The largest opposition force BSP announced yesterday (24 January) it would make a formal proposal for a referendum on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The party wants to stop the procedure of ratification of the document by the National Assembly because this would make the referendum impossible, 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.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party will gather the necessary signatures for initiating a referendum today. By law, such proposal can be made with the signatures of 48 MPs. BSP has 80 members in the National Assembly. The proposal for a referendum can be accepted or rejected by a simple majority of the parliament.
At first, it was the nationalists, junior partners in Borissov’s government, who opposed the Istanbul Convention. They created a hype that the Convention will introduce concepts such as “third sex”, will encourage youngsters to become transgender, or will oblige the country “to receive Iranian drag queens” on humanitarian grounds.
The Istanbul Convention is the first instrument in Europe to create a comprehensive framework for the protection of women and girls from all forms of violence. It is also aimed at preventing, prosecuting and abolishing violence against them.
BSP propose that the question for the referendum would be “Are you ‘For’ or ‘Against’ the ratification of the Istanbul Convention?” At the same time, the BSP commits to support all the draft bills that address the problem of violence against women and children, required by the Convention.
“This is the right way for the fight against this violence to become a reality, we are firmly against [this violence], and we are continuing to import these laws”, Ninova said. At the same time, the party believes that the Istanbul Convention has created tremendous tensions in society.
The BSP does not approve of the Convention’s texts introducing the term “social sex” and referring to “non-standard roles of gender” (meaning “non-stereotyped roles of gender”).
Two weeks ago, the Council of Europe commented on the debate in Bulgaria that the Istanbul Convention does not oblige the parties to recognize “third sex”, “same-sex marriages,” to accept “transvestites from Iran,” etc. The authors of these warnings were the parties of the nationalist coalition “United Patriots”, who are in the ruling coalition and are the main opponents of the convention.
The Council of Europe explains that the Convention does not aim to make such changes, but aims mainly to strengthen the protection of children and women from domestic violence. It indeed refers to the issue of educating children about “non-stereotyped” social roles based on biological sex. This means that children are informed that women can have a role different from growing children and relying on the money earned by their husband.
The BSP took position against the ratification of the Convention, although the Party of European Socialists supported it. Two weeks ago there was a conflict on the issue between BSP leader Ninova and PES leader Sergey Stanishev, who is a former BSP chairman. Other big figures from the Bulgarian left, such as the national ombudsman Maya Manolova and the vice-president Iliana Iotova also support the ratification of the convention.
However, BSP believes that the document will lead to confusion in national legislation regarding the roles of genders. Ninova also rejected GERB’s proposal to ratify the Convention by adding interpretation on some of the issues, because as she said the controversial texts for the Bulgarians cannot be voted with disclaimers.
“This interpretative statement (to the convention) would simply be dust in the eyes of the people to soothe the spirits, all the more that we have a precedent with Poland, which it has ratified the Convention with a declaration and subsequently this declaration is not recognized as legal act”, Ninova said.
So far, the Convention has been ratified by some 30 countries, including Turkey, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.
At present, the Bulgarian society spends a lot of energy in the debate on the Istanbul Convention, and calling a referendum on the subject would prolong this process for at least another half a year.