SOFIA, BULGARIA – Bulgaria’s fifth annual gay pride parade took place on June 30, without incident, in spite of the threat of reprisals—and calls from some extremist members of the clergy for violence against parade marchers. Eastern European LGBT advocates held their collective breath in the days leading up to Saturday’s march, following the use of threats and provocative language from gay rights opponents.
Father Evgeniy Yanakiev, an eastern Bulgarian Orthodox priest, called upon protestors to express their outrage with violence—“Stones should be thrown,” he said—and one of the nation’s nationalist political parties sponsored billboard ads that were posted across Sofia, and which read, “Gay Parade Allowed – Smoking Banned. Which is more harmful for the nation?”
In 2008, extremists attacked marchers with gasoline bombs during the first Bulgarian LGBT rights march. Sunday’s parade—the largest LGBT event to be held in Bulgaria— was attended by about 2,000 people, including U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick, and British Ambassador Jonathan Allen. LGBT rights remain highly controversial across Eastern Europe.