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Political Candidate Leads Attack at Rainbow Hub in Bulgaria

Note from Alturi: This piece serves as an update from an earlier profile, Lilly Dragoeva – Bilitis Foundation, Bulgaria. A follow-up to amplify the voices in Bulgaria is due to recent events involving the safety of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI).

By Dorian Coleman

“This person stormed in and led a group of ten people without hiding his face or pretending it wasn’t him. This affected many people in society. Despite the lack of understanding on the topic of LGBTQI, this was beyond everything that has ever happened before,” states Lilly Dragoeva, Executive Director of  Bilitis Foundation. Bilitis and GLAS foundations jointly co-manage the Rainbow Hub – Bulgaria’s LGBTI community center.

On Oct 30, around 5:00 pm, Bilitis Foundation hosted a Trans Community gathering at the  Rainbow Hub. The participants were excited that people were coming to the event and welcomed all people in the community.

Around 5:30 pm, someone knocked on the door, and a participant looked through the peephole, noticing one woman standing behind the door. The participant opened the door to welcome the woman in. Unfortunately, before Gloriya, project coordinator for Bilitis managed to get to the door, approximately ten people then ambushed the meeting. The people came into the meeting room and began breaking furniture and equipment, spray painting the walls, and inciting violence. The participants reported that the perpetrators were hiding on the steps.

Gloriya attempted to stop the people by yelling and telling them to stop. However, the ambush leader, Presidential Candidate Boyan Rasate, said that she could not stop them and then proceeded to strike her in the face. 

Boyan Rasate established the Bulgarian National Union, a far-right nationalist group known for fascism and new-nazi populistic views. He has over 20 charges against him regarding crimes against different groups. He committed the crime at Rainbow Hub while he was under immunity as a candidate.

In Bulgaria, candidates for Parliament or any other high-ranking office allow immunity to prevent candidates from being attacked or oppressed by the current government. The law aims to prevent candidates from being charged if the current government is an opponent and not grant immunity to candidates who commit crimes.  

Bilitis Foundation, GLAS Foundation, and other LGBTI organizations and groups demanded the prosecutor general waive Rasate’s immunity so he could be arrested and put to justice. On  Monday, November 1, hundreds of LGBTI people and their allies protested his immunity. On Tuesday, November 2, the candidate was arrested as he exited a television studio. At the studio, he was doing a segment on television to promote his campaign. The crimes he committed brought him publicity because the candidate had already faced a narrow margin of support. Moreover, his views were already very unpopular. 

Rasate was arrested for 72 hours and initially charged with hooliganism with extreme audacity. This is because Bulgaria lacks legislation related to hate crimes, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTQI communities have been advocating changes in legislation to prosecute these crimes for the past 19 years. Ironically, ten days before the attack, Bilitis Foundation filed a petition of over 8,000 signatures to the Ministry of Justice demanding amendments to the Criminal Code to include LGBTQI hate crimes. 

Thursday, November 4, 53 members of the European Parliament, all of which are members of the LGBTQI intergroup, sent a letter to the  Prime Minister and Ministers of Justice to express solidarity and express that the criminal code needs to be changed.

At the end of the 72 hours, Rasate was released. The rationale was that it was in the public interest for his release so that the political campaign may proceed and citizens could make an informed decision regarding their votes. In making this decision, officials did not consider the “extreme audacity” charge and lowered the charges in scale. The prosecution intends to oppose this. 

Rasate’s immunity has been waived. Because many citizens of Bulgaria are outraged by these crimes, the candidate further marginalized himself. In Sunday’s election, over 23 candidates ran for the ceremonial post. Support from institutions and political actors has condemned the crimes. “This is a breakthrough because historically, politicians and political parties have tried to stay away from the topic of LGBTQI rights because they still find it controversial. ” said executive director of Bilitis, Lilly Dragoeva. 

On November 14, Bulgaria held its elections. Although voter turnout was at a historic low, 75% of all votes were counted when this piece was written. Rasate only received .25% of votes.

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