The many murders of women from their partners were not part of the political conversation, writes Krassen Nikolov.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and will be a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
In an effort to spare itself further political problems, the Bulgarian government withdrew its decision on the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention.
The decision of the Bulgarian authorities is a bad sign to the EU because the country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. For Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, internal stability obviously is a bigger priority rather than such a relatively small foreign policy problem, as he sees it.
“There were very serious reactions (against the Convention) from the coalition partner, from the Orthodoxy Church and the mufti, and huge fears were planted among the people. We are a government elected by the people and we have to comply with what it wants. When the Constitutional Court pronounces itself, we will be able to calmly debate and in a calm political and social atmosphere to weigh the ‘pros’ and the ‘cons’. But with this act, we believe that this topic, regarding which we were unfairly accused, will stop “, said Borissov at the weekly government meeting.
In his statement Borissov did not hide the tension in power caused by the accumulation of crises over the past two months. The ruling GERB party has serious problems with the constant scandals with the nationalist coalition “United Patriots”, their junior coalition partners. Over the past three weeks, the topic of the sale of the Czech energy giant ČEZ dominated in Bulgaria, featuring Ginka Varbakova, a Bulgarian businesswoman unknown before. The Bulgarian prime minister was suspected being linked through the support to the deal by the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank.
Borissov also suffered a heavy blow from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who poured cold water over Bulgaria’s ambitions for quick accession to Schengen.
Other crucial moments for the Bulgarian Presidency will be the planned leaders’ meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 26 March in Varna and the meeting for the Western Balkans on 17 May in Sofia.
Borissov’s tactic in such situations is to avoid the uphill and unnecessary headaches. The Istanbul Convention was an expected victim of this policy because enforcing it means fighting nationalist propaganda and protecting values that are not widely accepted in Bulgarian society.
On Wednesday, parliament also rejected the BSP’s proposal to hold a national referendum on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
During the debates, it became clear that the only party that GERB could rely on for ratification was the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), and that probably their support would have been enough, but the DPS did not take an active part in the debate. The mainly ethnic Turkish party did not want to be highlighted as a partner of GERB on a topic such as the “Istanbul Convention” that would not bring any power gains but only political negatives.
However, DPS MP Hamid Hamid commented that the idea of a referendum on the BSP convention is to “hunt partridges with a cannon”. He compared the actions of the Socialists with Nigel Farage pressing for the Brexit referendum. DPS accused BSP of attempting to turn the Istanbul Convention into a “short-lived political product for rapid populism”.
The main opponents of the convention were the nationalists in government from VMRO and Ataka.
Later BSP also took up the subject and declared itself against ratification. VMRO has been able to convince broad circles of the public that the Convention creates the risk of introducing same-sex marriages, legitimizing third sex and even accepting “transvestites from Iran” as refugees. Even the Council of Europe’s official position that there are no such texts in the Convention has failed to influence the debate. GERB has asked the Constitutional Court to decide whether the Convention complies with the Bulgarian Constitution, but even the court’s decision will not lead to the ratification of the document.
— Daniel Holtgen (@CoESpokesperson) March 8, 2018
NGO analyses say that nearly one fourth of women in Bulgaria are victims of domestic violence. Only during the two months when the debate on the convention unfolded, there were several extremely gruesome murders of women by their partners. The crimes happened despite complaints from the victims to the police and prosecutors. One of the attacks was on the very day the government withdrew its support for the Istanbul Convention. At the end of January, a woman set herself on fire from despair in a village in northwest Bulgaria, after being tortured for years by her husband.