It happened 10 years ago: Three young men approached Mihail Stoyanov at the Borissova Gradina park in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. They hit him hard with fists, breaking his jaw. Then they pressed his body and face onto the ground, suffocating him.
In Bulgaria, homophobia is very popular. Nobody, not even the government, tells this nation of 7 million to accept the fact that there are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex people in their midst. The opposite is the case: Some government members call homosexuals “sick”. And the more moderate ones, such as Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, try very hard to avoid the subject.
A year ago, the head of government said, the LGBTI community should not have their annual Pride Parade. Also he stated, that same community was “not subject to persecution in Bulgaria.”
Two of the three men, one of them was not an adult yet at the time of the crime, received prison sentences, 15 and 6.5 years. Those sentences were shortened on Thursday, by the Supreme Court. Radoslav Kirchev, the younger murderer, got 4.5 years, and Aleksandar Georgiev 10 years.
According to the Bulgarian-language publication “Huge”, it was unclear what the court’s motives were. The decision, first reported by the Bulgarian daily “24 Hours”, was not immediately published by the court itself, which is rather unconventional.
One of the murderers, Kirchev, already was under house arrest for two years. This means his jail time will be 2 and a half years only. Both defendants were taken into custody and are now behind bars, local media reported now, 10 years after the murder.
Earlier, two other courts established that both Georgiev and Kirchev were part of a “brigade” formed with the purpose of “cleaning the park of gays”. They beat and murdered Mihail Stoyanov because they decided he was gay.
The case shows what homophobia, which is wide spread in Bulgaria and many other Eastern European countries, can lead to. When only a handful of organizations fight the problem and the government does not care about the LGBTI community at all, which was the case ten years ago and still is now, it can spread almost unrestrained. And it does lead to violence. It does obviously lead to murder.
Another problem is that hate crimes are not even being mentioned in Bulgarian laws. Organizations such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee have fought for changes for decades, without success.
More problems were demonstrated this week. The legal system in Bulgaria is far too slow, especially in a case like this one. It took the authorities two years to identify the murderers. And the only reason they found them at all was a rather unintelligent mistake the culprits made: They stole their victim’s phone.
The shortened jail sentences are a matter of discussion as well. The victim’s mother was quoted by the publication dir.bg, saying for killing a dog, people were sent to prison for 6 years. “And for my son, a medical student, 10 and 4.5 years.” She said there was no justice in Bulgaria.
NGOs are saying there was still violence against members of Bulgaria’s LGBTI community. The latter gets moral support from Western embassies in Sofia, but not from their own authorities.
One of the NGOs which dealt with the sad case of Mihail Stoyanov was Amnesty International. Five years after the murder, in 2013, Amnesty’s Marco Peroline wrote, Bulgaria’s laws “do not currently protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people from hate crimes. The discriminatory aspect of the crime perpetrated against Mihail will remain officially hidden.” This prediction was proven right.
Mihail was 25 when he was murdered.