Opinion: Introduction to Bulgaria’s Engineered Political Downfall through the Istanbul Convention

An analysis on the topic of the Istanbul Convention, the media attention it garners and the merciless political offensive pushing its rhetoric.

Bulgaria has witnessed large-scale thefts, illegal privatization operations, assassinations, racketeering, socio-economic depravity, total demographic collapse, and income disparity as wide as the equator - yet the most discussed political topic from the last 30 years is not any of the aforementioned problems. Nor the fact that socialistic ex-secret service members are in leading political and religious positions, and even commissions related to the release and destruction of secret-service dossiers. Nor the fact, that there are practically no defences on Bulgaria’s southern border, which practically welcomes illegal migration into the country and poses a severe threat to Bulgaria and Europe’s territorial independence and security. None of these topics, all of which are terminally detrimental to this country’s existence, are getting the media and socio-political attention they deserve. All that has been discussed lately is the Istanbul Convention. Local media is pushing the narrative that there is some pandemic of violence against women in the country and the introduction of this law, which was already refused by the Bulgarian government, is the only cure for it.

The entire text of the Istanbul Convention will be reviewed in another series of articles. For the purposes of this article, only the introduction to this document, the rhetoric of the Convention’s defendants and the widespread media policy of pushing the Convention’s narrative will be reviewed.

The four-page introduction of the document includres four mentions of “inequality of men and women”*. A single example of such an instance is the “Recognising that the realisation of de jure and de facto equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women;” From the first lines of text the reader encounters he is forced to accept the statement that women in the country where the Convention is to be applied are not equal to men. Bulgaria is an Orthodox Christian country, where women have been granted the same rights as men. They are free to work, drive, communicate with whoever they want, rent and own property, start their own businesses, freely travel the country and abroad, and have been granted every other right which Bulgarian men can claim. At the very least, it does not seem to be the case that there is de jure inequality between men and women in Bulgaria.

Women in the country are not subjugated to limitations, ridicule, or forced genital mutilation. The Bulgarian Constitution secures the equality of rights. Article 4, Paragraph 2 states: “The Bulgarian Republic guarantees the life, dignity and personal rights, and grants conditions for the free development of the personality and of civil society.” Article 6 Paragraph 1: “All people (citizens) are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Paragraph 2: “All citizens are equal before the law. No restriction of rights, or privileges, based on religion, ethnicity, sex… are allowed”. So, by the highest Bulgarian law, the pre-set notion of inequality is deemed false, as men are just as equal before the law as women are. Bulgaria’s Labour Law, Article 8, Paragraph 3 reads: ”In the implementation of labour rights, no discrimination based on nationality, race, sex [list continues] is allowed.”. There even is an already functioning Law for Protection from Domestic Abuse, which even though not perfect (it excludes men as possible victims), is still a functioning law. Article 3 states: “The defence of this law may be sought by any person, who has suffered domestic abuse inflicted by: 1.”Husband or ex-husband. 2. A person with whom the victim has been in domestic partnership. 3. A person with whom she has had a child”, and so on and so forth. The basic rights of women have already been granted by the country’s functioning laws and any holes in these texts can be fixed, by keeping to their original intent and in full coherence with Bulgarian people’s understanding of life and law.

What do the defendants of the Istanbul Convention tell you about this? Well, they tell you nothing about it. The two cases of media and political rhetoric which will be discussed in this article cover the fundamental points which most of the Convention’s defendants have in common. The two cases will be the already covered statement by the European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel during an event hosted by the “Animus Foundation”. The second will be an article published by Ivaylo Dichev, Bulgarian Professor of Social Anthropology, who according to Wikipedia practices abroad in the U.S.A, France and other foreign countries. His article was shared through the prestigious media “Deutsche Welle” a fact which alone speaks for the credibility of his words. Yet, these two people, of completely different backgrounds and lifestyle use familiar points when defending their position.

First is the method of the emotional appeal. You always open with a strong statement, which encapsulates your position and forces it through direct reliance on emotion. Both of them open with statements claiming that women are systematically abused in the country and this is the status quo. Gabrielle does it through her claim that half the population is getting raped, beaten and abused, while Dichev claims that even though there are “multiple news stories (concerning murders of women)” from different parts of Bulgaria, people still do not stand-up and fight to stop it. The full debunking of these statements comes from the article reviewing Maria Gabriel’s statement, where statistical information revealed that men are 50% more likely to be the victims of crime or suffer work-related injury.

