The leader of the Party of European Socialists Sergei Stanishev is at loggerheads with the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) over the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
The largest opposition force BSP announced on 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. GERB command a majority in Parliament, but its junior partner, the United Patriots, don’t like the Istanbul Convention, saying that it will “legitimise the third sex” and may force Bulgaria to accept “transvestites from Iran” on its territory. VMRO in particular, led by Krassimir Karakachanov, Deouty Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, is strongly for a referendum.
Stanishev, who was BSP leader and Prime Minister when Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, opposes the initiative for a referendum. He is categorical that the Convention has become subject to “foolish interpretations” in the country and that in it there is neither “third sex” nor “same-sex marriages” that got excited the conservative circles in politics and society.
Speaking on Nova TV, Stanishev said that 20 crisis centers for women victims of domestic violence could be built with the money that BSP and VMRO want the state to spend on a referendum against the Convention. The figure come an assessment by NGOs.
“One of the consequences of the terribly distorted way in which the discussion is held is that we send to the victims and to the perpetrators of violence the wrong signal – that we tolerate this as a society. No one will say it openly, but the distorted discussion, which focuses on things that do not exist at all in this convention, the fixation on hypothetical fears ignores the real problem”, Stanishev said.
He added that because of the division, which had already begun within the government, the national program on which the functioning of crisis centers for victims of violence depended has been blocked.
The PES leader noted that significantly more conservative states have ratified the convention. In his words, the document “is not a convention of the Ottoman sultan”, but the largest international treaty on the prevention and fight against violence, which includes commitments by states and instruments for the protection of women, which are currently absent in our legislation. Stanishev reminded that in Bulgaria a woman who had been harassed by her husband needs to prove she is a victim.
Regarding the controversial term “gender” [a word for which there is no exact Bulgarian translation] the PES leader gave his own explanation: “It means social roles that have been different in different societies and have changed in millennia. 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote, the social role of women was to stay home”.
The Council of Europe has responded to media and political hysteria in Bulgaria with a statement which says that the Convention does not introduce sex education in school, same-sex marriages and the like. At the Plenary Session of the BSP this declaration was distributed to the participants, but, in Stanishev’s words, “was not heard”.
The PES leader confirmed that BSP had previously supported the convention of international fora and therefore its current position is perceived as a U- turn. “Politics often has conjunctural considerations, there are fears. Politicians are responsible for thinking long-term”, Stanishev said.
BSP leader admitted he is worried by the position of President Rumen Radev, who announced in Brussels against the Istanbul Convention: “The arguments that he said are startling. Human Rights in Bulgaria or Poland, or France, or elsewhere in the Council of Europe are not an inside job and the argument that denied rights by the state and given to NGOs is not tenable – except that the government is not doing its job in this sphere”.
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova explained the lack of objections to the Istanbul Convention at the PES Council meeting in Lisbon last December, saying it was not in the room during the vote on the document.
“I am grateful to the team of Sergey Stanishev (leader of PES), who at that time organised bilateral meetings with the leaders of other delegations, and we were not even physically in the room,” explained Ninova.
The Convention was adopted by the European Socialists on 1 December, with delegates entitled to vote on behalf of BSP being Ninova and Deputy Chairmen Denitsa Zlateva and Kiril Dobrev. Today, they are against the document.
And President Rumen Radev declared himself against the texts of the Istanbul Convention. In his words, postponing the ratification of the document is “a victory for the Bulgarian society, which showed unity and common sense”. He made these statements in Brussels on 1 February saying that hoped there would not be a referendum that would take both time, energy and money.
More than anything else, his criticism appeared to be directed against the quality of the Council of Europe paper.
“In my view, the convention is a badly written document that allows ambiguities and different interpretations, Radev said.