The leaders of Bulgaria’s far-right Vazrazhdane party might have hoped to inspire fear with their poster of the ‘nazguls’ — the evil black riders from the Lord of the Rings movies — to summon supporters to a protest against coronavirus restrictions on January 12, but for many Bulgarians this was just another cause to get online and mock the party.
Shortly before the protest, which culminated in a failed attempt to storm the parliament, an investigation by bTV revealed that four of Vazrazhdane’s 13 MPs are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, despite party members’ lurid descriptions of anti-coronavirus vaccines as ‘experimental liquids’ and a ‘monstrous’ experiment.
In Bulgaria, commentators on Facebook said, even the anti-vaxxers are fake. The situation even inspired a song by song by LGBTI performer Angelina Letnikova (Angelica Summer). Then, in a move that no doubt offended members of the staunchly homophobic party, online critics promptly dubbed them ‘trans-vaxxers’.
“Trans-vaxxer. You are vaccinated but you define yourself as unvaccinated,” popular director and author of satirical collages Valdes Radev wrote on Facebook.
One of Radev’s followers, Vasil Todorov, responded with a similar comment: “Trans-unvaccinated – completely vaccinated person, usually supporter of Vazrazhdane, who is against vaccines and does not believe in them.”
Democratic Bulgaria MP Teodor Mihaylov continued in a similar vein in a Facebook post republished by Offnews news outlet. Mihaylov wrote there are at least six types of 'vaccination orientation', a reference to Vazrazhdane’s homophobic rhetoric. Among the six types he defines ‘homovaxxinal orientation’, putting Vazrazhdane in that category.
“Homovaxxinal – these are people who are vaccinated but claim they are not so that others do not think of them being fools or cowards. They have a green certificate but do not show it to anyone,” he wrote.
Not to be deterred, Vazrazhdane politicians doubled down on their anti-vaccine stance at a time when Bulgaria has been reporting record numbers of new cases as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads across the region. Currently only around 30% of Bulgaria’s population are vaccinated, the lowest level in the EU.
“The vaccines, scientifically honestly do not meet the definition of vaccines. At the moment we are talking about one monstrous socio-engineering experiment in which the health of the people is on the map of a socio-engineering geopolitical game. That is my opinion, but it is also the group's [opinion],” party secretary Nikolai Drenchev said in an interview with bTV.
He added: “until I have a gun in my forehead, I will not get vaccinated.”
“For all vaccines that have been produced in the last decade and have not gone through a long processing, I would not recommend anyone to apply them. But that, I say again, is anyone’s personal decision,” Drenchev concluded.
Asked directly what he meant as he was vaccinated back in August, however, Drenchev said he can choose for himself and cannot recommend anything to anyone.
His colleagues Ivo Ruschev and Stoyan Taslakov also sought to defend their decisions to get vaccinated, with the latter saying he got the jab under pressure from his family to protect his 94-year-old grandfather and following advice from experts in the UK where he lived for six years.
These explanations didn’t cut much ice with commentators like well-known PR and communications expert Lubomir Alamanov, who wrote in a detailed takedown on Facebook: “The whole of Bulgaria is laughing at the MPs of Vazrazhdane who have wrapped themselves in their explanations of whether and how much they have vaccinated themselves.”
He then took aim at the nazguls poster, commenting on the importance of reading books, and suggesting that Vazrazhdane’s members apparently had not read J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic trilogy and were unaware of who the nazguls were — though he hinted they may have inadvertently struck on a powerful metaphor for Bulgaria’s corruption-ridden politics.
“The heroes shown on the photo are nazguls. Powerful people who have sold their souls for gold and power,” he wrote. “Hmm, is any political force seriously boasting about this?”