It’s been a good couple of weeks for having your voice heard in Bulgaria. Following the Bulgarian Parliament passing a controversial Forestry Act on 13 June, thousands of people took to the streets for a peaceful protest, with placards reading phrases such as “Sorry for disturbing you. We are just trying to rescue what has been left of Bulgaria.”
The Act allowed for the construction of ski tracks and lifts without changing the status of the land, allowing private companies to cut down public forests to build private sports and recreational facilities. The centre-right GERB government argued that the Act would benefit Bulgaria’s tourism industry – a crucial part of this small country’s economy.
But over the past fortnight, thousands of Bulgarian citizens have taken part in protests against the legislation, which they believe will pave the way for the devastation of nature and construction of poorly-regulated ski developments. In addition to objecting to the content of the legislation, the protests have also focussed on the way in which it has been developed – it was rushed through legislative processes despite widespread dissent and ongoing rallies throughout the winter months.
The protests, which were primarily organised by people through social networks such as facebook and twitter, led to the Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev vetoing the amendments – a victory for the people of Bulgaria, and particularly the mainly young demographic who organised these events, who will now realise that they have the power to voice their opinions and to make a difference to their country’s future.
In stark contrast to these peaceful, productive protests comes the news that Bulgarian Orthodox Priest Fr. Evgeni Yanakiev is inciting Christians to throw stones at participants in the fifth annual Sofia Pride parade scheduled to take place this weekend. In an interview published in Bulgarian newspaper Standart, he says, “Our whole society must in every possible way oppose the gay parade that is being planned. For this reason today I appeal to all those who consider themselves Christians and Bulgarians. Throwing stones at gays is an appropriate way.”
The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church backed Fr. Yanakiev’s statement, claiming it would be a “harmful demonstration that violates the rights of Orthodox Christians.” How exactly these rights are violated is unclear, and reminds me of this poster that I recently saw on facebook:
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, founder of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, decried the words of Yanakiev and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. He said, “It is a sad day when clergy who proclaim the gospel in churches to… “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” can turn around and incite the faithful to act violently toward others who are different from them… The church has an obligation to respect the dignity of every human being even when we disagree with them. For church leaders to align with violence and persecution of any minority by the state or the mob is a gross violation of the values and call of Jesus to his followers…
“It is a sad day when the secular state appears more Christian than the church itself. If the church has forgotten her own history of persecution and of being the persecutor, we are part of the problem and have lost our ministry of reconciliation in our time.”
Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Fr Yanakiev has a lot to learn from the environmentalists when it comes to protesting. They have calmly raised their objections and stimulated debate around a topic, which has led to change for the good and empowerment. What Fr. Yanakiev is encouraging his supporters to do is to act in a way that precludes conversation, understanding or a sense of community and can only lead to hostility and conflict and to portray the church in a bad light.
Here’s hoping that those who hear Fr Yanakiev’s call to action have a better understanding of Christian values than he appears to.