Bulgarian head of state President Roumen Radev has entered the fray over the racism at the Bulgaria-England match, saying that it was “extremely unpleasant” that Bulgaria, which saved 50 000 Jews, should be personified by racism.
Radev was speaking to journalists on October 16, commenting on the racist displays, including Hitler salutes, by a group of Bulgarian fans that marred the Euro 2020 qualifying match played at Sofia’s Vassil Levski national stadium on October 14.
Responding to the resignation submitted by Bulgarian Football Union head Borislav Mihailov at the insistence of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Radev said that the demand for Mihailov’s resignation had been a “panicky escape” from responsibility by the people who should bear it.
Radev said that the statements that Mihailov’s resignation was demanded because of the racist displays meant that those in power had shown themselves up, “because no federation bears responsibility for the behaviour of fans” and no federation, including the Bulgarian Football Union, had any security or investigative functions.
“Football is a mirror of the state of the country. Just like the way the country is run, so is the management of Bulgarian football and yesterday’s actions are brilliant proof of that,” said Radev, who was elected President in November 2016 on a ticket backed by the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party and routinely criticises the government.
He said that it was unprecedented for the government to intervene in a “rude and unacceptable” way in a federation that is independent of it.
Radev said that it was extremely unpleasant for Bulgaria, which saved 50 000 Jews and did not allow any of them to be sent to the death camps at Europe’s worst time, to be personified by racism.
Radev was referring to the events of 1943, when the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, some ruling party politicians, civil society and ordinary Bulgarians successfully opposed plans to deport Bulgarian Jews to the death camps of the Holocaust. At the same time, more than 11 000 Jews from the “new lands” then under Bulgarian administration were deported and mass-murdered at Treblinka.
“The state needs to implement draconian measures against football hooliganism and while politicians are tempted to use football agitations in protests and counter-protests, these relapses will continue,” he said.
Speaking to journalists, Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov dismissed Radev’s comments as “nagging”.
“What can I say? It was like nagging,” Karakachanov said. “When the government of Sergei Stanishev was in power, was football better? How was it at the time of Oresharski?” he said, referring to two former socialist prime ministers.
“Nazi manifestations and all vandalism…can only be condemned,” Karakachanov said.
“When you go to the stadium, what do you go there for – to watch a match, knowing that certain actions will lead to sanctions on the team you support, why would you do that?” he said.