Mothers of children with disabilities and NGOs are protesting against the election of Valeri Simeonov, leader of ultra-nationalist party the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, as one of the Deputy Speakers of the National Assembly.
Simeonov was a Deputy Prime Minister in Boiko Borissov’s third coalition government from May 2017 to November 2018, resigning from the post amid controversy about insulting language he used against protesting mothers with children with disabilities.
He was elected Deputy Speaker on November 20 2019 from the quota of the United Patriots parliamentary group.
On November 22, mothers of children with disabilities held a public protest in central Sofia, demanding the resignation of Simeonov or the dissolution of Parliament as a whole.
They said that the election of Simeonov showed a lack of morality and of an elementary respect for the dignity of the electorate. All MPs who voted in favour of Simeonov should resign, they said.
Simeonov rejected the protests, saying that it was interference in parliamentary democracy. Each parliamentary group was entitled to name a Deputy Speaker, he said.
In an open letter to National Assembly Speaker Tsveta Karayancheva, representatives of a number of NGOs called for Simeonov’s election to be reversed.
The letter, initiated by human rights NGO Marginalia, said that civic order and democratic values were put at unprecedented risk by the election of Simeonov as Deputy Speaker.
“It is absolutely unacceptable in the years prior to the expiration of the term of this Parliament, Simeonov shoud occupy the office of one of the most dignified Bulgarians who protected the Jews from their deportation in 1943, Dimitar Peshev.”
It said that as leaders of advocacy organisations of minorities, of organisations of people with disabilities, as well as LGBTI organisations and those fighting hate speech, “We repeatedly have witnessed the former Deputy Prime Minister’s demanor, racist and discriminatory language”.
The letter noted that in December 2014, Simeonov had been sentenced at first instance by the Bourgas District Court for anti-Roma hate speech.
“Democracy and the rights of minorities are inseparably linked. This election is a huge and shameful mistake and will have profound moral consequences.”
Signatories to the letter include Marginalia president Yuliana Metodieva, human rights journalist Ognyan Isaev, who is suing Simeonov in the European Court of Human Rights, lawyer Daniela Mihailova, who has criticised Simeonov for discriminary language against Roma people, Associate Professor Alexander Oscar, president of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, Sofia Cohen, president of the Central Israelite Religious Council, Deyan Kolev, head of the Amalipe Centre fo Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance (a leading Roma rights organisation) and Dimitrina Petrova of BOLD, the Bulgarian Society for Liberal Democracy.