The Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria has expressed concern at the strengthening of xenophobia, racism and extreme nationalism in Bulgarian society.
The statement by the Jewish organisation came against a background of xenophobic and ultra-nationalist sentiments being stoked by some political forces and sections of the media, in turn against a background of a sharp increase of illegal migration into the country from the Middle East and North Africa. Statements by ultra-nationalists at anti-migrant rallies have led prosecutors to open pre-trial investigations against a number of individuals for alleged hate speech.
Further controversy has been stirred by ultra-nationalist groups organising “civil patrols” in central parts of Sofia, near the landmark Banya Bashi mosque and accommodation where migrants have tended to congregate in recent weeks. This area previously was boasted of as a symbol of tolerance in the Bulgarian capital city because nearby houses of worship also include the Sofia Synagogue.
In turn, although Bulgaria was not included in the survey, a recent poll among Jews in a number of European countries by an EU agency found worsening anti-Semitism, and established that some Jews in those countries said that they avoided wearing symbols of the Judaic faith such as kippah (yamulkah) in public.
Shalom said that there was an increased number of anti-Semitic attacks, especially on the internet. It also expressed concern at the revival of political slogans and programmes from the fascist past of the country.
The main political parties had not clearly declared their position on these issues, which created additional tension in society and divided the nation, Shalom said.
Earlier in November, the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, responded to xenophobic attacks in the country by condemning acts of violence against people, regardless of religion and ethnicity, as unacceptable and deeply objectionable. The Chief Mufti’s office called on Muslims to be vigilant but not to respond to provocations.
On the “civil patrol” issue, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova said that the municipality would not allow the formation of such patrols by representatives of nationalist organisations because these were contrary to Bulgarian legislation and the democratic rule of law.
Fandukova rejected claims by nationalist organisations that the municipality had received notifications of the establishment of such patrols.
The formation of private groups to take over the functions of the Interior Ministry was dangerous to public order and security in the country, Sofia’s mayor said.
But media reports and posts on social networks made it clear that “civil patrols” already were openly patrolling parts of Sofia. Participants appeared on national television giving interviews about their activities.
Boyan Rasate, of the “Union of Bulgarians – National Unity” group, seen on television in the company of groups of young men patrolling the streets, told reporters that the groups did not check identity documents (earlier reports and social networks posts depicted them as doing so, which is unlawful given that only police have the legal right to do so) and said that members of the patrols were carefully selected and would not provoke conflict.
Reporters from local media who accompanied one of Rasate’s patrols, of young men wearing armbands based on the Bulgarian national flag, said that at one point, two police on motorcycles had stopped the group, collected the “patrol’s” identity cards and recorded the data. The police warned the group to obey the law and not create problems, the report said. Challenged as to why the police did not prevent the group proceeding, the police were reported as saying that they could not be prevented from walking on a public street.
(Photo of Sofia Central Synagogue: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)