Human rights activists are trying to prevent violence from breaking out in response to a Bulgarian Orthodox priest’s suggestion that onlookers should stone participants in the fifth annual Pride Parade, scheduled for June 30 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
In an interview published on June 6, Fr. Evgeni Yanakiev told the Bulgarian newspaper Standart that throwing stones at people in the Pride Parade would be an “appropriate” response from opponents of homosexuality:
“Our whole society must in every possible way oppose the gay parade that is being planned. For this reason today I appeal to all those who consider themselves Christians and Bulgarians. Throwing stones at gays is an appropriate way.”
Instead of rebuking Yanakiev, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church issued a statement that homosexuality is “an unnatural passion that unconditionally damages personality, family and society.” With regard to the Pride Parade, the church stated that it is “categorically opposed to the organization of such an immoral manifestation,” The Sofia Globe reported.
The statement called on “parents and teachers to prevent children from participating in the parade – or even witnessing it, claiming it would be a ‘harmful demonstration that violates the rights of Orthodox Christians,’ ” Standart News reported.
That news website also reported that the Pride Parade received an endorsement from 12 foreign embassies, including those of the United Kingdom, United States, Germany, France, Austria, Argentina and Denmark. In their statement, they said:
We would like to express our support to all who are going to participate in this year’s Pride Parade in Sofia. Such an event presents a good opportunity to raise issues related to the human rights and tolerance, to celebrate diversity and denounce homophobia.
They said the parade conveys the message “you are not alone” to all homosexual people in Bulgaria.
On June 26, Human Rights Watch wrote to Bulgaria’s justice minister, Diana Kovacheva, urging her to protect marchers and to denounce the priest’s call for violence.
“It is incitement to hatred and violence and should be condemned by the justice minister in the clearest terms and in the most public way possible,” HRW said.
Kovacheva, who formerly was the head of the international anti-corruption organization Transparency Without Borders, was named justice minister late last year.
“The response of the Holy Synod effectively leaves LGBT people who will participate in the LGBT pride parade in Sofia out in the cold,” said Boris O. Dittrich, HRW’s advocacy director for its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program. “This makes it all the more imperative for state authorities to support unequivocally the right of the LGBT community to freely and safely exercise their rights to assembly and expression.”
Violence has often marred pride parades in Bulgaria. HRW noted:
In 2008 right-wing extremist groups and football hooligans violently attacked participants in the first LGBT Pride Parade in Bulgaria. In 2011 three volunteers from the Sofia Pride Parade were attacked and beaten. The police have yet to announce any progress in their investigation of last year’s events.
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, founder of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, decried the words of Yanakiev and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. He said:
It is a sad day when clergy who proclaim the gospel in churches to love one’s enemies and “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” can turn around and incite the faithful to act violently toward others who are different from them. … The church has an obligation to respect the dignity of every human being even when we disagree with them. For church leaders to align with violence and persecution of any minority by the state or the mob is a gross violation of the values and call of Jesus to his followers.
The attitudes of Yanakiev and the Bulgarian church are throwbacks to horrid attitudes of the past, Ogle said:
The history of the Orthodox churches has been tragically marred by persecution, violence and martyrdom by political and religious zealots in the name of God or of the state. We should learn from our own history not only how we should be treated but how to treat others who hold different views than our own. If we forget our own history and our gospel values, we have lost the intrinsic value of our Christian heritage.
It is a sad day when the secular state appears more Christian than the church itself. We not only diminish our credibility but align ourselves once again with the same religious movements who persecuted the Jews of Europe and asked for state sanction and laws to do so. It is not so long ago that the church justified this attitude towards their fellow neighbors and citizens and Europe nearly destroyed itself in bloody and violent acts. The sin of amnesia can cause us to make the same mistakes. If the church has forgotten her own history of persecution and of being the persecutor, we are part of the problem and have lost our ministry of reconciliation in our time.
Homosexual activities are not against the law in Bulgaria, but homophobia is common in the country.
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