Supporters of Neo-Nazi and far-right groups from Russia, Germany, Hungary and Greece joined the hundreds of torch-bearing participants in the annual Lukov March on February 17 2018, which proceeded through the streets of Sofia under heavy police escort.
As in previous years, the march – held annually since 2003 – went ahead in spite of a municipal ban, which was overturned by a court.
Lukov led the fascist Union of Bulgarian National Legions and was an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The year after his February 1943 assassination, at the hands of a communist hit squad, the Legionnaires were banned by the Bulgarian government, as the close of the Second World War neared.
Advocating policies against Jews, the Legionnaires – like other pro-Nazi groups in Bulgaria in the 1930s and 1940s – never had mass support. In spite of its alliance with Hitler’s Germany, Bulgaria did not send Bulgarian Jews to the death camps of the Holocaust, following a successful campaign by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, political and civil leaders and ordinary members of society against the planned deportations.
The 2018 Lukov March departed from St Nedelya church on a route that took it to the house where Lukov had lived, for supporters to lay flowers in memory of the pro-Nazi general.
Ahead of the march, organisers posted rules for participants, including that they should not talk, eat or smoke or be drunk during the procession, should be careful not to let their torches set their flags or other participants alight, and should not speak to journalists.
Organisers of the march insist publicly that it is in honour of a “Bulgarian war hero” and they say that he was not an anti-Semite.
Police were deployed at several points thoughout the central city, including the deployment of gendarmerie at Lukov’s house some hours before the wreath-laying.
The march has been the subject of widespread condemnation, including from the two largest parties in Bulgaria’s Parliament, GERB and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, and from Bulgarian and international Jewish groups. Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova said earlier that the Lukov March “has no place in our city”.
In a statement on February 17, the US embassy to Bulgaria said that it was “saddened and troubled to see the display of intolerance represented by the Lukov March. General Hristo Lukov was a Nazi supporter who promoted hate and injustice, and is not someone deserving of veneration”.
“We reiterate our appreciation for the dedicated efforts of the government of Bulgaria and Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova to denounce the march and to call on all Bulgarians to unite around the positive examples from their shared history. While the embassy fully supports the democratic principle of free speech, we also join the chorus of voices condemning hate and intolerance,” the US embassy said.
Earlier, a protest against the Lukov March was held in central Sofia, with the theme “No Nazis on our Streets!” The protest was organised by the Bulgarian branch of the antifa movement.
One of the organisers of the protest against the Lukov March, Galina Lacheva, told local media that the march had become a procession of neo-Nazi ideologies, and people who were trying to put this kind of ideology back in public, with the support of politicians in power.
“We are here to show that there are people who are against any discrimination, violence, totalitarian regimes and for the freedom of the people, and the desire of people to live in a just and free world,” Lacheva said.
Another organiser, Irina Borova, said that the country’s security services knew what kind of people were taking part in the Lukov March.
“We see that nationalism is on the rise. It is at all levels of power. That is why there is no political will to stop the Lukov March,” Borova said.
In a February 16 statement, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) described Lukov as one of Adolf Hitler’s willing helpers.
“Seventy-five years later, his hateful messages are still promoted, and every year on the anniversary of his assassination on February 13 1943, ultra-nationalists, fascists and neo-Nazis take to the streets to honor his despicable legacy.
“Members of the Lukov movement beat Jews without respite and led pogroms on homes and shops. Their legionnaires’ motto was: ‘We should expel from Bulgaria everyone who does not have Bulgarian blood’,” the WJC said.
The press office of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party said on February 17 that WJC chief executive Robert Singer had written to GERB parliamentary leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov to express thanks for the strong personal position taken by Tsvetanov and GERB against the Lukov March.
“It is very important to us that you do everything in your power to preserve the beautiful traditions of Bulgaria and to prevent this obvious attempt to tarnish the good name of Bulgaria. My colleagues and I will gladly undertake efforts to further strengthen the unshakable friendship that links our two nations,” Singer said.