GERB Withdraws Istanbul Convention and Postpones Ratification until after Bulgarian EU Presidency, BSP Moves for Referendum
Sofia, January 25 (BTA) - GERB withdraws from pre-ratification discussion by the parliamentary Religious Faiths Committee the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, and postpones its ratification until after the end of the Bulgarian EU Presidency in June, GERB floor leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters in Parliament. GERB promised to hold more debates with experts, representatives of
the academia, of the different religious denominations in order to clarify the aims of the Convention.
The Convention was met by strong resistance on the part of a number of political and public organizations, including the United Patriots in the ruling coalition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Volya, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the main religious denominations. A key argument of the opponents of the Convention is that it introduces untraditional definitions of gender and covertly asserts a particular gender ideology.
"We think that at the moment the public has been very strongly misled," Tsvetanov said, noting that one million women in Bulgaria are victims of domestic violence. He called on his fellow MPs to be more responsible and refrain from incorrect implications and claims.
Tsvetanov said that the ruling coalition is not shaken by the diverting opinions on the Convention, given that the document is not part of the coalition agreement. He accused the BSP with mendacity, saying that they had participated actively and that the women members of the party had insisted on the BSP's leadership to sign the Convention.
Chairman of the parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee Danail Kirilov said that a procedure is underway to clarify the constitutional provision concerning marriage as a union of a man and woman. Also, discussions are being held on the unequivocation of the concept of gender. The interpretative declaration to the Convention is ready too, Kirilov said.
The Socialists' group in Parliament initiated a procedure for holding a referendum on the ratification of the Convention. The proposed question is "Do you support the ratification by the National Assembly of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence?". Mp Zhelyu Boychev said that 74 Left MPs signed the referendum petition.
He said that GERB's decision to postpone the ratification procedure makes this referendum all the more needed as the awareness campaign for the referendum will answer many questions "that crop up as one reads the convention".
The United Patriots thanked their coalition partners in GERB for postponing the ratification. Their co-leader Volen Siderov said at a news briefing that the postponement is the right decision as it would allow a broader public debate. He also said it was "a step forward in improving coalition culture".
Speaking to reporters in Parliament earlier in the day Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva urged for a broader debate on the Istanbul Convention, so as to hear all opinions, not only of the non-governmental sector but of the victims of violence too.
Zaharieva said that all entities which have taken a stand against ratifying the Convention are against domestic violence. She noted that the public must understand that the Convention concerns exactly domestic violence, and therefoe make an informed choice.
The Foreign Minister stressed that if anyway the Convention is not ratified by the Bulgarian Parliament, there will be no consequences for this country. "Doing so Bulgaria will unfortunately demonstrate that it wants to be part of the democratic community in only a token manner," Zaharieva said.
In her opinion, there is no problem in incorporating provisions of the Convention in the Bulgaria law but asked if the texts are going to be copied anyway, why not ratify the Convention? Zaharieva gave as an example strict Catholic countries such as Poland who have ratified the Convention.
According to Zaharieva, a referendum on the topic as demanded by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) should be on the pro or contra domestic violence, as this is the subject matter of the Convention.