On the last day of January, a panel discussion was held on “The family in a democratic society: Can the child’s rights conflict with his or her family’s rights?” During the event, an unprecedented conversation spontaneously began between representatives of the human rights community and representatives of the organizers of the protests against the Strategy for the Child and the Law on Social Services. In the crowded hall, there were also citizens interested in this hot and important topic, as well as concerned parents.
The panel discussion was organized by BOLD in the cozy hall of the House of Sofia and was the start of BOLD’s long-term campaign on the topic of child and family protection. The campaign aims to help better understand basic laws and policies regarding the family and children and to form public attitudes and public policies aimed at respecting the rights and dignity of children and other family members.
The event was opened by the panel moderator Dr. Krassimir Kanev, Chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, who welcomed all the guests, began with a few introductory words on the comprehensive topic of the family, and mentioned the unexpected refusal of Sofia University “Kliment Ohridski” to provide a platform for this awkward and controversial topic.
Prof. Antony Todorov spoke on the topic “When the child grows up and when he has rights?”, Starting with the announcement of the published position of BOLD on the issue, discussed in detail the meaning of the term “rights of the child”, whether the family has the child and whether it can exercise full power over children. It ended with a call not to succumb to the fears instilled.
The second panelist, Kalina Zafirova, an eco-social activist, spoke on the topic of domestic violence against children, the types of violence and the necessary guarantees for protection from these forms of abuse, as well as the neglect of children’s needs and specific violence against children of different sexual orientation or gender identity.
Dr. Dimitrina Petrova spoke about the strong civic activity around the National Strategy for the Child and the Law on Social Services, the diversity in the ranks of protesters against them, and the global rise of cultural conservatism. It marks real cases of illegal removal of children from social services and how this affects people’s emotions.
Then Assoc. Prof. Valentina Georgieva, a lecturer at Sofia University “Kliment Ohridski”, presented statistics on the family, which show that the traditional family values and attitudes that are preached are not in line with the reality of today’s family in Bulgaria. She reminded of the unaccepted proposals for de facto cohabitation in 2009 and made public the campaign for the group submission of applications to Sofia Municipality for a registered partnership #FamilyFor All.
In the role of a discussant, Prof. Ivaylo Dichev, a lecturer at Sofia University “Kliment Ohridski”, commented on the messages of the panelists and asked challenging questions to each of them. During the answers, interventions from the audience started and an intensive discussion took place. Representatives of organizations against the Strategy for the Child and the Law on Social Services told the public personal stories and gave examples of irregularities in the child protection systems and social services, presenting their understandings of what the family is. They stressed the diversity of the protesters, as well as their unanimity on several issues raised by the panelists.
Dimitrina Petrova allowed herself to express her admiration for the fact that there is a truly authentic meeting of different value communities that talk despite their differences. Many participants also emphasized that both children and families would benefit from formulating reasonable common demands. Representatives of the protesting activists commented on the role of the media, which often dramatizes and intensifies the division and makes unfounded insinuations about the protesters and the civil sector.
A guest in the audience, a representative of an organization that provides social services, shared about the thousands of victims of violence who have passed through their centers and gave the sad statistics about the dozens of children and women in the morgues killed by fathers and partners. While acknowledging the many gaps in the social system, she pointed out the lack of political will and neglect of social work, marginalized communities, victims, people with addictions and mental health problems. He thanked the organizers of the event on behalf of the therapists and social workers and called for constructive dialogues between all in good faith.
A representative of an LGBTI organization appeals that when this process of rapprochement between dissidents and the identification of common opportunities for struggle takes place, we should be honest, put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and not neglect their rights, including the right to family.
Asked by a guest whether BOLD believes that the civil society organizations protesting now are related to Putin’s re-election in 2012 and the renaissance of a totalitarian regime associated with Orthodoxy and Eurasianism, Dimitrina Petrova said that BOLD’s position clearly states that the range of protesters is extremely complex and wide and cannot be reduced to a single denominator, and that the vast majority of people are thereby conviction, believing in their cause, driven by fears, some of which are unfounded.
In conclusion, a desire was expressed to find a format for the continuation of the extraordinary conversation between different ideological communities, and BOLD, as a community seeking a broader base of supporters and supporters of democratic values, could be one of the catalysts of this conversation. We hope that the participants left our forum with a slightly more transformed and improved view of what the people on the other side are, and that in itself is a step in a promising direction.