At about 4.25pm on June 28, on Мостът на влюбените (The Lovers' bridge) near the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, there are only random onlookers and a pack of journalists waiting under the blazing sun. Cameras and camcorders rise in the air, ready to catch some action. Then suddenly, police officers begin to roam about the gathered people.
After heated debates and a preceding Week of Intolerance, declared by the Bulgarian National Union (BNU), the first gay parade in Bulgaria is expected to begin in 5 minutes.
"Come on fags, bring it on," a young man, who does not appear to be older than 16, claps his hands with a macho posture, as the crowd around begins to thicken.
Nobody seems to know what is going on.
Happy laughter comes from a group of young people when someone shouts out, "Hey, now Azis will come!" Azis is a flamboyant Bulgarian pop-folk singer who often scandalises public opinion with eccentric stage costumes and openly advertises his 'marriage' to a younger man.
The only thing to easе the building impatience among those gathered is the flowing sound of kaval (a traditional Bulgarian shepherd's flute), played by an elderly man for some small change.
"I'm just passing by with my granddaughter and decided to see what is going on," Mariana Kostova says and looks around as if to find something worth seeing and justify her presence there. "I do not approve of this demonstration, I think this is a bad example for children," she says and glances at her 12-year-old granddaughter Veronika, standing by her side.
"I think this (the parade) is an ugly and indecent thing," the girl remarks. "But this is Bulgaria, and there are no any laws here."
Then, the crowd begins to move, people turn their heads toward a high-raised sign that reads Аз и моето семейство (Me and my family), recognisable as the motto, under which the Bulgarian gay organization Gemini is holding the event. The handful of people behind it makes few more steps ahead and stops. Slowly, they raise above their heads an enormous Pride rainbow-like flag, which begins to filter the sunrays, illuminating their faces underneath it.
"It did not take me much to decide to participate in this parade. I'm openly gay, and have nothing to hide," Lybomir, 22, says as he tries to control a bouquet of flying balloons he is holding in one hand. He also says that the anti-parade campaign that went on for the whole week did not bother him, and he is determined not to react to any attacks on the parade should someone tries to initiate them. Lybomir says that in his everyday life he is no stranger to some aggression, though it is more subtle.
"You know, we are good people who lead normal lives," Petar, 18, joins the conversation with a smile. In every other country where the Pride has been held for a first time, it has been amid threats and provocations, he says. "I think that this week, some people intentionally attempted to implant some mass-hysteria about the parade, but our community is stronger than that. We hope that there is no open violence today," Petar says and quickly scans the gathered people.
At the same time, making timid steps forward, Milena plunges into the crowd, dressed in a sliver-flicking dress, stylish hairdo and wearing some heavy makeup.
"Die, you filthy transvestite!" a young man says through clenched teeth, then reaches out his hand and hits Milena on the shoulder. She pretends that nothing happened and does not turn around, says nothing.
Then, it is not clear whether is a reaction to her appearance, or just the moment for it has arrived, but the hissing sound of a small firework is heard, followed by a shrieking mini-explosion. People nearby begin to scatter in all directions.
Milena withdraws under a tree. Her eyes fill with tears.
"This is not human," she says, holding tight her pack of cigarettes as being the only thing that could comfort here in this minute. "I came to participate, but did you see what those people are doing? It's outrageous!"
By the time Milena finds a way to escape, rumors begin to circulate that the police has done a mass arrest on a group of young men, who have attempted to disrupt the peaceful gathering.
Leaving the Lovers' bridge, the procession heads down on the Evlogi Georgiev boulevard, closely guarded by a police escort. Nevertheless, the participants walk rather fast. They nervously glance on their left and right sides where in the thicket along the boulevard, parallel with the parade, running figures appear and disappear like ghosts. Soon enough the well-familiar hissing sound of a falling firework or Molotov cocktail is in the air. This time it falls at the feet of one of the participants and after a quick confusion, people step back covering their faces. No one is hurt.
"Tolerance, tolerance," close to 80 gays and lesbians, according to the Bulgarian National Radio, together with their supporters, begin to chant. Right at the same time a flying egg bursts on the asphalt and extracts a "Fuck you" reaction out of a girl walking by.
According to a statement posted on the Ministry of Interior website, there have been more than 60 people detained, who were armed with knuckle-dusters, clubs and fireworks. The police have also discovered a bag filled with cobblestones and fireworks.
Boyan Rassate, the BNU's leader, has been among the detained, the statement said. While he was walking with a group of his supporters, some of them seem to have thrown hand-made smokebombs at a police officer's feet. No other information is available at the moment.
Without further interaction, the procession reaches the Red House Centre for Culture and Debate on 15 Ljuben Karavelov street as a its final point.
"I think that being organised for a first time, it went really well," Peter Moews, president of Tangra Bulgaria Sport Club says as he continues to hold a poster advertising the sports center, which is primarily for gay and lesbians, but not only. Moews says that 25 years ago he had organised the first Pride in his native town of Cologne, Germany. He thinks that in Bulgaria right now what is missing is knowledge about homosexuality in general, and people tend to perceive it as some downside of the accession to the European Union.
"They have to accept us, we have to live too. Please accept this," Moews says and points out to all the people blocking the entrance of the Red house, holding mini Pride flags.
Several metres down the street, standing right in the middle of the intersection of Ljuben Karavelov and Gen. Parensov streets, a young woman and a man passionately begin to kiss. A crowd immediately is drawn. Both wearing Iron Maiden T-shirts, they stop only to take a breath and to shout out : "Protest."