Five years on: remembering Mihail

Hristina Stoyanova holds a photograph of her son, Mihail Stoyanov, in Borisova Garden where he was murdered in September 2008. © Amnesty International
Hristina Stoyanova holds a photograph of her son, Mihail Stoyanov, in Borisova Garden where he was murdered in September 2008. © Amnesty International

Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe and Central Asia, explains what Bulgaria should do to ensure that victims of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are not denied justice.

Five years ago today, Mihail was fatally attacked in Sofia’s Borisova Garden by a gang who wanted to “clean the park of gays”, according to eyewitnesses.

In June last year I travelled to the Bulgarian capital to support the LGBTI Pride. While there, I met with Mihail’s mother Hristina, who told us how her son’s killers attacked him because they thought he was gay.

Hristina is struggling with the prolonged inaction of Bulgaria’s criminal justice system. After five years, Mihail’s killers have not yet been brought to justice. Hristina told me she felt left alone by the authorities as she did not have the impression that they were taking her case seriously. In spite of that, her gaze communicated so much strength. I was struck by her determination to seek justice, not only for her son but also for all those who experience the pernicious effects of transphobia and homophobia.

“What is driving me to seek justice is that no more cases like this should happen. The victims who do not dare to complain should not be afraid anymore to complain. I don’t see the point of complaining if there is no law. It is not only my case. My case got publicity but there are more similar cases that no one is talking about,” she told us.

Bulgaria’s laws do not currently protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from hate crimes. The discriminatory aspect of the crime perpetrated against Mihail will remain officially hidden, even if the suspects are eventually tried. This is unfortunately the case in many other European countries, where the responses to homophobic and transphobic hate crimes remain largely inadequate, as documented by the Amnesty International’s report, Because of who I am: homophobia, transphobia and hate crimes in Europe.

Mihail’s story is far from unique in Europe. A recent survey published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that a quarter of the LGBTI individuals surveyed had been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years. When we remember Mihail, we must remember the countless other victims of homophobic and transphobic attacks, many of whom are unable – or unwilling – to tell their stories.

Last Saturday, Bulgaria’s LGBTI Pride commemorated Mihail’s life as it marched through the streets of Sofia. The best way we can honour his memory is by continuing to pressure the Bulgarian authorities to move forward with his case and amend their hate crime legislation. Amnesty International asked the Minister of Justice to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the new Criminal Code, currently being drafted, as grounds for investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

We certainly do not want to live in a Europe that continues to deny justice to Hristina and all the other victims of hate crimes.

Read more:

EU urged to combat homophobic violence (News story, 18 September 2013)Europe: Because of who I am: Homophobia, transphobia and hate crimes in Europe (Report, 18 September 2013)