In Bulgaria, anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles, the US State Department said in its report for 2017 on human rights practices.
“The Organization of Bulgarian Jews Shalom indicated that during the year there were no extreme acts of anti-Semitism but expressed concern over government inaction and political leaders’ passivity in addressing minor acts,” the report, released on April 20 2018, said.
The organisation complained that authorities stopped paying attention to fan groups’ displaying Nazi symbols during football games or treated them as sports hooliganism instead of hate crimes, the State Department report said.
Souvenirs with Nazi insignia were widely available in tourist areas around the country.
In February the mayor of Sofia declined to approve a rally in honor of a Second World War general, Hristo Lukov, known for his anti-Semitic views and pro-Nazi activities.
“While the decision did not stop the event, it limited its scope,” the report said.
A few days before the rally, 30 activists and students demonstrated against it, carrying banners rejecting Nazis, fascism, and anti-refugee and anti-migrant sentiments, the report said.
The US State Department report noted that in March, the Bulgarian government approved the country’s candidacy for full membership in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). On June 30, the country’s status was promoted from “observer” to “liaison.”
On October 18, the Bulgarian government adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism agreed in 2016 by IHRA and appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev to be the national coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
On May 17, the deputy regional development minister, Pavel Tenev, resigned after a picture of him saluting a wax statue of a Nazi officer in a Paris museum nine years earlier was circulated on social media.
Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov defended Tenev, commenting that, as a student in the 1970s, he himself visited the Buchenwald concentration camp and might have taken “fun-poking pictures” there, the report said.
Shalom had condemned Simeonov’s comments, expressing “regret and concern that such people are holding leadership posts in the government,” the report said.
In June, a popular television show revealed similar pictures of presidential advisor Plamen Uzunov wearing a Nazi uniform. Uzunov refused to resign, explaining that he had dressed that way for a Christmas party.
In September, vandals desecrated graves at the Jewish Cemetery in Sofia, knocking down gravestones and breaking grave slabs. As of October, authorities were investigating the incident. Representatives of the national and local governments helped Shalom repair the damage.
Asked to respond to the report, Dr Alexander Oscar, President of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, said: “While we praise the efforts of the government and the National Co-ordinator for Combating Anti-Semitism, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“We are highly concerned by the rise of hate speech, and call on the institutions and the media to take a stronger line in enforcing the rules against it,” he said.
(Photo, of Sofia Central Synagogue: Nikolai Karaneschev)