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Genov and Sarbinska v. Bulgaria, No. 52358/15, ECHR (Fourth Section), 30 November 2021

Genov and Sarbinska v. Bulgaria, No. 52358/15, ECHR (Fourth Section), 30 November 2021

The European Court of Human Rights found Bulgaria guilty of violating the freedom of expression of two demonstrators convicted of “hooliganism” for spray-painting a monument to “partisans” on the anniversary of 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, in the context of national protests against the government.


The salient question, in this case, concerns the necessity in a democratic society of such interference with the exercise of freedom of expression, which, moreover, took the form solely of a sanction rather than an order imposed on the applicants to repair the damage.


The defacement, according to the Court, could not be qualified as vulgar or gratuitously offensive. On the contrary, the context clearly suggested that the intention of the applicants was to express disapproval of the recent parliamentary choices of the political party that had provided the main parliamentary support to the government in charge. The act, moreover, had sought to condemn the overall role that that political party, which had ruled during the communist regime, and the “partisans” associated with it, had played in the history of Bulgaria. It cannot be argued, therefore, that it had intended to express contempt for deep-rooted social values. Finally, the monument had been erected during the communist regime in Bulgaria and was therefore clearly linked to the values and ideas underlying that regime. It could not therefore be considered to enjoy universal veneration in the country.


It follows that, since the requirement of necessity is not satisfied, that restriction on the applicants' right to freedom of expression is unlawful.


(Comment by Alessandro Negri)