In a joint declaration on October 17, 12 Bulgarian NGOs called for the country to have a policy of zero tolerance towards racism and hatred.
The joint declaration was issued in the wake of the international outrage over racist chants and Hitler salutes by a group of Bulgarian fans at the England-Bulgaria Euro 2020 qualifier at the Vassil Levski national stadium in Sofia on October 14.
The declaration said that the racism displayed at the Bulgaria-England football match had made international news and besides insulting the visiting football players, had also caused serious damage to the image of Bulgaria.
“We, non-governmental organisations, have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation and Partnership in the fight against hate speech and discrimination in Bulgarian society, and we call on Bulgaria to adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards such ugly and dangerous manifestations.”
The NGOs said that it was no coincidence that they had chosen March 10, the day on which the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from the death camps of the Holocaust is commemorated, to join in support of the memorandum, that had been initiated by the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” and the GLAS Foundation.
“We believe that this is the model that Bulgarian society should maintain and strive for, while not closing its eyes to the unpleasant truths.”
Millions of Bulgarians had felt ashamed of the behaviour of a group of extremists, and thousands of compatriots abroad were humiliated to have been subjected to comment to their colleagues on what had happened.
“However, racism, discrimination, and hate speech are not an isolated phenomenon, but a systemic problem of Bulgarian society. As Amnesty International has also testified, the Bulgarian authorities are not effectively investigating hate crimes.
“Combating these phenomena requires uncompromising action and we support the call by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee for the development of a strategy to combat racism, xenophobia and homophobia in sport.
“We believe that zero tolerance for acts of racism, hatred and discrimination should be applied in all spheres – media and education are of particular importance, and of course sports involving large groups of people.”
The declaration said that it was no coincidence that for years, the world and European football federations had committed themselves to a long-term programme to eradicate racism.
“Unfortunately, we do not have the feeling that this campaign has received real support and understanding in the Bulgarian Football Union. Rather, it is viewed as something brought in from the outside, as a problem that does not concern us.”
A zero-tolerance policy on racism would mean that Bulgarian footballers would stop playing at the very first racist chants of their own supporters.
The country’s football players could influence the fans, the declaration said.
“It is no coincidence that the biggest stars of world football are engaged in the fight against racism.”
Zero tolerance for racism would mean a uncompromising reaction from the sports journalists at the stadium, not mockery and humiliation, as evidenced in some British reports.
“Zero tolerance for racism means an immediate reaction from officials, as well as from the Bulgarian National Television, which has the right to broadcast a football match, but should in no way be allowed to become a channel for the spread of hate speech.
“There is also a need for adequate response from institutions that have long refused to recognise the problem of racism, which is not an opinion but a crime.”
Last but not least, the declaration said, zero tolerance for racism precludes any form of co-operation with far-right political formations.
Unfortunately, such formations are part of the governing coalition and set the public discourse, causing grave damage to the image of Bulgaria, difficult to repair, as a modern and tolerant country, the declaration said.
The signatories to the declaration are the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria, Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, the Central Israelite Religious Council, “Negev” Organisation of the Friends of Israel in Bulgaria, Marginalia, the GLAS Foundation, National Foster Care Association – Bulgaria, Bilitis Foundation, Maiko Mila Foundation, BlueLink Foundation, Sofia Platform Foundation and Social Future Foundation JAMBA.