Gay Bulgaria is still living in a Britain of 31 years ago

hershman3Organisers of last weekend’s Bulgaria’s Gay Pride rally decided to show a free screening of a rollicking movie called Pride – one that deservedly won widespread praise for its ensemble acting and direction. The film showed how a group of flamboyant London gays and lesbians supported the 1984-5 miners’ strike, winning over homophobic Welsh macho miners in the process. As a piece of art it was, undeniably, outstanding. The audience of mostly young Bulgarians – many of whom were perhaps gay (but who knows?) – were rolling in the aisles and even falling over each other on the staircase (well, it was free) at this uproarious celebration of sexual freedom depicted by charismatic performers.

Bulgaria remains an extremely conservative, communist country regarding social issues. There is no oxymoron or contradiction in this statement. No politician of any complexion has ever backed the message of Sofia’s Gay Pride rally, let alone spoken at the event. Sure, Sofia’s mayor has consented to its taking place. Yet that is totally different from supporting it. Ask any politician to attend and you will get a litany of excuses: they have to oversee the official opening of a new lift in a metro station, their grandmother has suddenly been taken ill deep in the countryside and they promised to visit, they need to go to Alexander Nevski Cathedral to pray for Grigor Dimitrov’s upcoming efforts at Wimbledon etc.

And if you believe that … then you would doubtless believe that every decent, compassionate person in the UK in 1984 supported the strike and thought Scargill was their saviour. Pride was audience manipulation at its zenith. Many times during the film – in between guffaws of laughter, including (admittedly) my own – I wanted to put the audience straight. In Bulgaria, young people are predominantly progressive, grateful that their country has emerged from the horrors of communism. Most of them probably knew little or nothing of the origins of the miners’ strike, perhaps believing that this was just a commonplace labour dispute. They didn’t realise that the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the most stridently anti-capitalist union, would have been glad to have kept them under the boot of communist tyrant Todor Zhivkov (Scargill even opposed Polish union Solidarity!) The NUM leadership supported the very system from which they have been liberated, one that would have never allowed them to watch such an expression of sexual liberation.

The movie conveniently sidestepped the intention behind the strike – to bring down an elected government. Apart from presenting the striking miners and their supporters as heroes, Pride overlooked the intimidation of those miners and workers in other industries who defied the NUM, as well as the union’s failure to call a national ballot. The film’s tacit assumption that all good people – and especially all gays – were just bound to support Scargill’s strike is plain propaganda. Pride’s central premise – that Thatcher was a force of darkness – is perhaps no surprise. This was a BBC production, after all. The actors in this (admittedly) entertaining film probably believed it too.

I don’t doubt that mistakes were made by the police and the Coal Board. But please, and I direct this especially to any Bulgarian gay acquaintances, do not be deceived into thinking that Scargill and his ilk were more your friend than Thatcher. If you believe that then you are gays voting for the gulag. It’s also a mistake to see the miners’ strike as a struggle of oppressed people against bullies. I’m sure the family of murdered taxi driver David Wilkie know the truth. Who remembers him?

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