Defying Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova’s refusal of permission for the annual “Lukov March” honouring a 1930s ultra-nationalist leader, about 200 people turned out in the centre of Sofia on the evening of February 15 – which was followed by Fandukova issuing a new order terminating the march.
But at 7pm, an hour and a half after the scheduled start, the march was still proceeding through the centre of Sofia, escorted by police.
Sofia municipality said that at 5.30pm, it had received a letter from the head of the Sofia directorate of the Interior Ministry asking the mayor of Sofia to take steps to end the event.
The letter said that people gathered near the starting point of the event, in the area of Alexander Nevsky cathedral and Oborishte Street, included people who had been involved in offences previously, including at sporting events.
There also were people meeting the description of some of the participants in the violations of public order on February 14 in Plovdiv, where a mob of anti-Islam protesters vandalised a mosque and marched on the Turkish consulate.
Ahead of the start of the march, organisers remained defiant in the face of Fandukova’s refusal to give permission for it, saying that they intended exercising their constitutional rights.
“Sofia is now under police siege, but that should not make us scared or waver,” local media quoted organisers as saying.
The organisers changed the originally planned route, keeping the new route secret to, as they claimed, “prevent provocations”.
They said that they had been told that the march would be formally banned, which they interpreted as, “with what we have been doing for the past 10 years (the march first was held in 2003) we have scared someone”.
The march, organised by the far-right Bulgarian National Union, honours a general who was war minister from 1935 to 1938 and led the ultra-nationalist, pro-Nazi Germany Union of Bulgarian Legions from 1932 until his assassination on the orders of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1943.
Organisers, who deny that Lukov was an anti-Semitic fascist or that they are neo-fascists, said that “the descendants of the murders of general Hristo Lukov are afraid of what we are doing.”
Ahead of the march, there was a strong police turnout in various parts of the centre of Sofia. Police checked and recorded the identity documents of those arriving for the march and searched them for weapons and alcohol.
Later on the evening of February 15, the Interior Ministry said that 10 participants in the march had been taken to police stations for questioning because they did not have official identity documents in their possession and were in possession of weapons. One was identified as a participant in the February 14 events in Plovdiv.
Earlier on February 15, the Bulgarian Socialist Party issued a statement against the Lukov March, describing the event as a demonstration of the ideology of hatred and resentment, a crude attempt at historical revisionism and worship of the dead Third Reich”.
Earlier, there were calls for the banning of the march, including from the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the Reformist Bloc.
* In a statement on February 16, the United States embassy in Sofia said that it “notes with concern” the violent events in Plovdiv on February 14 and the unsanctioned Lukov march in Sofia on February 15.
“While we support the principle of free speech, that democratic freedom must not be used to spread intolerance and xenophobia.
The US embassy said that it was standing with “the Bulgarian leaders and citizens who have condemned xenophobia and religious intolerance and joins them in urging respect for the human rights that are fundamental to democratic societies”.