Globalising genderphobia and the case of Bulgaria

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ABSTRACT Globalisation has made it easier for progressive ideas to cross borders. Yet the same can be said about regressive ideologies. Under the guise of protecting local traditions, family rights and national identity, genderphobic discourses have spread in seemingly unrelated parts of the world. Bulgaria is a case in point: a powerful religious-nationalist-conservative front has formed against women’s, LGBT+ and ethnic minority rights. This article explores the roots of the anti-feminist movements in the USA, Russia, and Europe. It looks critically at a range of discourse strategies and manipulation techniques used by these movements. And it presents three examples from Bulgaria: the assault on the term “gender,” a seemingly benign pro-birth media campaign, and raising moral panic about the threat to the traditional family. Apparently, behind the anti-globalist, genderphobic campaigns, there are well coordinated global forces at work. Distorting and toxifying the meanings of words, appropriating human rights terms, strategic lying and manipulation have become the tools of a hybrid war meant to undermine democratic societies. The role of language in this process is crucial. So is the role of linguists, who need to approach these phenomena from a critical perspective.

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... In late July 2018, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled that the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (informally known as the Istanbul Convention) does not comply with the Bulgarian Constitution. The Convention Ratification Bill had already been met with staunch opposition from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the right-wing conservative and nationalist governmental coalition, and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, leading to the bill's withdrawal (Slavova 2022). In addition to this political development, the Constitutional Court exploited the flaws in the unofficial translation of the Istanbul Convention, which confusingly translated "gender" as "social sex," to rule against its ratification. ...
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This special issue examines anti-gender politics in the specific geographical and cultural space of Eastern Europe. It investigates whether the region is just another battlefield for anti-gender politics, or a unique setting for specific developments and strategies, considering the impact and legacy of specific historical experiences and sociological and cultural characteristics. The contributions map out these complex developments, examining Czechia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, and Ukraine. In this manner, this special issue attempts both to unravel taken-for-granted and all-encompassing conceptual frameworks concerning anti-gender politics and to articulate a more nuanced picture of these mobilizations.
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The Constitutional Court of Bulgaria played an important role in building and consolidating democratic institutions in post-communist Bulgaria, establishing itself as an effective and respected guardian of the Constitution, “energetically reacting against the encroachments of parliamentary majorities” during the turbulent times of the country’s transition to liberal democracy. Despite its many achievements, however, it would be difficult to argue that the Court played the role of a potent vehicle for human rights revolution in Bulgaria during the transition and pre-EU accession period (1991-2006). In the post-accession period the Court played such a role even less. Its landmark 2018 decision declared the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and DomesticViolence (Istanbul Convention) in violation of Bulgaria’s Constitution and signals a radical turn in its human rights jurisprudence. I argue that in this decision the Court moved away from its practice of cautiously interpreting rights by strictly following the text of the Constitution, towards taking an ideologically-laden activist position in defense of ‘traditional values’, which prompted it to depart from the text of the Constitution and engage in ‘creative’ jurisprudence. The central part of the chapter is a critical analysis of Court’s reasoning in this decision, marking this ideological turn.
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On July 27 2018 Bulgaria's Constitutional Court ruled that the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence ("Istanbul Convention") contravenes the Bulgarian Constitution. In early 2018, the Convention ratification bill met strong opposition from nationalist parties in government, major opposition from the Socialist party, the President of the Republic, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, among other places. Manipulative campaigning, deliberately fanning people's fears (of the 'third sex', of 'gender-ideology', of same-sex marriage) fueled negative popular reactions, prompting the government to withdraw the Bill. Prior to its withdrawal, 75 MPs asked the Court to review the constitutionality of ratifying the Convention. In a split (8 to 4) decision, the majority declared ratification of the Convention to be unconstitutional, arguing that "despite its undoubtedly positive sides, the Convention is internally incoherent and this contradiction creates a second layer in it", shifting its meaning beyond its declared aims-protection of women from violence. The point of contention is the concept of 'gender' (and 'gender identity').
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The abolishment of women’s and LGBTQ rights has become one of the main goals of the so-called “anti-gender campaigns” emerging on a global scale. This study investigates discourses and notions that reject the concepts of “gender” and “gender-based violence” in times of “anti-gender campaigns” in Bulgaria. Based on discourse analysis and data from social media comments, the study demonstrates how “gender politics of fear” in Bulgaria have been included in the heteronormative, political, religious, nationalistic, and anti-feminist discourses and how gender and LGBTQ equality policies are identified as a threat to the traditional Bulgarian values. Engaging with the concept of hegemonic femininity, the analysis identifies four main types of notions among women opposing women’s rights policies and demonstrates how the socialist past of Bulgaria has strengthened these beliefs. Finally, the analysis discusses some possible directions towards a constructive and evidence-based dialogue in times of “anti-gender campaigns”, taking into account the strategic “delegitimization” of gender studies globally and the potential of the progressive and feminist religious scholarship and “contextual reasoning”.
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Mass protests across Europe against marriage equality, reproductive rights, gender mainstreaming and sexual education have centralised in the past few years around so-called “gender theory”. This theory is explained as a new threat to the “traditional family” and “natural masculinity and femininity”, as it allegedly aims at cultural revolution: a post-binary gender world. Many of these debates (and concrete actions) are targeted at schools and the educational process. It is believed that “gender theory” is already being taught in schools, which will have detrimental consequences for pupils. Agents of the anti-gender movement claim that children are being sexualised and brainwashed by “gender theory”. Taking this debate as the starting point, we first examine the roots of the term “gender theory” and point to its nature as an “empty signifier”. We then analyse the types of anti-gender actions across Europe that interfere with the educational process in public schools. Finally, we consider the role of parents and their right to intervene (or not) in the educational process. On the basis of the existing rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, we argue that the provision that parents are entitled to educate their children in accordance with their religious and moral beliefs does not mean that teachers in schools should avoid issues that might “morally distress” pupils or their parents, as long as schools avoid indoctrination, and providing the topics (like any other topics) are conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.
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Although globalization, through the communications revolution and international law, brings the promise of progressive social change, the concern of this paper is with the backlash against women’s increasing emancipation, a backlash that is evidenced in the United States through making a mockery of women’s bid for equality by turning the principles against some women whose lives are troubled while rewarding others. Meanwhile across the world the victimization of women, personal and cultural, is taking place in both democratic and totalitarian regimes. Two related forms of backlash are institutional and personal. That forces from the global market and the corporate media help fuel this backlash is a major contention of this paper.
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