Bulgarian government appoints national co-ordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism

Bulgaria’s Cabinet has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism and has appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev as national co-ordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism.

This was announced after the Cabinet held a regular weekly meeting on October 18 2017.

The adoption of the IHRA’s definition is an important step towards Bulgaria becoming a full member of the alliance. The IHRA decided in July 2017 to accept Bulgaria as a liaison country, making it the first country since 2009 to take this step towards full membership. Bulgaria was admitted as an observer country in December 2012.

The IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism, adopted by the alliance in May 2016, is: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance currently has 31 member states and 11 observer countries, including Bulgaria. The alliance is open for membership to all democratic states that adhere to the Stockholm Declaration on the Holocaust. The declaration commits to national policies to combat acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

The European Parliament adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism in June 2017, in a resolution calling on all EU countries and EU institutions to adopt and implement it. This should be done to support the efforts of judicial authorities and law enforcement authorities to more effectively identify and prosecute anti-Semitic acts.

The document also called on EU countries to appoint national anti-Semitism co-ordinators and to take measures to build and strengthen partnerships, consultations and dialogue with Jewish communities and institutions to ensure the security of their Jewish citizens and Jewish religious, educational and cultural institutions, promote the study and commemoration of the Holocaust.

The main function of the national anti-Semitism co-ordinator is to liaise and interact with the European Commission’s co-ordinator and other EU national coordinators, with other partner countries as well as with international organizations with relevance and activities in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate speech, such as the UN, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe, Unesco and others, the Bulgarian government statement on October 18 said.

The Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria welcomed the Cabinet decision, noting that it put Bulgaria among the first countries to heed the European Parliament’s call to formally adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism and name a national co-ordinator.

Others that have done so range from France, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, to Greece, Poland and Sweden.

“For the Bulgarian Jewish community, this is a serious call for an uncompromising attitude towards all actions that overwhelm common values such as tolerance, humanism and respect for human rights. We strongly support the Cabinet decision and wish Georg Georgiev success in his new mission,” Shalom said.

On October 17, during an official visit to Bulgaria, David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee Global Jewish Advocacy and AJC Europe director Simone Rodan-Benzaquen held talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgiev.

The meeting was attended by the president of the Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria, Dr Alek Oscar, Shalom chief executive Julia Dandolova and the representative of the AJC for Bulgaria, Viktor Melamed.

During the talks, a new line of co-operation was launched, presenting the history of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and the heroism of the Bulgarian people by leaders of the Bulgarian Jewish community and Bulgarian diplomats, whom the AJC will work with to access the highest international forums

These efforts will be made in the context of celebrating in 2018 the 75th anniversary of the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews and the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Georgiev said that Bulgaria’s active co-operation with the American Jewish community plays an important role both in the development of bilateral Bulgarian-US relations and in deepening of the strategic partnership with the United States and in promoting practical cooperation between Bulgaria and the state of Israel.

A Bulgarian Foreign Ministry statement quoted Georgiev as saying that he hoped that Bulgaria would be a full member of IHRA by the end of 2018.

Harris said that the 75th anniversary in 2018 to present and promote to Jewish communities around the world the worthy action of Bulgaria and its people. “It’s a unique story to me, and the best thing is that it’s real. It deserves being seen and heard by more people, “Harris said.

Deputy Minister Georgiev pointed out that such joint projects could be organized within the forthcoming Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU. Bulgaria has a lot to be proud of, and we have to tell the world about the historical feats of our people, he said.

Harris and Georgiev agreed that the protection of common values ​​such as tolerance, humanism, respect for human rights is a guarantee that catastrophes such as the Second World War will not be repeated again, the Foreign Ministry said.

Bulgaria was a member of Nazi Germany’s Axis during the Second World War and approved anti-Semitic legislation, the Defence of the Nation Act. The government of the time in Sofia agreed to the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews but when this became known, an outcry among society – led by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, politicians notably including Dimitar Peshev, intellectuals and ordinary people – prevented the planned deportation of the Bulgarian Jews.

However, in Bulgaria’s “new territories” of the time, in northern Greece and parts of Yugoslavia, more than 11 000 Jews were deported, all but less than a handful being mass-murdered in the Holocaust in which more than six million Jews were killed. The Defence of the Nation Act had barred these Jews from Bulgarian citizenship.

In 2018, both the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews and the murder of the Jews from the “new territories” will be commemorated.

(Main photo: Deputy Foreign Minister and national co-ordinator against anti-Semitism Georg Georgiev and the AJC’s David J Harris: mfa.bg)



Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.