The United States government is deeply concerned about ethnic intolerance, according to a statement released on December 18 by the embassy in Sofia some days after nationalist leader Valeri Simeonov caused uproar by saying in Parliament that Roma people had become “brash, overconfident and ferocious great apes wanting the right to be paid without working”.
Simeonov, co-leader of the Patriotic Front, told the National Assembly that Roma people “wanted sickness benefits without being ill, child care for children who play with the pigs in the streets and maternal benefits for women with the instincts of street bitches”.
The statement via the US embassy made no direct reference to Simeonov, but said, “to hear public statements denigrating people on the basis of their race or ethnicity is shocking”.
“Especially during the holidays, a time of year known for goodwill and tidings of peace, we have been saddened to see public discourse poisoned by examples of speech that should be unacceptable in a modern, democratic society.”
The embassy hoped that “in this season of peace and goodwill, all Bulgarians will reflect upon their long tradition of tolerance, and seek to uphold their global reputation for inclusiveness”.
All nations grapple with issues related to race and discrimination, including in the United States, but “among the values we share are respect for all of our citizens, regardless of race, religion or ethnic identity” the statement said.
“Today and every day, we call on all members of Bulgarian society to condemn all forms of derogatory speech and to be positive voices in building the type of inclusive society that reflects our shared values and is free of discrimination and intolerance.”
Earlier, in an open letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva, human rights group the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that it had tracked manifestations of racism, including hate speech, in Bulgarian society and, “can responsibly say that so far we have not encountered such poisonous racist and subversive and vulgar remarks made from the speaker’s podium of the National Assembly”.
The letter criticised the ruling coalition and Tsacheva for allowing Simeonov’s statements to pass without objection.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence on ethnic grounds is a crime for which the Penal Code provides for imprisonment of one to four years.
The BHC called on Tsacheva to distance the Bulgarian Parliament from Simeonov’s statements and asked her to send a transcript of his statements to prosecutors for further action.