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Viewers hoping to stream their favorite Bulgarian television shows Sunday evening were instead treated to the Gay Clown Putin meme on their screens.
Nova TV, the Bulgarian National Television, Bloomberg, and Bulgaria On Air were all hacked and had their streams replaced with the meme depicting the Russian president in makeup against the backdrop of a rainbow Pride flag.
"Make Love," the meme reads. "Not War."
Nova BG said service provider Evolink later apologized for the hacking, noting the issue had been identified and resolved less than 20 minutes after it was discovered.
While the hacking was stopped quickly at Evolink, other servers were impacted by the hacked feed for several hours. Nova TV and BNT eventually stopped their streaming altogether, while Bloomberg and BGonA continued to stream the image. Nova and BNT stayed offline until Monday morning.
Associate Professor Georgi Lozanov, an expert on Bulgarian journalism and electronic media, said the hacking showed Bulgarian journalists were providing honest coverage of the Russian military actions in Ukraine.
"Bulgarian media backed the victims and the aggressor reacted," Lozanov summarized in an interview with Bulgarian National Radio.
\u201cPutin a bow tie, some suspenders and strike a pose. http://t.co/q7hz7Frpb6 #Putin #Rainbow\u201d— Putin a Rainbow (@Putin a Rainbow) 1377168100
The Ministry of Justice added the image to its list of banned extremist materials because it suggested a "nonstandard sexual orientation" for Putin. Despite its ban in 2017, the meme has proven a popular form of protest against the Russian president in recent years, with folks creating their own versions of Putin as a gay man.
\u201cA Russian court has banned an image suggesting Putin is gay & sentenced the culprit to compulsory psychiatric care. https://t.co/rUlOO5r6lp\u201d— The Moscow Times (@The Moscow Times) 1491350928
Russia has grown increasingly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community under the rule of President Vladimir Putin. Under his leadership, Putin has enacted a series of anti-LGBTQ+ amendments approved by voters banning marriage equality and transgender adoptions, and centering "a belief in God" as a core value of the country.
\u201cPutin a rainbow ride. http://t.co/qznRlZFgNw #putinarainbow\u201d— Putin a Rainbow (@Putin a Rainbow) 1365341956
In the Nevsky district of St. Petersburg, school teachers were directed to comb through the social media profiles of their students in grades 5 through 11 to create dossiers on those they suspected might be LGBTQ+ or their allies. A Russian ice cream band was accused of promoting "gay propaganda" because it sold rainbow-colored ice cream. And a printer in Ekaterinburg turned away work celebrating the Korean boyband BTS, saying they had enough "normal" clients and didn't want to help turn children into "perverts."