with obvious reluctance and told me that if I’m in a wheelchair then I’m paying for someone else’s sins, and that Jesus has said: “I shall mark them and you shall know them by their faces, for the good of the people”. In other words, he misquoted the Bible, telling in fact that even in the Holy Scriptures Jesus has discriminated the people with disabilities. It’s like the devil reading the scriptures, except this was not the devil but the abbot of the third largest monastery in the country! That’s when our interpreter came and asked him why the monastery is not accessible for people with disabilities. He burst out and said that he’s not going to adapt anything for us, that this was a monument of culture and that people like us were even banned from entering the temple! If we wanted, we could complain to the president, the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly or whoever, but outside there was sign forbidding people like us to enter! Totally shocked, I imagined for a moment how the crossed accessibility sign would look, that is, the sign with a man in a wheelchair crossed with two red lines. We went outside to see this sign, which of course was not there. Behind us the monastery gates closed and the abbot disappeared.
And then you filed a complaint against abbot Theodosii?
Unfortunately, it was a few months before I filed the complaint. It was just that I was sitting for university admission tests then, I had to get used to student life. Besides, the Protection against Discrimination Act stipulates that the prescription for discrimination cases is three years, which means that we filed within the deadline. I filed my complaint with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, as I decided that having people with disabilities arbitrarily expelled from a temple is simply a form of discrimination, and CPD is the competent body. My purpose is to have abbot Theodosii convicted, I hope that this will happen, I hope he’ll understand that such acts are inadmissible in the modern state that we pretend to be. This should never happen again and I expect, should the abbot be found guilty, the Holy Church to take the necessary measures.
How is the case going? What sanctions could be imposed on the abbot if he were found guilty?
So far, there were two hearings. At the first one abbot Theodosii appeared in person, accompanied by his lawyer; at the second one yesterday (February 15) only his lawyer came. What happened is that the procedural representative of the Troyan abbot asked for challenge of one of the commissioners, which in my opinion is being done only to delay the case in time and exasperate the witnesses. But there are two things that would never happen: the sun won’t rise from the west and I won’t ever give up when I’m in my right. As a future legal counsel, I wouldn’t like to discuss any sanctions; after all, I don’t know in whose favor will be the ruling of the Commission. But as far as I know, he could be fined by BGN 250 to BGN 2000. That is, if the Commission rules in my favor.
How did the abbot behave during the hearing?
He kept his distance, he was very reserved, as if he wasn’t very willing to come too close to “the sinner”. We offered him a deal, with him apologizing publicly, in order to preserve the reputation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but he said that it was impossible for him to apologize to a secular person. Let’s just wait for the Commission’s decision, I wouldn’t like to comment the specifics of the case anymore.
What do you think about the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and its role in people’s lives?
I have no hard feelings for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and I even believe that for many years it has been a pillar for the Bulgarians. The fact that some of its representatives are like that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. I’m not really religious, but I know that there are many great people within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It’s simply unacceptable to have God’s servants expel people with disabilities from the temples.
What is the place of the state in your life and in that of the people with disabilities in general?
The state has no place in the lives of the people with disabilities. That’s the truth. The state has totally abdicated from the modern means of social support and if a person, no matter whether with a disability or not, wants to live actively and fully, he needs to do so contrary to the state, despite the state. Currently, the people with disabilities are taken care of but are in no way encouraged to live actively and be citizens like the others, that is, to pay taxes, to create families, to work, etc. I find this insulting, I don’t want anyone to take care of me, I can take care of myself, all I want is the state to support me and so that we’d both benefit. And by taking care of me the state is making me a burden for myself and the taxpayers. If I’m to be useful, I have to be supported by the necessary mechanisms, such as personal assistance, for example. Instead of supporting me, the state is getting in my way. This is an awfully unprofitable and honestly erroneous policy.
Have you felt any public and media support with regard to what happened at the Troyan Monastery?
There is media and public support, and that’s a fact. Most of the people are shocked by this case and want this to end almost as much as I do.
What do you expect to happen?
There is always a way. Should the Commission rule in my favor, the solution is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to not allow abbot Theodosii to behave like this in the future. But this is a temporary solution. Speaking of discriminatory actions in general, society needs to change its attitude. We need to understand that people with disabilities are people like everybody else and that’s it. The damaging, the problematic factor is the environment and not the people. The environment which is in fact all of us, the environment which is inaccessible, the institutions that show no willingness to change. If the environment changes, such things won’t happen again .
You’re a law student. Which year are you in, how are your studies going? What are your impressions from our judiciary system?
I am currently a sophomore in law studies at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia. To be honest with you, I’m doing fine, I’d really like to work in this field and I hope to become a worthy legal counsel. I hope I’ll be able to make it. As for our judiciary system, I believe that a global change is needed. We need public pressure on the judiciary, as ominous this may sound at first hearing. But the third power is a part of society and should not become encapsulated. Of course it needs to be independent from the other powers, but not from society. Even now we see political pressure on the judiciary, let’s at least make it visible and controllable. If this doesn’t happen, the system will continue to operate as in the popular lyrics “no law for millions, no forgiveness for a hen”, that is, only small fish will populate the prisons and the millionaires will get out with impunity. Unpleasant, but a fact.
Tell us something about yourself, about your life in Vidin.
What can I tell you, I’m an active young person. I live life to the fullest, I travel 1000 kilometers every week and I believe that the active life is the only way for me, the most pleasant and the strongest. I’m currently living and working in Vidin. I’m involved in many things, but maybe the most important thing concerning the people with disabilities is that I have filed accessibility lawsuits against all institutions in Vidin. At the Commission for Protection against Discrimination alone I have 21 complaints because the lack of access, not allowing some people to enter the bank just because there are stairs, is absolute discrimination. Access must be available everywhere to everyone simply because it’s a human right. The free movement of people and capital is one of the main pillars of democracy, but where is this freedom when the bank, the insurance company, the state or the municipal institution is inaccessible? It’s not there. It’s inexistent. And we have to fight for it. It’s a pity that we need to fight for something that others are born with. But if we have to, we’ll fight. I’m going to sue and fight for access and equality because we, the people with disabilities, are People and it’s about time that this be understood, that we all understand that we need to fight and defend our rights. Petar Kichashki was born in 1989. He graduated the Mathematics High School in Vidin. Since 2008, he’s a law student at the New Bulgarian University. Currently a sophomore. He’s involved in rights protection activities in the field of people with disabilities.
Petar Kichashki was born in 1989. He graduated the Mathematics High School in Vidin. Since 2008, he’s a law student at the New Bulgarian University. Currently a sophomore. He’s involved in rights protection activities in the field of people with disabilities.
 On February 15, Dariknews informed that the Commission for Protection against Discrimination has postponed the hearing on the complaint against the abbot of the Troyan Monastery due to a challenge of the reporter on the case, Anelie Chobanova (Obektiv). [back]