Sofia mayor Fandukova: Lukov March has no place in this city

Written by on February 15, 2018 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Sofia mayor Fandukova: Lukov March has no place in this city

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova has underlined the municipality’s rejection of the Lukov March planned for February 17, saying that it has “no place” in the city.

Fandukova was speaking at a February 15 conference entitled “Sofia says no to hate speech and extremism”, held to counter the event in two days’ time in which dark-clad youths from Bulgaria and elsewhere in Europe will hold a torchlight procession in honour of Hristo Lukov, a general who was leader of the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian Legions in the 1930s and 1940s.

Fandukova told the conference that for years, Sofia municipality had opposed the Lukov March – which has been held annually since 2003 – but her orders to ban it had been overturned in court.

She said that the municipality had not given permission for the 2018 event, beyond the laying of flowers at the house of Lukov. With the court decision, this year’s Lukov March will go ahead.

The aim of the February 15 conference is to demonstrate at the beginning of the Bulgarian European Presidency that local government in the capital, civil society and the academic community are united in their desire to counteract hate speech and extremism.

Fandukova said that unfortunately, “the problem is hate speech is present in our cities and communities, and together with our partners, we organise various campaigns and initiatives in our quest to reduce this through tolerance and mutual respect”.

The militant imposition of a few always leads to injustice and confrontation, she said. “Our capital is a city where people of different faiths and ethnicities co-exist, the spirit of Sofia is in good neighbourliness and tolerance – this is how the healthy foundations of the nation are preserved,” Fandukova said.

Georg Georgiev, Bulgaria’s National Co-ordinator of Combating Anti-Semitism, said that the conference was timeous as a preventive intervention before an event.

He said that all the years of the struggle for freedom and the opportunity for self-expression inevitably had led to deviations – hate speech and intolerance.

These phenomena were specific not to Bulgaria, but also globally, in various EU and non-EU countries.

In a video address to the conference, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that there was nothing more important at this point than the struggle against the rise of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred that could be seen in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

US ambassador Eric Rubin told the conference: “Let me be clear: efforts to glorify dark chapters of history, efforts to lionize historical figures who were purveyors of hate and intolerance are unacceptable. In seeking to learn positive lessons from history, it is essential not to allow the wrong lessons to be adopted as examples, and especially essential for our children as they grow up to learn positive examples.”

Irit Lilian, ambassador of Israel, said that those who would be taking part in the Lukov March on February 17 would be marching in support of the messages that he spread, of racism and anti-Semitism.

Dr Alexander Oscar, president of the Organization of the Bulgarian Jews “Shalom”, said that freedom of speech could not include the language of hatred.

“Unfortunately, in spite of the many legislative barriers, hate speech – which by its very nature is destructive – continues to find fertile ground in Europe, including in Bulgaria.

“It is there, ubiquitous, in electronic and print media, in anonymous comments on forums and elsewhere online, on social networks. This is unacceptable. In a democracy, the media must take up its great responsibility – the responsibility not only to be in pace with the times, but also to defend the traditions of democracy, that no one in society may violate the rights of another,” Oscar said.

Sofia is a home to everyone, and we must keep it that way – a city of tolerance and safety, he said.

“I use the opportunity to turn to everyone present: do not hesitate to seek support for a just cause, do not be afraid to say no to hate speech, to anti-Semitism, racism, and religious, ethnic or other discrimination. Do not be afraid to uphold your principles and speak out boldly for respect, understanding and tolerance. The slogans of black-clad marches, hate speech and division in society are not in the lexicon of the Bulgarian people, I am convinced.”

Andreas Hollstein, mayor of the German town of Altena, spoke of his experiences after the municipality agreed to take more than its quota of refugees. After being subjected to hate speech and death threats, the mayor was injured in a stabbing incident in a shop in the town.

The ultra-right German political party AfD had described the assault on him as “a result of his policies,” he said.

Hollstein noted with regret that some German fascists, “the worst of what Germany can send to Europe”, came to Sofia for the Lukov March.

The struggle in Europe against hate speech and against hatred for human rights and for refugees was important to him and all of society in Europe, he said. Society could change the world and had to change it, against hate speech and hatred, in Sofia, Europe and globally, Hollstein said.

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