Bulgaria’s efforts and good practices in combating antisemitism and hate crimes are recognised worldwide, as evidenced by the visit of Rabbi Andrew Baker, the personal representative of the Slovak Presidency of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to Bulgaria, Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev told a news conference on December 30.
Georgiev is Bulgaria’s national co-ordinator of the fight against antisemitism. He was appointed in October 2017, at the same time that the Bulgarian government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
He said that Rabbi Baker’s conclusions after his visit to Bulgaria in October 2019 were that while special manifestations of antisemitism, as seen in other countries, were not observed in Bulgaria, the country created conditions and policies that could set an example for all OSCE member states, that could draw on the experience and good practices of what Bulgaria was doing in the fight against antisemitism.
Georgiev said that two years after his appointment as national co-ordinator against antisemitism, and the establishment of a contact group with representatives of various institutions, Bulgaria was receiving worldwide recognition for its policies against antisemitism.
“The commitment, which the Bulgarian government has at the highest level in the person of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and all the relevant institutions, demonstrates our determination to turn Bulgaria into a place free from hate speech and manifestations of antisemitism.
“This is the cause for which we will continue to work and to which we have dedicated our efforts,” Georgiev said.
He said that he saw the most significant initiatives in 2019 as including the joint initiative with the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” to amend the Criminal Code to increase the penalty for hate crimes from three to five years in prison.
“This will allow magistrates to hand effective sentences to people who have committed crimes motivated by hate or antisemitism. This is significant, including from the point of view of prevention of such crimes,” Georgiev said.
He also referred to the example set by the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which for the first time in May 2018 held a meeting of national co-ordinators from EU countries in the fight against antisemitism.
This practice, initiated by Bulgaria, had been adopted and there had been several such follow-up meetings, he said, the most recent in Munich in October 2018, where the Bulgarian delegation presented Bulgaria’s policies in the fight against antisemitism, including to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In 2019, for the first time, a procession for tolerance had been held in Bulgaria, entitled “Together for Bulgaria, Together for Europe”. The event sent a strong message against hate speech and antisemitism, Georgiev said.
Ambassador Plamen Bonchev, head of the Bulgarian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), emphasised to the media the active international co-operation that Bulgaria is conducting in the fight against antisemitism.
Bulgaria became a full member of IHRA in November 2018. This was a unique acknowledgment for Bulgaria, coming as it did after the alliance had not expanded its full membership for 10 years. This had encouraged other countries as well, Bonchev said.
Bulgaria is also working on three OSCE projects related to antisemitism. The projects are aimed at educating police officers and prosecutors, as well as youth education.
The president of Shalom, Associate Professor Alexander Oscar, noted the role of state institutions in the fight against antisemitism.
“In recent years, Bulgaria, in the form of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the person of Georg Georgiev and the team he leads, has done a lot so that the fight against antisemitism is institutionalised, so that the Jewish community has a real partner to turn to. when there are alarming manifestations of antisemitism,” Dr Oscar said.
For example, during 2019 Georgiev, responding to alerts from Shalom about the distribution of souvenirs with Nazi symbols at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast resorts and other tourist spots, had taken up the matter with municipalities and other relevant institutions.
A joint event, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Shalom in connection with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on January 27, is scheduled for January 30 2020.
“It is our wish to commemorate this day, very important for all of us, every year. Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is a certain guaranteed that we will not allow such atrocities to happen again,” Dr Oscar said.
(At the news conference, from left: Plamen Bonchev, Georg Georgiev, Alexander Oscar. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)