A new online petition is calling on Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Neofit to speak out against the “Lukov March” planned to be held in Sofia on February 17 2018.
Annually since 2003, far-right groups have taken part in the torchlight procession “Lukov March” which honours a Bulgarian pro-Nazi general who led the extremist Union of Bulgarian National Legions up to and during the Second World War. Lukov was assassinated on February 13 1943.
The march is already subject to a petition calling for the government to ban it, which by close to noon on February 8 had nearly 178 000 signatures in support. On February 2, during a visit to Bulgaria, World Jewish Congress chief executive Robert Singer presented Prime Minister Boiko Borissov with a printed version of the signatures gathered by then.
The petition to Patriarch Neofit cited the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s record at the time of the Second World War in being a leading voice in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust.
“Our love for Bulgaria and our alarm at signs of rising racism, neo-fascism and xenophobia in the country, lead us to appeal to you as a spiritual leader of the nation whose voice and position have great social impact,” the petition says.
“At this moment, hate ideologies that arose in the last century and caused suffering of a whole continent, are unfortunately trying to make a return. Unfamiliar with the horror of this history, young people in Bulgaria and Europe are beginning to embrace them. In February in Sofia, for several years now, an annual march has been held in honor of a Bulgarian fascist general from the 1940s. Unfortunately, in government circles, individual representatives and political groups support such a march; others pass it by in silence.”
The petition notes that in the history of Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church played a critical role during the Second World War by publicly expressing firm opposition to the hate ideology of fascism: “The question of our attitude to the Jews is clear,” Metropolitan Kiril stated publicly in 1940.
“We are Christians and as hierarchs of the holy Bulgarian church we stand on no other ground than the message of the Holy Gospel and the teaching of Christ on the equal worth of all human beings in front of God, regardless of their origin, race and culture,” Kiril said at the time.
Addressing Patriarch Neofit, the petition says: “We believe that your word about the unacceptability of any speech, demonstrations and acts of hatred, which had a positive result in the past, valued by the whole world, will have the same weight and influence today.
“Let it be heard – as a public statement, as well as in your daily work with the community, in defence of the Christian principles of love, solidarity and mutual help. We believe in your historic role for the building of a better present and future for everyone – in Bulgaria and around the world, for the future generations.”
The Lukov March 2018 is expected to proceed, after organisers secured a court order overturning a ban by Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova. Two days before the march, a major event is being held in the Bulgarian capital, under the patronage of Fandukova, “Sofia says no to hate speech and extremism“.