Bulgarian President, head of government speak out against ethnic tension

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev has spoken out strongly against escalation of ethnic tension in the country in recent days, calling for guarantees of civil, ethnic and religious peace.

He was speaking on February 18 against a background of the violent attack on a Plovdiv mosque by a mob on February 14 and the far-right “Lukov March” in Sofia the following day.

Plevneliev, speaking after a meeting with the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), told reporters that ethnic confrontation in Bulgaria was a “very ugly issue” and he hoped it would be an exception and not part of daily life in the country.

“Unfortunately, it is a result of the incitement of tension, aggression and the use of the language of hatred, including on behalf of political leaders,” Plevneliev said.

He called for tolerance and for political leaders to set a good example, rather than taking a politically partisan approach and using hate speech.

MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan proposed that the President convene a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security to discuss the issue of ethnic peace in Bulgaria. The council is convened by the head of state and includes the prime minister, cabinet ministers with security and other strategic portfolios, heads of armed forces, security and intelligence services and leaders of parties represented in Parliament.

Plevneliev said that he was willing to convene the council if the situation called for it.

The march in Plovdiv on February 14 2014 that saw the mosque in the centre of the city attacked by a stone-throwing mob. Photo: (c) Podtepeto.com
The march in Plovdiv on February 14 2014 that saw the mosque in the centre of the city attacked by a stone-throwing mob. Photo: (c) Podtepeto.com

Mestan, whose party has a strong electoral base among Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent, expressed the hope that February 19, when Bulgaria commemorates the execution of Vassil Levski, would not be used as a vehicle for xenophobia and the escalation of tensions.

Levski, the iconic Bulgarian hero of the struggle for liberation from the Ottoman Empire, was hanged in Sofia by Ottoman authorities. The monument marking the spot is an object of reverence and formal ceremonies each year, but also has become a focus of gatherings on the same day by ultra-nationalists such as Ataka.

On February 18, the offices of Plevneliev and Plamen Oresharski, prime minister in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, issued a joint statement calling for the preservation of ethnic peace and condemning the use of hate speech.

The statement said that attempts to invoke hatred and intolerance towards those who were different, setting Bulgarian citizens against each other, putting ethnic peace at risk and using hate speech were unacceptable and should be condemned.

“Bulgaria is known around the world for ethnic tolerance and respect for differences,” according to the statement.

Bulgaria, the statement said, had come through its transition to democracy by establishing ethnic peace and unity among Bulgarian citizens. This was why the constitution referred to the universal human values of freedom, peace, humanism, equality, justice and tolerance.

The statement called on all institutions, political parties, NGOs and individuals to gear their efforts to preventing the incitement of intolerance and to calm tensions and prevent divisions in society.

On the eve of the commemoration of Levski, it was unacceptable for the Apostle of Freedom, peace and ethnic unity of the nation to be used to achieve short-term political goals and cheap populism, the joint statement said.

In Parliament, a motion is to be put to the vote on February 19 calling on political forces to distance themselves from unacceptable and provocative statements that could cause division among Bulgarians.

On February 18, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement expressing dismay at the neo-Nazi “Lukov March” in Sofia.

The march, held annually since 2003, glorifies Bulgarian General Hristo Lukov, who backed Nazi Germany and was a leader in the repression of Jews in Bulgaria before and during World War 2. This year’s march took place despite the decision of Sofia’s mayor to ban it.

lukov march final

“This public display of anti-Semitism on the streets of democratic Bulgaria’s capital is shocking,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris, who has visited Bulgaria on numerous occasions and been honoured by the Bulgarian President.

“Though Bulgarian political and civil society leaders had spoken out strongly against the march taking place, it is deeply disturbing that the police stood by when the march organisers proceeded with it,” Harris said.

lukov march sofia february 15 2014-crop

The statement noted that “Lukov March” participants dress in Nazi uniforms and carry torches, reminiscent of the period before and during the Holocaust, when General Lukov and his allies sought to spread Nazi ideology in Bulgaria. Lukov was assassinated in 1943.

“Bulgaria today is home to a vibrant Jewish community that, Lukov’s efforts to the contrary, was largely saved during World War II by the steadfast courage of other Bulgarians,” Harris said. “Bulgarian authorities, joined by civil society leaders, should step up efforts to counter the Lukov march organisers and other extremists who spread xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

(Main photo, of Mestan and Plevneliev: president.bg)




The Sofia Globe staff

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