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On 8 August in Stara Zagora

The protests against violence against women continue

The sentences must be immediate and custodial, Maria Boneva, civil activist and participant in the nationwide protests told Radio Bulgaria

| updated on 8/7/23 11:54 AM
Photo: BTA

At an extraordinary sitting today, the members of parliament will discuss, at first reading, amendments to the Criminal Code and the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act. 
Last Thursday, the members of the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee unanimously approved the amendments to the Criminal Code put forward by GERB/SDS, We Continue the Change/Democratic Bulgaria (PP/DB) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). All of this – the “emergency” amendments to the Criminal Code and the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act – came about after society was galvanized into civic action by the many instances of violence against women, the most drastic one among them being the attack against an 18-year old girl from Stara Zagora - who was beaten, whose body was slashed multiple times and who had her hair cut off – all of which the court classified as “minor bodily injury”. All of this took place at the end of June, yet it only came to light now, and society reacted angrily with a wave of protests. 
People from Sofia, Stara Zagora and 20 other towns, as well as Bulgarians living abroad, organized protests demanding swift and effective punishment for the perpetrators. These protests will continue on Tuesday, 8 August because the “Debora case” once again laid bare the failure of the institutions to act against a multiple offender, who has perpetrated similar acts of violence in the past. 

“Bulgarians are definitely saying “enough is enough” because there is no normal family, no normal mother, father, no normal person who can regard this violence as part of our lives. Who can think we have to live with the fear that our child could be humiliated, beaten, subjected to psychological abuse, the things that 18-year old Debora from Stara Zagora suffered – slashed with a box cutter 21 times, not to forget the trauma of the women who have had acid thrown in their face,” says Maria Boneva, one of the activists demanding amendments to the legislation for swift and effective punishment for the perpetrators. Maria herself has been battling physical and mental trauma for 20 years after being the target of domestic violence:
Maria Boneva with Elena Venkova, a close friend to Debora from Stara Zagora
“What has to change in this country is the way forensic reports are drawn up, because as long as there is a Jack the Ripper living among us, as long as there are women who get killed and stuffed into suitcases, there need to be swift and custodial sentences. I shall continue the fight so the perpetrators will not be released on bail, not to mention the paltry sun of 500 to 1,000 Leva. The minimum should be 25,000 Leva (a little over EUR 12,700) because that is the minimum sum the victim will need for medical treatment; the sentence for the perpetrators of such acts must be life imprisonment. Our whole system is rotted to the core, I shall fight to change it. What shocks me is that it is all seen as domestic violence – I think am entitled to be shocked because I am taking part in the protest in Stara Zagora in the capacity of victim, not as someone representing a political faction in pursuit of their interests. Because this isn’t an isolated act of violence, or a series of acts, what we are seeing is the deterioration of our society. We have allowed this to happen. We live in a society in which parents are indifferent to the acts of cruelty by their children, they don’t regard drugs as such a big problem, but drugs are often the trigger for the acts of violence. So, the protest in support of the girl who was cut up with a box cutter runs much deeper. It is against the flaws in our society. For years these problems have been covered up deliberately. The person who cut up Debora’s body is a multiple offender, but he has not been convicted and has not been given a custodial sentence for his former acts of violence against women. It could well turn out he is part of a criminal organization, because the Debora case was omitted from the police reports at the time. I do not believe what we have here is a boy in love with a girl, I think there are interests behind it that are completely different.”

The fact the MPs are holding a sitting to discuss amendments to the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act isn’t going to have any positive result, Maria Boneva says, and adds that the only positive sign would be if there is a swift custodial sentence for the perpetrator on Monday – “anything else means politicizing an act in which there is so much human suffering”. The anger is even more powerful because in Bulgaria the institutions act selectively, Maria Boneva says. But if the victim is the prosecutor’s daughter, or the daughter of some politician, then the sentences would be swift and effective. But for ordinary people there is no such protection, says Maria Boneva: 
“Nothing can excuse the institutions because how can you let someone who is obviously a sadist just walk – it is inadmissible for the prosecutor, a woman, to let the criminal go. Crimes are committed all over the world but in this country we see a particular viciousness, and this in the 21st century. That is why there were protests by Bulgarians in front of the embassies in Greece, France, Cyprus.” 
Translated and posted by Milena Daynova
Photos courtesy of Maria Boneva, BTA, BGNES

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