Leaders of Democratic Bulgaria met leaders of the Bulgarian Jewish community on October 24 to apologise for a controversial Holocaust reference by one of the coalition’s candidates in the forthcoming local elections, a media statement said.
The controversy arose this past weekend after Toma Belev, a candidate Sofia city councillor on the Democratic Bulgaria list, posted a Facebook comment in connection with transport issues in Bulgaria’s capital city.
“The cheapest was when Jews travelled in horse-drawn carriages – completely free,” he said, resulting in outrage and numerous reactions, including by leaders and members of the Bulgarian Jewish community sharply criticising a highly inappropriate reference to the Holocaust.
On Thursday, Democratic Bulgaria, represented by Hristo Ivanov, Atanas Atanassov and Borislav Sandov, held talks with Sofia Cohen, President of the Central Israelite Spiritual Council, and Associate Professor Alexander Oscar, President of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”.
“Through you and the organisations you represent, we would like to convey to the Jewish community and civil society in Bulgaria our great regret for the deeply inappropriate phrase used by our colleague, Toma Belev, and the feelings that have been affected by this incident,” Democratic Bulgaria said.
“We sincerely endorse Mr. Belev’s apologies and hope that they will be accepted as an expression of deep respect for the Jewish people and the sacred memory of the victims of crimes against it,” it said.
“We have always based our political activity on the understanding that the memory of the Holocaust, including as part of Bulgarian history, is the cornerstone of modern humanism and the cornerstone of efforts to build a tolerant, just and peaceful society.
“We are well aware that at a time when national populism is on the rise again and that even its representatives are part of our country’s government, and are injecting rejection against minorities and human rights on a daily basis in our public life, we must be extremely careful not to allow the least doubt that we would contribute to the erosion of public sensitivity and opposition in this regard,” the coalition said.
The statement said that the meeting discussed a wide range of issues related to shared history and the future, and the causes shared in the field of combating prejudice, hate speech, protecting human rights and promoting a culture of tolerance and appreciation of diversity in Bulgaria.
Agreement was reached to hold a meeting between Shalom and the municipal councillors elected on the list of Democratic Bulgaria in Sofia, to clarify specific common priorities for co-operation, the statement said.
A day earlier, the Central Election Commission said that it had given permission for pre-trial proceedings to be initiated against Belev. While there was no official statement from the Prosecutor’s Office, reports in Bulgarian media said that the proceedings were in connection with antisemitism.
Bulgaria goes to the polls in mayoral and municipal elections on October 27.