Organisers of the far-right “Lukov March” torchlight procession have vowed to defy the ban on the march imposed by Sofia municipality.
The march, held annually since 2003 in honour of 1930s ultra-nationalist leader Hristo Lukov, was scheduled for February 15 2014 at 5.30pm, but after consulting national and city police and the Prosecutor-General’s office, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova said that permission for the event was being refused.
Organisations including the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the Reformist Bloc all had called for the march to be banned, expressing outrage at a display promoting fascism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. In Sofia, a protest was held on February 9, with the involvement of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs, to demand the banning of the march.
In past years, human rights groups have called for the march to be banned, but 2014 is the first year that the municipality has agreed.
The organisers of the march said in a statement quoted by local media that the route of the torchlight procession would be changed, with a starting point at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier instead of the initially planned starting point at the pylons of the National Palace of Culture.
The organisers’ statement hit out at the “unprecedented pressure” that led to the ban, which they described as including the “unconstitutional” MRF, the “descendants of the murderers of general Lukov, the Bulgarian Socialist Party” (Lukov was assassinated in 1943 on the orders of the Bulgarian Communist Party), foreign embassies, led by the Israelis, and various NGOs (described as “conveyors of foreign interests”).
The decision to change the route was “a courtesy to the institutions and hopefully it will be appreciated by them.”
There was no legal basis to ban the march, they said.
When the ban was announced, Sofia mayor Fandukova said that police had advised that the march could be a threat to public order. Fandukova has requested police to maintain law and order at the time of the march.
Lukov was Bulgaria’s war minister from 1935 and 1938 and from 1932 until his death was the leader of the Union of Bulgarian National Unions, a “patriotic” organisation, while he himself was a keen supporter of Bulgaria’s World War 2 alliance with Nazi Germany. Organisers of the march claim that Lukov was not a fascist nor an anti-Semite but a patriot, as they describe themselves as being.
In World War 2, Bulgaria – in spite of Sofia’s alliance with Berlin – distinguished itself when a movement led by civil society and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church defied the Hitler regime by preventing Bulgarian Jews from being deported to the Holocaust death camps where six million Jews were murdered. This was in spite of Bulgaria, apart from the state’s formal alliance with Germany, having had some fascist movements such as the Ratniks and Lukov’s far-right Legionnaires, the latter a form of youth movement.
In past years, the “patriots” participating in the Lukov march, many of them young people with close-cropped heads, have expressed this “patriotism” by marching in close formation, clad in black clothes and bearing lit torches, on a date close to the anniversary of the February 13 killing of Lukov.