With Heels Against the Police - The Bulgarian Woman Who Became a Symbol of Hope in Turkey
A girl in a black summer dress walks down a small street in downtown Istanbul. Her heels clatter on the pavement, followed by dozens of police officers equipped with shields, helmets and batons. They press her to go faster, try to push her into one of the adjacent lanes.
However, the girl in the black dress does not hurry, she continues to walk still slowly and confidently, although she can already feel the shields resting on her back.
"Can't you see I'm in heels, darling, so I'm walking slowly," she told the police, clearly telling them not to push her.
"There is love and hope here. I don't know what you are doing, but I walk slowly with love and hope," she tells them, her face radiating steadfastness.
She is Liana Georgieva and is one of several thousand demonstrators who took part in the Pride march in Istanbul in June this year.
Her name became known throughout Turkey after the video with her words to the police was shared tens of thousands of times on social networks and seen by millions of people in just a few hours. Even the American singer Madonna shared it.
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Interviews with Turkish and international media follow, random people start stopping her on the street and want to take pictures with her, and her phone is flooded with messages from strangers who thank her for encouraging them and showing them "how to be brave." She is told that she has become a symbol of hope - for women in Turkey, for the LGBT+ community, but also for people who disagree with the authoritarian regime in the country as a all.
"It's like we were at war"
"In fact, it all happened by accident," Georgieva, 26, told Free Europe.
She was born into a German-Bulgarian family and spent most of her life in Germany. In the spring of 2019, he decided to ride a bike around Europe - without a plan, objectives or deadlines. She ended up in Istanbul by accident, where she also got an offer to study jazz music.
Two years later, she still lives in Istanbul and sings and writes music under the pseudonym Liana Georgi.
She doesn't like to label herself, she just says that her songs are always inspired by real stories and often tell about love between women.
The result of certain coincidences is the video in which her words to the Turkish police are heard. On the day of the Istanbul Pride in June, she goes to the event with a friend. She says she did not expect such a huge police presence.
2014, when 100,000 people attended the Pride in the city, is the last year in which the event is held with the permission of the authorities. Since 2015, a march calling for equal rights for the LGBT+ community has been banned in Istanbul.
Despite the bans, the event continues to take place every year. However, it is invariably accompanied by arrests and clashes with police. These happened this year as well.
"After just walking peacefully for 20-30 minutes on one of the main streets, we reached the Cihangir neighborhood. There the police came from all over, really from everywhere. It was as if we were at war," Georgieva said. "They surrounded us and tried to disperse us into smaller groups."
Police managed to push them into the nearby small streets, several people were arrested in front of her. At one point, she loses the friend she came with and finds herself alone, with only a few other strangers demonstrating. A dense column of police pressed them from behind.
With heels against the police
Then, in a rush of courage mixed with anger, she decides to turn to the police.
"Honestly, I'm just tired. Because I looked back and saw only policemen. Then I said to them, “Well, what are you doing? You are human and I am human!” Says Georgieva.
"It was hot, I was wearing heels and I just told them I would keep going at my pace. I told them: I'm sorry, but let's go slower. I don't know what you are doing, but I am walking slowly with love and hope. Because there is love and hope here. I don't even know how I thought about it at the time, it was really like a movie.”
Liana Georgieva at the protest against Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, July 1, 2021, Istanbul
It turns out that the moment was sealed - a woman filmed her from the window of her apartment, and after a while several more cameras appeared, which caught her words to the police. After only a few seconds, however, the pressure intensified.
"I felt like they were pushing us harder. Then a woman took my hand and said, "Okay, let's go." And I realized that the moment was over and it could become very dangerous for me. The police really started going much faster and after 10 minutes the tear gas was everywhere. We couldn't breathe all over the neighborhood.”
Georgieva manages to return to her apartment, where she sees and hears people fleeing from the police.
"From home we heard people screaming, running, we heard the police. Then we took a few more people from the street to my house. We gave them water because they were all coughing like crazy from the hot gas. At one point we were about 20 people in the living room. They were all very scared,” she recalled.
"There is no such thing as LGBT+ in Turkey"
In the end, 25 Pride participants were arrested. In addition to tear gas, police used rubber bullets to disperse the march.
The young Bulgarian woman realizes that the arrest and the bullets escaped her only because she is a foreigner. That the "police tolerance" seen in the video that became so well known in Turkey would not have existed if her passport had been Turkish.
In the report of the human rights organization ILGA Europe, Turkey ranks penultimate among 49 other European countries in terms of protecting the rights of people from the LGBT community. Discrimination, hate speech and violence against them are widespread in the country.
Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was "no such thing as LGBT" in Turkey, and Dianetta (the Directorate of Religions) blamed gays for the coronavirus pandemic.
"People here are very scared, they don't feel free. There is so much police brutality, repression. Especially if you're gay, they can arrest you for the slightest thing. There is no such freedom as I had here. It is due only to the fact that I am not from Turkey," Georgieva said.
A symbol of hope
This is the reason why her attitude towards the police provoked such a reaction in Turkey - a country where, according to her, no one dares to confront the police so directly. Even less often, it is done by a woman, a representative of the LGBT+ community.
"I think that's why people see me as a symbol of hope. They tell me that the video has helped them believe that change is possible and that they have some power.”
However, she wants things not to be limited to just one video on social networks. In the past few months since Pride, Georgieva has managed to connect with many politicians, journalists, musicians and actors. According to her, much more attention is needed on the situation of the LGBT community in Turkey.
However, she also used the time to write a new song, inspired by what happened to her in June.
"I hope this song gets attention, not for me, but for my community. I just want people not to feel so alone. I want people to know that it is perfectly normal to love the person you love. And I believe there is hope for change for the better, even here in Turkey."
/Free Europe Bulgaria
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