Mob allegedly led by a Bulgarian presidential candidate attacks LGBT centers

SOFIA – Furniture, some smashed and covered with black spray paint, is scattered around the Rainbow Hub in Sofia, a terrifying reminder of the violent attack on the LGBT center last weekend.

The Rainbow Hub is located in a block of flats in the Bulgarian capital and was holding a rally on October 30th when a group of about 10 men burst in and smashed and destroyed everything in their way.

The mob was reportedly led by Boyan Rasate, a notorious ultra-right person in Bulgaria who will also run in the country’s presidential election on November 14.

Rasate is also alleged to have hit one of the women in the center and brandished a knife at the time of the attack.

“I started screaming, ‘No!’ to prevent them from coming in, “explained Gloriya Filipova, the group’s project coordinator. “He (Rasate) hit me and just moved on. Everyone else followed him, ”Filipova told RFE / RL’s Bulgarian service.

While Rasate has so far refused to say publicly whether he is one of the attackers, Bulgarian Attorney General Ivan Geshev said on 1st imprisonment of up to five years.

Hours later, the Central Electoral Commission decided to lift the immunity Rasate enjoyed as a presidential candidate.

The attack on the Rainbow Hub was condemned not only across the political spectrum in Bulgaria, but also by several embassies in Sofia, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

On November 1st, ambassadors visited the Rainbow Hub – run by the local Bilitis Foundation and Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society (GLAS) – “to express our solidarity with our friends and partners in the face of this pointless attack.”

ILGA-Europe, an umbrella NGO that represents the interests of LGBT people, condemned the attack and called on the Bulgarian authorities to “publicly condemn the attacks, investigate and sanction the attackers”.

The attack on the Rainbow Hub has put the spotlight on the intolerance of the LGBT community in Bulgaria, a generally conservative country in the Balkans and a member of the 27-country EU.

Despite his extremist views, Boyan Rasate often appears on Bulgarian television to criticize the LGBT community, the presence of migrants and minorities in the country.

The Bilitis Foundation said it recently submitted a petition with more than 8,000 signatures to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice demanding that the country’s criminal code include hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And on October 27, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled that the word “gender” only applies in a “biological sense”, a snub for those who think the word should have a more fluid definition.

A doorbell rang

A group of seven people – and one more who attended online – gathered at the Rainbow Hub on October 30 at 5:00 p.m. for what the Bilitis Foundation later referred to as a “trans-community get-together.”

After about half an hour of discussion, the door buzzer rang, Filipova said.

“A girl went to open it. I also went to the door to see who it was. When I got closer, a group of men burst in,” Filipova said.

She quickly realized that Rasate was not only among the mob, but was leading it.

The young men quickly began smashing furniture, turning tables and chairs, spraying objects, and breaking the laptop that was used to broadcast the event.

“They just started throwing and breaking things, smashing kitchen cabinets while shouting that we were corrupting children,” Filipova said.

The mob smashed furniture, overturned desks and chairs, sprayed objects, and broke a laptop.

The mob smashed furniture, overturned desks and chairs, sprayed objects, and broke a laptop.

Some in the center managed to get out during the chaos. “But most of us were just stunned and waiting for it to end,” says Filipova.

After the mob destroyed the center, they went to the door, apparently to leave, but according to Filipova’s testimony, Rasate wasn’t done yet.

“He stopped in front of me and that scared me because he had hit me before and I didn’t know if he would hit me again,” said Filipova. “I told him they were done their job and could go. He said, ‘No, I still have a job’ and pulled out a knife.”

Whether I participated or not … we are currently campaigning and I will not answer. “

Filipova waved the knife and said Rasate had slashed the tires of a scooter owned by one of the panelists.

“Fortunately, he didn’t harm any of us,” said Filipova.

By the time the police arrived, about 10 minutes after Filipova called for help, the attackers were long gone.

Meanwhile, details have emerged suggesting that the attack appeared to be well planned.

Eyewitnesses have reported that a young woman first rang the doorbell in the center while the pack of men hovered in the shadow of the stairwell.

“If 10 strong men had stood in front of the door, probably nobody would have opened the door for me,” Lilia Dragoeva from the Bilitis Foundation told the Bulgarian service of RFE / RL. She said she suspects members of the mob may have been spying on the center when planning their attack.

“It’s an open space and anyone can come in. We assume that in addition to the material on offer, they also had time to look around. That’s why we assume they could do so much damage so quickly. They knew where everything was, “added Dragoeva.

Rasate: extremist with a rap sheet

Contacted by the Bulgarian service of RFE / RL, Rasate refused to say whether he was involved in the incident at the LGBT center.

“Whether I participated or not, as I have told other colleagues of yours, we are currently campaigning and I will not give an answer,” he said.

Rasate also had a number of disputes with the law. Between 2004 and 2015, he was arrested and charged several times, including disrupting public order and making racist and xenophobic statements.

Rasate was born as Boyan Stankov in Sofia in 1971 and spent part of his childhood in Germany. He changed his name to Rasate, apparently in homage to Vladimir Rasate, who ruled Bulgaria between 889 and 893.

Rasate entered the world of extremist politics in 1991 when he joined the short-lived Bulgarian National Radical Party. Years later he founded the Bulgarian National Union, an ultra-nationalist group that he headed from 2000 to 2010.

Despite his extremist views, Rasate often appears on Bulgarian television to criticize the LGBT community, the presence of migrants and minorities in the country, or to defend a controversial annual march in memory of Hristo Lukov, a general who performed during World War II stood on the side of Nazi Germany and was killed by Bulgarian communist partisans in 1943.

Rasate also had a number of disputes with the law. Between 2004 and 2015, he was arrested and charged several times, including disrupting public order and making racist and xenophobic statements.

On October 25th, Rasate took part in a debate on Bulgarian television between some of the marginalized candidates running in the presidential election.

“We are going to take back control of our economy that liberal psychopaths have given to foreigners and sell-outs,” he said.

Wake up call for Bulgaria?

The attack on the Rainbow Hub has been condemned by politicians and parties from across the spectrum in Bulgaria, including former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose center-right government withdrew Bulgaria from a European treaty in 2018 that struck violence against women against strong opposition from religious leaders should fight and political groups.

“We condemn the attack on the LGBT office and a woman by a random presidential candidate,” said Borisov.

Center-right MEP Radan Kanev said in a Facebook post that while the event was “outrageous and disturbing”, it was not unexpected because “violence engenders hatred of various sexualities, especially gays , is not a new problem in Bulgaria. On the contrary, it is a worsening problem that has already hit innocent victims. “

Filipova expressed the hope that the attack will be a wake-up call for the Bulgarian political establishment to fight homophobia and intolerance in Bulgarian society.

“For years we have been trying to bring about changes in the law to combat hate crimes through homophobia and transphobia. Unfortunately, these attempts have been unsuccessful for almost 15 years, ”said Filipova. “I hope you can see now that the problem is really serious.”

Reported and written by Elitsa Simeonova, correspondent for the Bulgarian service of RFE / RL, with contributions by Tony Wesolowsky from RFE / RL in Prague.

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