Convention on Gender Violence Draws Backlash in Bulgaria

Moves to ratify the so-called Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe are encountering strong opposition both from parties in the Bulgarian government and the opposition.

Members of the Bulgarian government and of the main opposition Socialist Party have joined forces to oppose the government’s decision to pass the so-called Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence to parliament for ratification.

The cabinet approved a national program for prevention of domestic violence on Wednesday, and, as a part of it, advised MPs to ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which was adopted in Istanbul in 2011. Following the government session, however, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of social and economic policies, Valeri Simeonov, from the nationalist United Patriots, told the media that eight of the 21 ministers had voted against the document.

“Not only the United Patriots [who have four ministers] but eight ministers voted against,” he said. The names of the ministers who opposed the convention will be revealed on Friday, when the minutes of the cabinet meeting are published. The plan to pass the Convention, which Bulgaria signed in April 2016, for ratification in parliament, drew sharp criticism especially from one of the parties from the United Patriots Coalition, VMRO.

On December 28, the party, led by the Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister, Krasimir Karakachanov, published a statement which claimed that, through the convention, “international lobbies are pushing Bulgaria to legalize the ‘third gender’.

The party declared itself firmly against the document, which it accused of “introducing school programs for studying homosexuality and transvestism and creating opportunities for enforcing same-sex marriages”. Over 30 civil and religious organizations had sent an open letter to Karakachanov, urging him not to allow ratification of the convention. As a result, he said, he had given a negative opinion of what he called the “scandalous text”. What has most upset nationalists is mention of the term “gender” as a social construct as opposed to the biological “sex” in the text of the document, although the explanatory report to the convention notes: “The term ‘gender’ … is not intended as a replacement for the terms ‘women’ and ‘men.’”