Handzhiyski v. Bulgaria (Application no. 10783/14)

A selection of key paragraphs can be found below the judgment.

54. The Court observes, however, that the applicant did not engage in any form of violence and did not physically impairMr Blagoev’s monument in any way. He merely placed a cap on its head and a sack at its feet; those were removed by municipal workers a short while later (see paragraphs 10 and 11 above). It was not suggested, either at domestic level or in the proceedings before the Court, that the applicant had somehow coordinated his actions with the unidentified people who had earlier painted Mr Blagoev’s statue in red and white and had painted the words “Father Frost” on its plinth (see paragraph 7 above). 

56. In the present case, the context clearly suggests that the intention behind the applicant’s act was to protest against the government of the day and the political party which supported it, in the context of a prolonged nation-wide protest against that government, rather than to condemnMr Blagoev’s historical role or to express contempt towards him (see paragraphs 4-11 above). The applicant simply used Mr Blagoev’s monument as a symbol of the political party that he wished to criticise. It can thus hardly be said that his act was meant to show disdain for deep-seated social values. This is further confirmed by the fact that it appears that the reactions to it were mixed (see paragraph 16 in fine above). 

57. It should also be noted in this connection thatMr Blagoev’s statue was put up during the communist regime in Bulgaria, and appears to have been seen as sufficiently connected to the values and ideas for which that regime stood to have been removed from its place, albeit for a few years only, shortly after the regime came to an end (see paragraphs 8 and 9 above). This can hardly be compared with, for instance, memorials to soldiers who have given their lives for the defence of their country (contrast Sinkova, cited above, § 110). 

58. It can be accepted that the applicant’s symbolic gesture was hurtful to some of the people who witnessed it directly or learned about it from the media. However, freedom of expression is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that arefavourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population (see, among many other authorities, Handyside v. the United Kingdom, 7 December 1976, § 49, Series A no. 24; Müller and Others, cited above, § 33; Perinçek, cited above, § 196 (i); and Stern Taulats and Roura Capellera v. Spain, nos. 51168/15 and 51186/15, §§ 30 and 39, 13 March 2018). 

59. It follows that the interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression – the finding that he was guilty of minor hooliganism and the resultant fine – was not “necessary in a democratic society”, notwithstanding the margin of appreciation enjoyed by the national authorities in that domain. There has therefore been a breach of Article 10 of the Convention.


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