Home Politics Bulgarian macho “Chalga” appears in the dock for violence against women

Bulgarian macho “Chalga” appears in the dock for violence against women

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“Punish me, grab my hair, tell me what you want,” scorching Bulgarian folk-pop star Diona sang as she entertained an enthusiastic crowd of mostly teenagers at a concert in the south country.

But “chalga”, which mixes music from the Balkans and the Middle East, is in the spotlight after the country was shocked by the heartbreaking case of a fan mutilated by her boyfriend.

Typically featuring scantily clad women singing about sex, money and gangsters, chalga was born on the ruins of communism in the 1990s.

The genre, also hugely popular in Serbia, sharply divides opinion, with critics saying it perpetuates sexist stereotypes in a country plagued by violence against women.

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In June, outrage over the horrific ordeal a young Chalga fan suffered at the hands of her boyfriend sparked rare protests against domestic violence.

Unlike most victims, Deborah Mihaylova, 18, went public with her testimony on YouTube, recounting how he hit her 21 times with a box cutter, broke her nose and shaved her hair.

She said she was regularly beaten and humiliated by the man, who called her “trash” as he hit and slapped her.

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The case prompted lawmakers to amend a recently passed domestic violence law and toughen penalties, with the 26-year-old man accused of attacking Mihaylova being charged with attempted murder.

But the Bulgarian music industry has repeatedly rejected claims that “chalga” is somehow linked to societal ills.

Chalga’s main promoter, Pancho Zapryanov of Payner Media, blasted these criticisms, saying “sick minds” should not force them to “give up on showing female beauty.”

And fans like Viktor Panev at a concert in the southern city of Haskovo disagree either, saying “chalga” is to Bulgaria and Serbia what “rap is to ‘West”.

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Two 17-year-old girls, who came to the free concert out of curiosity, told AFP that “chalga” had a strong hold on mentalities in Bulgaria.

Some teenagers even resort to cosmetic surgery to “look like their idols”, explained the one called Kristina.

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Her friend Styliana said it was “no surprise” that horrific cases like Deborah Mihaylova’s were happening in Bulgaria, where so far this year at least 15 women have been killed by men they knew, according to NGOs.

But the case appears to have increased awareness of violence against women, with more than two-thirds recognizing it as an “important problem” in a recent poll, up from 50 % in previous surveys.

However, domestic violence cases are also on the rise, with police investigating around 600 in the first six months of the year, 174 more than for the same period in 2022.

After going public, Mihaylova’s favorite chalga singer urged her to try her luck as a singer herself and offered to send her flowers.

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However, NGOs and experts continue to warn against the “toxic” culture of Chalga.

“The threshold of tolerance towards violence, particularly sexual violence, is higher” in Bulgaria than in other European countries, underlines psychologist Ani Torozova of the Animus association, which supports victims of domestic violence.

“Violence and chalga form a vicious circle – looking down on the weak, implicitly praising corruption and degrading women,” said Dilyana Dimitrova, editor-in-chief of a Bulgarian cultural site.

At a recent protest in the capital Sofia, a woman who said she was a victim of abuse told AFP that many in the Balkan country accept that a woman can be “enslaved by a man”.

She said she and her baby were only able to leave her abusive partner thanks to the help of her parents.

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