Supporters of nationalist party the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation (VMRO) and ultra-nationalists Ataka staged weekend marches demanding the expulsion of illegal migrants and the closing of Bulgaria’s borders to refugees, citing in particular the stabbing of a Sofia shop assistant, allegedly by an illegal migrant.
Against a background of a sharp increase of illegal migrants entering Bulgaria across the Turkish border, VMRO and Ataka have been campaigning for weeks for an anti-refugee policy.
But the stabbing of the 20-year-old shopkeeper in a shoplifting incident by an illegal migrant, identified variously in Bulgarian-language media reports as an Algerian or of Arab origin, was used by the ultra-nationalists to inflame emotions as the parties staged marches in Sofia on November 3 and the border town of Elhovo on November 2.
The Ataka march on November 2 included Ataka MPs and local leaders of the ultra-nationalist party, and was held on the theme of “say no to the Muslim refugee wave”.
In Sofia on November 3, an Ataka protest outside the Interior Ministry saw participants holding posters reading, “you feed them, they stab us”.
Ataka leader Volen Siderov said that illegal migrants should be banished, not accommodated.
Siderov also criticised President Rossen Plevneliev for not convening the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the refugee situation.
According to Siderov, Plevneliev was breaking the law by not convening the council, a statutory body chaired by the head of state and including the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament along with security and intelligence ministerial and departmental chiefs.
Local media said that the VMRO protest in Sofia on November 3 was joined by thousands of people, chanting slogans such as “Bulgaria for Bulgarians, refugees get out”.
In a media statement, refugees accommodated at the Voenna Rampa centre in Sofia denounced the attack on the shopkeeper.
In the statement, which was supported by the Association for a Free Syria, the refugees said that the act of violence was a crime and the perpetrator should be given the severest punishment.
Bulgaria was a second home and they felt an obligation to comply with its laws, the statement said. The refugees said that they were in Bulgaria with peaceful intentions, to protect their lives and health, not to ruin the social order and pose a threat to Bulgarian citizens.
UPDATE, November 3: Prosecutors initiate hate speech investigation
The Prosecutor’s Office has initiated a pre-court proceeding against Angel Dzhambazki, deputy chairperson of VMRO, in connection with statements by him on November 3, allegedly inciting discrimination and violence.
The pre-court proceeding is a response to a complaint by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee about crimes committed during a rally organised by VMRO-BND in Sofia on November 3. The complaint was made to the Prosecutor-General of Bulgaria, the press centre of the Prosecutor’s Office said.
The matter was referred to the Sofia District Prosecutor’s Office, which immediately initiated a pre-court proceeding under Article 320 (incitement to crimes in front of a large number of people) and Article 162 of the Penal Code (incitement to discrimination, violence, hatred, on the grounds of race, nationality or ethnic affiliation).
The pre-court proceeding is against Angel Dzhambazki and other, so far unknown, people.
The Prosecutor’s Office will not tolerate such manifestations and will exercise all its legal authority, the office said. This is valid for all appeals about “cleaning the city”, about taking “self-defence actions” and aggression against foreign citizens, as well as about “establishment of volunteer’s patrols and units” so as “to introduce order”, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)