Mihaela Djorgova is Co-founder and Chairman of the Bulgarian Association “Society and Values”, an NGO which managed an exemplary civic mobilization against the Istanbul Convention. Association Society and Values first filed a signal in September 2017 on the danger and consequences of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Nearly 11,000 people supported the petition, and over 100 organizations, scientists and lecturers joined its Open Letter and later on Statement of Rejection of the Convention.
On July 27, 2018, the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria ruled against the Istanbul Convention, noting an internal contradiction of this international treaty: “By defining gender as a social construct, the gender boundaries of men and women are being relativised, but if society loses the ability to distinguish woman and man, the fight against violence against women remains only formal, but unfulfilled commitment”.
In the following interview, Mihaela Djorgova explains the success of the Bulgarian mobilization against the Istanbul Convention.
We know that Bulgarian Prime Minister Bojko Borisov is against Istanbul Convention, so why was the issue put on the Constitutional Court?
Mihaela Djorgova: The IC was perceived by the indisputable majority of the Bulgarians as a challenge for parental rights, Constitutional order, freedom of religion, personal self-identification, the family traditional values of marriage and society.
This has led to a strong negative public response. Behind the slogan to combat violence against women and domestic violence, society has seen attempts to legitimacy of the LGBTI community by protecting freedom from discrimination.
The decision to submit the convention for ratification in the parliament was taken by vote (9:8). Premier Boiko Borissov and his ministers were under huge pressure from the EU officials, so they promised EU many times that Bulgaria will ratify the Istanbul Convention during the Bulgarian EU Chairmanship.
The Istanbul Convention divided not just the political powers in the parliament but the whole society. Over 70% of the Bulgarian people were against it. There were many protest and lots of media coverage about it. Lots of parents, teachers, professors, doctors, NGOs etc. were against the Istanbul Convention. “Gender” became a very bad word. LGBTI groups behind its ratification, including propositions of changes the law and gender education in the school system were exposed. GERB, Boiko Borissov’s governing party, dropped in the polls. It was only then that 75 MPs from GERB governing party asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the Istanbul Convention is constitutional.
What were the main assertions of the judges?
The main assertions of the judges are that the Istanbul Convention is against the Bulgarian Constitution, and that it is “internally contradictory”.
The great merit of the Decision is the conclusion that the Istanbul Convention is the “first international treaty signed by the Republic of Bulgaria which expressly includes the” gender-based “attribute in Article 4 and 3 as a ground for non-discrimination.”
The decision points that the Istanbul Convention paves the way for the introduction and legal recognition of the concept of “gender” and “gender identity” as different from biological sex, contrary to the Constitution.
The judges’ opinion was that, if the society loses the capacity to tell the difference between woman and man, the fight against violence against women remains just a formal but unfulfilled commitment.
Why is this decision so important? Do you think that this decision can be helpful for other countries, such as as Slovakia or Hungary, which have the definition of marriage included in their Constitutions?
Mihaela Djorgova: The decision is so important because it is a positive example on how other countries should proceed in such cases. There are several great merits of the solution, which one of the leading specialists on international law Vladimir Sheitanov listed. First is that the shared legislative competence of the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court was resolved in deciding on the accession of Bulgaria to international treaties. Second, the supremacy of the Constitution over international treaties; the protection of constitutionality was conducted with indisputable professionalism and all of diversity and richness of views of the professional community, and the opinion of society have been taken into account; and last, but not least, the right of the Bulgarian people to determine the legal reality in which they live was protected from international pressure.
Marriage is defined in the Constitution of Bulgaria as a union between a man and a woman. What is the definition exactly?
Mihaela Djorgova: In article 46 (1) of the Bulgarian Constitution is written that: “Marriage is a voluntary union between a man and a woman. Only civil marriage is legitimate.”
How come the media reported so well on the topic?
Mihaela Djorgova: The topic was rolled into the media when a minister from a governing partner party made a press conference reviewing the arguments. Later on, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is in opposition, also took a strong stand against it.
Slovakia has not ratified the Istanbul Convention yet, mostly because of the churches opposed it. Why the situation was different in Bulgaria?
Mihaela Djorgova: First we reacted as an NGO on the matter, then other people and NGOs joined. We started exposing the consequences of legalizing the gender identity for children, women, parents, and society with some examples, inspired by what Croatia has done.
First the United Evangelical Churches reacted, than the Orthodox Church with a very strong and well-drafted position, than the Catholic Church released their statement. There were some parliamentarians from GERB who dared not to vote for the bill, which was also important.
In the course of the debates, expert opinions have been offered by the president, former ministers, former and current constitutional judges, prosecutors and lawyers, members of the legal academic community, doctors, university professors.
Mihaela Djorgova is Co-founder and Chairman of the Bulgarian Association “Society and Values”. The mission of the organization is to educate, motivate and mobilize like-minded citizens to uphold and defend values and policies that protect human dignity and freedom, marriage and family at national and European level, for healthy families and societies. Mihaela Djorgova specialized in Public Relations and holds a Master’s degree in Economics and Psychology.
The Istanbul Convention
The Istanbul Convention is an EU treaty which:
- introduces the notion of gender as a social construct unrelated to biological sex
- establishes a legal basis for legal action against gender-based discrimination (namely not accepting that a man can present himself as a woman or a woman as a man)
- requires the introduction in public schools of gender education based on the new definition of gender as a social construct