The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” has approached the Prosecutor’s Office to amend the country’s legislation to get tough on manifestations on racism and xenophobia.
This was said in an interview with Bulgarian-language media by Associate Professor Alexander Oscar, president of Shalom, in the wake of the international controversy that followed racist chants and Hitler salutes by a group of Bulgarians at the October 14 England-Bulgaria Euro 2020 qualifying match.
Dr Oscar said that current legislation on these issues was “exceedingly liberal” and perpetrators could hardly be punished to the full extent of the law.
Such displays of racism were hardly confined to football stadiums, Dr Oscar said, listing antisemitic graffiti and hate speech, sale of items with the portrait of Hitler, and pervasive antisemitic comments on social media in Bulgaria.
“Our idea is that we should learn to live in a tolerant society which cultivates in its children understanding of those who are different and not just of those who are interesting and likeable,” Dr Oscar said.
He said that he saw a trend, not just in Bulgaria but in Europe as well, that people were growing more uncompromising and unwilling to accept manifestations of national populism.
“There is racism everywhere – in Bulgaria, in Europe, in America too. What is most important is for us as a society is not to accept it, but to condemn it, whatever form it takes,” he said.
He said that in that “ugly display of xenophobia” called the Lukov March – a reference to the annual February torchlight procession in Sofia in honour of a pro-Nazi general – so-called “football fans” were a major presence.
In combating such displays, for the past two years, Bulgaria’s Deputy Foreign Minister and national co-ordinator against antisemitism Georg Georgiev had been a major partner, while the Interior Ministry had shown responsibility in responding to every complaint about manifestations of antisemitism.
The first priority was to amend legislation to come down hard on manifestations of racism, he said.
“We are working with the institutions, with the Prosecutor-General, to criminalise such manifestations, so that everyone knows that they will have to accept responsibility. Hate speech, sooner or later, escalates into physical abuse,” he said.