Bulgaria: The schizophrenic battle of the Socialist party with itself

The Bulgarian Socialist Party has been in decay for years. It is now trapped between an overwhelming nationalist narrative and its ignorant right-wing leadership. The results are grotesque.

In a pitiful attempt to follow the rapidly developing hysterical sentiments against the ‘third gender’ being spread in the social networks on the orders of the nationalist centre, Korneliya Ninova’s party has declared itself to be against the so-called Istanbul Convention. This U-turn is happening literally weeks after the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) insisted on its immediate ratification.

Among those interested in the political arena in the former Soviet bloc, Bulgarian politicians are quite famous for often experiencing radical changes of mind. When we talk about frequent reversals of major decisions, we usually think of the leader of the GERB party and current prime minister, Boyko Borisov. But let’s not forget that before him the former leader of the BSP, Sergei Stanishev, made himself quite famous by using the word ‘catharsis’ when suggesting that the local media mogul, oligarch and high-ranking mafia figure, Delyan Peevski, had back then become perfectly fit to head the Bulgarian domestic intelligence service. Several years before that, the nominally left BSP introduced the flat tax.

Stanishev is currently far from Bulgarian politics (although he is the president of the Party of European Socialists, which brings nothing but shame to this organization). The BSP, however, continues in his traditions.

The most recent clear example of this is the party’s position on the ratification of the so-called Istanbul Convention. The full name of this document is the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. After a period of silence, during which the public mood was probably being observed, Korneliya Ninova released a statement and comment on the BSP’s Facebook page, that the party “does not support the ratification” of the document in question.

We shall leave aside the small technical detail that the decision was announced as a “position of the Executive Bureau”, which should be subordinate to the National Council of the party, and that that body did not come together to make this decision.

The problem is greater, and it is rooted in the fact that only a month ago the party was in a radically opposite position – in favour of the ratification. On December 8 in Smolyan, a town in southern Bulgaria, BSP delegates met at a two-day round-table debate entitled “Violence through the eyes of the woman”. The event was organized by the Sofia branch – where Ninova is from – and the party branch in Smolyan, in association with the Socialist Women’s Union of the BSP.

“Socialist women from Sofia and Smolyan have demanded rapid ratification of the Istanbul Convention” reads the headline of the event’s report, posted on the official website of the largest party organization of the BSP. The event was well covered, with a number of photographs and detailed information. We learn that it was attended by MPs such as Dora Yankova and Ivo Hristov (the new-look conservative BSP’s celebrity), former Deputy Minister of Education Vanya Dobrev, former MP Hristo Monov, as well as many other party functionaries from the BSP.

“The participants in the forum united around the proposal that Bulgaria should swiftly ratify the Istanbul Convention,” we read there.

“The women of the BSP in Sofia and Smolyan have called on the government to ratify the Istanbul Convention,” says the official newspaper of the party, Duma. A few lines later, we can read that “everyone present united around the idea that it is high time for Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention, as more than 20 member states have done in the EU.”

The forum was also attended by the lawyer Milena Kadieva from the Gender Alternatives Foundation. Without getting too technical, we should note that the lack of a word for ‘gender’ in Bulgarian is at the heart of the problem of the current mass hysteria in the social networks. Shortly after, a heated dispute developed regarding the ‘third gender’ that was supposedly secretly embedded in the convention.

Kadieva’s statement was also given in detail in Duma.

“The people who run the government now do not prioritize women’s rights,” she said. “The document was drafted by the Council of Europe and aims to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. Last year Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva signed it on behalf of Bulgaria but never ratified it,” we read in the columns of the newspaper.

On November 25, when the World Day Against Violence against Women and Children was celebrated around the world, the BSP’s MP Kristina Sidorova attended a discussion in Vratsa (in north-western Bulgaria, one of the poorest regions in Europe). “She told all the attendees that the ratification of the Istanbul Convention was one of the most important tasks that the Bulgarian Parliament must fulfil,” announced the official website of Siderova’s home branch of the BSP in Gabrovo.

The complicated relationship between the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Istanbul Convention can be traced even further back. On the eve of March 8, 2015, BSP members from Gabrovo again drew attention to the problem of violence against women in Bulgaria and clearly indicated that the convention was one of the documents to be accepted to deal with the problem. “With specially crafted flyers, they call for immediate action on the signing and ratification of the Istanbul Convention,” we read on the organization’s website.

The BSP initiatives in support of the convention, which Korneliya Ninova nowadays dislikes, also include starting a petition in the National Assembly on December 13, 2017. Information on this upcoming event can be found on the website of the FOCUS News Agency. “In the National Assembly the Socialist Women’s Union, Region of Plovdiv, will sign a ratification of the Istanbul Convention,” the agency announced, probably on the basis of a message sent by the press service of the party.

From the BSP website we learn that Korneliya Ninova met with representatives of the Bulgarian Fund for Women on the same day. Although the Istanbul Convention is not mentioned explicitly, the organization in question is a fervent advocate of ratification, and has been active in Bulgaria for many years. It issued a sharp statement on the subject on January 4.

The final vote is the vote of the BSP’s MEPs. On September 12, 2017, three of the party’s four representatives – Sergey Stanishev, Petаr Kurumbashev and Momchil Nekov – were present in the European Parliament, and all three voted in favour of ratifying the convention. On a side note, it is a curious fact that the only vote against was from Andrei Novakov from GERB, and that one of the noisiest opponents of the convention in Bulgaria, the well-known right-wing extremist Angel Dzhambazki, abstained.

After all of this, the BSP decides to follow the hysteria and hopes they can scrape together some support for the party in this way. Thus the rejection of the convention.

All these events raise important questions for MPs from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the women there, the party organization and the leadership before the upcoming parliamentary election. Issues related to political consistency, morality and integrity. Questions about what the party wins and what it loses when it allows itself to melt in such an opportunistic manner.

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