Israel’s ambassador in Sofia, Shaul Kamisa-Raz, has written a formal letter to Bulgarian authorities – with copies to mayors of major cities – calling for legal action against the sale of items bearing Nazi symbols.
He asked whether there were ordinances that could be used against the sale of such items, and if there was not one, for the passing of such legislation.
Kamisa-Raz said that he had been alerted by an Israeli television station to the sale in Sofia of drinking glasses embossed with swastikas.
This is not the first time that there have been reports in Israeli and Jewish media abroad about the sale of Nazi-related memorabilia in Bulgaria. In 2013, a Jewish newspaper in New York reported that a group of tourists had been offended on seeing Nazi souvenirs on sale in the centre of Sofia.
Kamisa-Raz was speaking in an interview with mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa, published as concerns about ethnic issues in Bulgaria were high on the national agenda.
On February 15, the annual far-right “Lukov March” took place in Sofia in spite of a ban by the mayor, and this took place a day after an anti-Islamic crowd of protesters unleashed violence when they hurled paving stones and other objects at the landmark Dzhumbaya mosque in Plovdiv.
Israel’s ambassador said that unlike many other countries in the world, the level of anti-Semitism was low in Bulgaria but was nonetheless there, as evidenced by the Lukov March, anti-Semitic graffitti and the sale of objects with fascist symbolism.
Referring to the recently-observed awakening of anti-Semitic ideas and organisations in Bulgaria, he said that the emergence of far-right parties should be a cause of concern for everyone because it opened the way for damage to inter-ethnic dialogue and could reflect negatively on the country’s image abroad.
Kamisa-Raz said that in recent months, the embassy had worked very closely with various institutions, including the Presidency, the goverment, the Interior Ministry, Prosecutor-General, Education Ministry and individual cultural institutions against a rise in popularity of anti-Semitism in Bulgaria.
He welcomed the banning of the Lukov March, while expressing regret that it had nonetheless gone ahead, while noting that the 2014 event had been on a much smaller scale than in previous years.
Kamisa-Raz also expressed concern about the February 14 events in Plovdiv, describing them as “extremely disturbing”.
“We regret that in a city of tolerance, such as Plovdiv, there can be damage because of such actions.”
It was the duty of everyone to work against the rise of extremist far-right parties because they pose a danger to the stability and development of society, he said.
“It is gratifying, however, that in Bulgaria we see that society shows the power and ability to deal with these problems.”
Responding to a question about the emergence of far-right organisations, not only Ataka, Kamisa-Raz – underlining that he was expressing his personal point of view – said that there were two possible responses by the state against anti-Semitic acts. One was for it to stand aside and allow such phenomena to develop and the other, “that state institutions act responsibility and confront these processes”.
Practically, this latter course required the relevant laws to be approved and enforced, and ordinary citizens involved these efforts. “You need to find a way to encourage civil society to play its part,” he said.
The real key to solving such problems was education, Kamisa-Raz said.
“The topic of anti-Semitism should be studied in its historical context and the threats arising from this evil properly identified. We need to know what damage and what horrors can result.
“We need to know how to build a strong social fabric that has its defence mechanisms that protect both society and state.”
If mistakes were made in this regard, he said, “then we can definitely fall into a situation where extreme groups can cause cause unrest. The moment that the atmosphere becomes extreme, no one can say how far things will go and what damage society and the state will suffer.”
On February 19, the National Assembly adopted a declaration proposed by Speaker Mihail Mikov in connection with the escalation of tension on ethnic, religious and political grounds.
The declaration, approved with 113 votes in favour and three against, said that Bulgaria’s National Assembly rejects and opposes demonstrations of extremism and vandalism, the public justification of events and recognition of Bulgarian historical figure who followed fascist ideologies.
“All encroachments on religious houses of worship and violent desecration of them, along with unacceptable xenophobic messages, are condemned.”
The declaration said that Parliament called on all political forces to be highly responsible, especially parliamentary groups, which should not allow their representatives to generate tension and hatred and damage national unity and the interests of Bulgarian citizens by making unacceptable and provocative statements.
The statement made reference to the writings of Vassil Levski, the hero of the struggle against Ottoman rule, and the fact that Bulgaria commemorates on February 19 his execution by Ottoman authorities.
The declaration called on all Bulgarian citizens and political formations to undertake to follow Levski’s legacy for a democratic republic in which “Bulgarian, Turkish and Jewish people and all others will be equal in every respect…and observe the same common laws”. The quotation in the declaration is taken from Levski’s diary.
The National Assembly called on all political forces inside and outside Parliament “to refrain from activities, which could be defined as a taking advantage of Levski’s Day in a way related to their being parties or in other unacceptable ways.”
A day earlier, on February 18, President Rossen Plevneliev and prime minister Plamen Oresharski released a joint statement against gambling with ethnic peace and against the use of hate speech.
“We have witnessed actions in the recent days and weeks which endanger democracy and the unity of the nation. Any attempts to impose hatred and intolerance for difference, to antagonise Bulgarian citizens against one another, to gamble with ethnic peace and to use hate speech are unacceptable and must be firmly denounced. Bulgaria is known worldwide for its tolerance and respect for difference,” the joint statement said.
(Photo of Israeli ambassador Shaul Kamisa-Raz: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)