The 2017 Sofia Pride parade, the 10th such event in the Bulgarian capital, went ahead on June 10 with a massive deployment of police to prevent clashes as a group of far-right extremists mounted their own event ?to clear up the rubbish in Sofia?.
A festive atmosphere pervaded Sofia Pride as it got underway, in spite of concerns that extremist homophobes would try to attack the event.
Hours before Sofia Pride got underway, there was a strong security presence ? mounted police, gendarmerie and officers from the Sofia and national police in roving patrols ? in the city, while at the entrance to the gathering place near the Monument to the Soviet Army, organisers of the event had their own security protocols in place.
Speaking to local media, organisers of the event underlined that Sofia Pride was essential as a ?political means of communication that part of Bulgarian society does not have equal rights?.
In contrast to the huge turnout for Sofia Pride 2017, which organisers said exceeded the more than 2000 who came for the 2016 event, the gathering of National Resistance activists ? some wearing body armour and some carrying brooms ? drew a scant 50 people. A deployment of security forces, outnumbering them, kept them from interfering with participants in the Pride event.
So massive was the police deployment for Sofia Pride 2017 that veteran observers likened it to that in past high-security events such as two visits by US presidents, the Nato parliamentary assembly, and ? on another side of the coin ? the 2013/14 anti-government protests.
Sofia Pride chose an emblem for this year of a rainbow mummer mask, of a kind familiar to Bulgarians because it is based on a ?kukeri? mask, used to chase away evil spirits in a number of annual customs and rituals.
This irked two of Bulgaria?s largest folklore groups, Gotse Delchev and the Bulgare ensemble, who wrote an open letter objecting to the use of traditional Bulgarian folk symbols in the Sofia Pride event.
Sofia Pride 2017, which began at about 6pm and was scheduled to continue until 10pm, saw a procession through some of the Bulgarian capital?s major boulevards begin some time after 7pm.
As has become traditional for the event, participants include not only those of an orientation other than heterosexual, but also citizens and supporters opposed to homophobia and in favour of equal rights for all, irrespective of gender orientation.
(All photos: copyright Imanuel Marcus)