The Regional Court in the Bulgarian city of Bourgas has found Valeri Simeonov, currently a Deputy Prime Minister and co-leader of the United Patriots coalition, of breaking anti-discrimination legislation by his comments about Roma people, made in Parliament in December 2014.
At the time, Simeonov was head of the Patriotic Front group, then outside government. His Cabinet appointment came in May 2017 when the United Patriots, a grouping of far-right and nationalist parties, became the minority partner in GERB leader Boiko Borissov’s newly-formed third government.
Simeonov, whose portfolio as Deputy Prime Minister is economic and demographic policy, also heads the government’s National Council for Co-operation on Ethnic and Integration Issues.
His conviction by the Bourgas Regional Court is at first instance and is subject to appeal. The complaint against him was lodged by journalists Kremena Budinova and Ognyan Isaev, both of Roma ethnicity, who are being represented by the legal programme of NGO the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.
Simeonov said on October 25 that he would appeal against the verdict.
Simeonov’s December 2014 lengthy statement included the comments that “it is indisputed that a large part of the Gypsy ethnicity lives beyond any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour”.
“For them, the laws do not apply, taxes and charges are incomprehensible concepts, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but not obligations and responsibilities.”
Simeonov said, among other things, that for Roma people, robbery and theft had become their livelihood, childbirth a profitable business at the expense of the state, and caring for offspring meant raising minors into “begging, prostitution, theft and drugs”.
“What has created the belief in our swarthy compatriots that everything is allowed… and that everyone is obliged to feed, dress and treat them for free?” Simeonov said that some of the Roma who 25 years had worked and sent their children to school had now become “naked, self-confident and ferocious humanoids ready to murder, to steal a few leva”.
According to the NGO, the court had found that the statements by Simeonov constituted harassment within the meaning of the Protection from Discrimination Act as “they lead to violation of the dignity of the person and the creation of a hostile, degrading, degrading and offensive environment, and anyone with a Roma ethnicity may be affected by them , and it is not necessary for the statement to refer to the entire Roma community in order to be perceived as prejudicing the dignity of an individual representative as such.”
Simeonov has been ordered to withdraw the statement, as well as to abstain from further violations in the future. The claimants did not apply to the court for compensation.
The head of the BHC legal programme, Margarita Ilieva, welcomed the court decision, saying that the court had shown “its independence in a political environment currently dominated by racist narratives of the lowest kind”.
In May 2017, two Bulgarian Jewish organisations jointly strongly condemned statements and inappropriate comments by Simeonov, amid the controversy over a now-former deputy minister who had been photographed giving a Hitler salute to wax figures of Nazis.
After it emerged that Pavel Tenev, appointed as a deputy minister from the United Patriots quota in the coalition government, had been photographed giving the Hitler salute, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”.
The comments were reported by Bulgarian-language daily Sega. On May 18, Simeonov denied making them and said he would take court action against Sega. The daily responded by saying that it stood by its story.
In September 2017, a Bulgarian government media statement, accompanied by a photograph, said that the “Jewish Patriotic Institute” had delivered a thank-you note to Simeonov “in gratitude and respect for his contribution to co-operation on ethnic and integration issues”.
The statement said that the organisation had presented a “manifesto” for inclusion in the government council that Simeonov heads. An internet search revealed nothing about the organisation, which is unknown to the mainstream leadership of the Bulgarian Jewish community.