For years, parties on the far-right of Bulgaria’s spectrum – self-described patriots and nationalists – have had so-called “gypsy crime” as one of their main signature issues.
On the campaign trail in national and local elections, figures such as Valeri Simeonov of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Volen Siderov of Ataka repeatedly have sought votes on the basis of policies against what far-right supporters term “gypsy terror”.
With the murder of television presenter Viktoria Marinova tragically having become a political football both inside and outside Bulgaria, it was hardly surprising that far-right politicians in the country would seize on the fact that the suspect is a member of Bulgaria’s Roma ethnic minority.
Siderov, who is parliamentary leader of the United Patriots, the current grouping of far-right and ultra-nationalist parties that is the minority partner in Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s coalition government, raised the issue of the ethnicity of the suspect in a Facebook post and at a meeting of the National Assembly’s committee on internal security and public order.
Siderov asked why the Interior Ministry “forbade discussion” of the ethnic origin of serious crimes.
On Facebook, Siderov wrote: “The Interior Ministry should say if a gypsy is the perpetrator of the murder of Viktoria Marinova and why such type of gypsy crimes are called domestic”.
When Siderov raised the same question to Interior Minister Mladen Marinov at the parliamentary committee meeting, this drew a sharp rebuke from committee chairperson Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who is parliamentary leader of Borissov’s GERB party.
“We should not point out the ethnicity of the perpetrator of the murder of Viktoria Marinova because we are creating conflict in society,” Tsvetanov said.
Marinov replied, briefly, that the suspect was a Bulgarian citizen. However, Siderov continued: “A Bulgarian citizen of gypsy origin, why should this be hidden?”
Angel Dzhambazki, another of Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist politicians and currently an MEP, posted on Facebook that the court would decide whether the suspect was guilty, and then went on to call for the return of the death penalty.
“My personal conviction is that this creature should not be left to break any more laws, if he is pronounced guilty. Such a creature should not and has no place among people. Because he is not a person. Yes, he should be hanged. In order for justice to be served. In order for other women to be protected.”
Citing photos from the Facebook page of the suspect, he lashed out at those who “for 30 years talk about the ‘rights’ of ‘minorities’. The same beings who defame us about ‘discrimination’ in the morning, at noon and in the evening.”
This, Dzhambazki said, was “their valuable political capital. A source of grants. It is from this that these marauders and parasites eat. Shame and disgrace”.
He said that the problems should be dealt with “one by one”. “First – a compulsory suppression of ethnic domestic crime”.
On October 11, Deputy Prime Minister Simeonov was in Kazanluk, taking part in what was billed as a “national meeting” on the topic of “Public order and security – a necessity for legislative changes”. Reports said that the meeting was called in response to an incident in the centre of Kazanluk on September 17, the day that schools opened for the year, and which involved Roma people but which was officially described as domestic crime.
According to reports from the meeting, Simeonov appears to have taken a milder tone, while adversely contrasting the situation in Germany – where the suspect was arrested – with that in Bulgaria.
Simeonov said that while Bulgarian police had acted quickly in requesting of their German colleagues to carry out the arrest, “Germany needed a lot of hours to mobilise, to enter the apartment block where the ‘little gypsy’, 21 years told, the killer (was),” he said.
According to Simeonov, the German police had taken some hours to work up the courage to enter the apartment block , having – he said – had “their big concerns about entering this four-storey block, populated with Papuans, you understand people of all ethnicities, who are dangerous from their point of view”.
Simeonov blamed the situation in Germany, as he described it, on political trends in that country.
“When the one is liberally oriented, and the others are extremely nationalistic and aggressive, then the institutions start to hesitate, become indecisive,” Simeonov said.
Simeonov said that Bulgaria was not bad when it came to ethnicities. “On the contary, I would say, we are one of the successful states in resolving these problems in Europe. In Bulgaria every ghetto undergoes checks, is subject to full control,” he said.
Asked if there was a danger in Rousse, the city where the murder took place, after the disclosures about the crime, Simeonov said that there was danger everywhere.
Simeonov’s comments were notably more restrained than those he made in Parliament in 2014, which led to court action against him.
In Rousse on the evening of October 11, there were dramatic scenes on live television newscasts as a group of about 20 people on motorcycles, and some with cars, arrived in Rousse’s Trakiya area, a Roma residential area and where the suspect, identified by Bulgarian authorities as Severin Krassimirov, had been living before going to Germany the day after the Marinova murder.
In the area, a rumour spread that the motorcyclists, said to have ridden from Sofia, were looking for Krassimirov’s family. The relatives had moved out of the area, fearing for their safety.
After the arrival of the motorcyclists, Roma residents were nervous. Many fled the streets to stay inside their homes. Television footage showed that in the course of the night, many armed themselves with axes and spades to defend against what they feared would be an attempt to attack them. Their response was not surprising, given associations between some biker groups and pseudo-patriotism.
Already, the police presence in the area had been stepped up because of heightened emotions in the wake of the Marinova murder.
While it was claimed that there was an incident between a biker and a Roma resident of the area, who said that the motorcyclist had taken and smashed his phone when he tried to film him, the Interior Ministry said in a late-evening statement that police patrols and gendarmerie had been sent to the Trakiya area to reassure residents, and there were no heightened tensions.
Bulgarian National Television, quoting its own sources, said that the entry to the area by the motorcyclists had not been intended as an attack but a tour to “pay their respects” to the memory of Marinova.
On the morning of October 12, questioned by reporters about the situation in Rousse’s Trakiya area, Prime Minister Borissov said that he had no concerns that there would be escalating tensions.
Borissov said that he had been assured by Interior Minister Marinov that the situation was under control and every precaution had been taken to avoid anything happening.
As to the question of “ethnic crime”, Borissov said: “Crimes are also committed by Christians, Muslims, Bulgarians, Roma, Turks and others. Everywhere”.
In 2019, Bulgaria is scheduled to go to the polls twice, in late May for European elections and in the autumn for municipal elections. As distasteful and unwelcome as it may be for the family, friends and colleagues of Marinova, it would hardly – in the context of how far-right parties campaign – be surprising if her death is invoked in the political scramble for votes.
(Photo montage: Simeonov, Siderov and Dzhambazki)