Kristina Vassileva: In Bulgaria we face violence in different forms every day

Interview with the organizers of the July 31, 2023 protest against violence in Ruse

Kristina Vassileva is the organizer of the 31 July 2023 protest in Rousse, which expressed solidarity with the 18-year-old victim of violence from Stara Zagora, a woman attacked with a knife by her ex-boyfriend. She is now in a hospital, having received 400 sews. Kristina Vassileva is a lawyer and activist on human rights and anti-corruption issues.

At the end of July, Bulgarian media spread information about the brutal case of violence from a few weeks earlier, after which the attacker was released on parole, despite having previous assaults. We also learned that the brutal attack was classified by a judge in Stara Zagora as “minor bodily injury”. The callousness of Bulgarian institutions and the increasing cases of violence against weaker members of society (for example, queer people) provoked a wave of discontent on social networks. On 30 July 2023, the attacker was permanently detained after it emerged that he had also made death threats against his victim. In the meantime, a new forensic examination has been ordered into her condition. Subsequently, the deputy head of the Stara Zagora district prosecutor’s office resigned at the request of Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov. In turn, Bulgarian lawmakers will interrupt their summer recess to move urgently to discuss legislative changes to give greater protection from domestic violence.

Ms Vassileva, what were the messages and what are the solutions to the problems of gender-based violence heard in Ruse from the speakers at the protest in solidarity with the disfigured 18-year-old Stara Zagora resident?

First of all, we have to look at the emotional aspect of the protest. Many people joined spontaneously as parents and citizens of this society! It turned out that every day people face aggression and violence in various forms, physical or verbal, towards men, women, animals. People are in the square because they have a feeling of impunity and corruption in society!

A message from the protest in Rousse: “Protect your daughters” vs “Educate your sons” (source: Kristina Vassileva)

We see that Bulgarian society, men and women, young and old, react strongly to the case of the injured girl. How do you explain this sensitivity and strong commitment to the problem of violence in Bulgarian society? To what extent is the public energy of today’s protests able to provoke institutional, legislative and social changes?

For me, people are somehow used to this violence and aggression on a daily basis without asking for it. It has become a part of our everyday life. It is terrible to accept it as part of our lives!Unfortunately every miracle is for three days and everything is quickly forgotten. Everyone has resigned themselves to idea that the institutions are not helping and this is “normal”! It is good that civil discontent is provoking some change in our rigid society!

To what extent are law enforcement, judicial institutions and the Bulgarian state even able to respond adequately to the problem of gender-based violence? What could be the content of the violence prevention policies and procedures that both protesters and experts are talking about?

An adequate response would be that when any form of violence is present, no institution neglects the problem but acts appropriately to the situation! For me, prevention should be there in early childhood. If necessary, starting in kindergarten and primary school!

What is the mood in Ruse regarding women’s rights, protection from domestic violence and gender equality?

I wonder if and how to answer this question lest anyone be offended, but at the protest a few children who have clearly experienced violence dared to speak up for me. For me the city does not predispose to this openness, it is somehow too aristocratic and conservative. In general, people don’t like to make a lot of noise and give publicity to a problem. The fact that many people came to the protest shows that it is not total indifference!

Photo: Kristina Vassileva at the protest against gender-based violence in Rousse (source: Kristina Vassileva)

This text was first published on Vladimir Mitev’s personal blog The Bridge of Friendship, 2 August 2023

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