After the problem has been claimed, the complete loss of control over the "situation" is presented. Maria Gabriel claims that violence has many faces and finds new ways to manifest. More than 10% of women have been victims of cyber-abuse. Dichev claims that domestic abuse is considered “banal”, that it has turned into just a statistic and thus, the people of the country have been desensitized towards the problem. Yet, the comment section of any article concerning violence towards women is filled with comments by men and women who explicitly condemn the act. Besides that, a survey by Gallup International shows that 92% of Bulgarians believe that it is completely wrong for a man to hit a woman. Yet, you are forced to believe that the problem is out of control. The statements of the defendants of the Istanbul Convention always peak with “We must offer protection to those poor victims” and end with “The Istanbul Convention is the answer, it may not be the definitive answer, but it is a great step forward”.

After you have been emotionally bombarded and convinced that you either support the said Convention, or you are a “monster who supports the violence against women” you are told to choose it. Still there is no explanation why. They tell you there is a problem, they tell you how big said problem is, they offer you the solution, but they never explain why this is the solution. In the few cases explanation is given it is something vague like “it offers mechanisms for…”. No direct statements, no excerpts of the document. It is a narrative pushed on nothing more than emotional reliance. They do it, because it works. On the other hand, if they point towards certain clauses of the document, this gives empirical, factual grounds on which their point can be disputed, without the burden of emotional influence. The only time they do not speak about the heartbreaking stories of abuse victims is the time they speak of the “intellectually challenged”, or “misinformed”, or “swayed” masses, which are doing wrong by refusing a document, the defenders of which do not even dare cite.

This brings about the last part of the article – the media narrative. Mass media is not called the fourth branch of the government without reason. The ability to connect to millions of people, all of which have a certain degree of trust in the media offers endless possibilities of exploitation of the mechanism. For the past six months, Bulgarian media has experienced a boom of articles related to violence against women or children. "Man murdered his wife", "man beat-up his girlfriend", "drunk man beats his children" and similar titles pop on computer screens and are written in bold letters on the front pages of newspapers. The most obvious explanation you would expect – there really has been a boom of violence against women and children. Violence performed by terrible men who have not outgrown their “patriarchal” way of thinking.

Yet, this same news dominates the media space of a country, where men are victims of crime 50% more often than women. No matter of the age group, in all cases men are much more often the victims of crime, yet the media environment would rarely pay attention to this fact, and weekly, there would be 3-4 man-on-woman violence related stories, which have been blown way out of proportions. Or at least of the attention which the same media would pay to such stories just a few years prior. On the other hand, while the question of the Istanbul Convention was still thoroughly discussed in the Bulgarian Parliament, the boom of stories about violence against children took place. There were huge discussions related to the treatment of children in kindergartens, as some of their teachers had resorted to corporal punishment. The first of these cases was released by a worried parent, who had anonymously received a recording of children getting abused in the kindergarten, by finding a flashdrive with the recording on the hood of her car. Even though the abuse had been happening for a long time, it was released during this one sensitive period. No one can say for sure what has created this boom of stories so tightly related to the question of the Convention, but their existence is a fact.

If women already have equal rights due to Bulgarian laws and are protected from violence through series of laws, why is there such a strong push to ratify a document, the apparent benefits of which can be gained through a few amendments in the current law?

That is because the Istanbul Convention provides different effects from merely protecting women and children from violence and inequality, both of which have been addressed by local law. Because no matter how much politicians, sociologists, anthropologists, and activists tell you that the Convention does not open doors for interests going far beyond the protection of women and children, factually, it does. In the eyes of many Bulgarians, the term “gender” (which does not exist in the Bulgarian language) forces new definitions of understanding of what a man and a woman are.

According to the text of the convention itself, gender is: “The socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men;". Sex, as a biological factor is completely excluded from the text of the convention, as it often refers to “gender-based” harassment, violence, etc. This example from the Convention’s body is given with the sole purpose of proving that 1. The document makes a full distinction between gender and sex as two completely different factors. 2. The document explicitly states “gender-based”, which means that it confers to the gender ideology, 3. Every politician who has ever told you that this document does not provide for new definitions of sex, family and other basic moral standings, is either lying or has never read the document.

It is not expected from anyone to simply read this article and agree with its standings. It is not expected of anyone to fully or partially agree with the text. What is expected is that the reader will take the facts and reasoning presented as a fact, which should be kept in mind, should be checked for validity and should be used as a tool in the reader’s own construction of their opinion on the topic, where juxtaposition between this text and other texts related to the topic is highly encouraged.

* Both English and Bulgarian versions of the document have been reviewed.

(Picture taken from: worldfuturecouncil.org)

Bozhidar Lazarov

Bozhidar Lazarov is a freelance writer, hobbyist programmer and an aspired novelist. Feel free to follow him on https://www.minds.com/seriousways for his latest articles and personal projects.

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