Bulgaria’s Sofia University dismisses controversial visiting professor after ‘racism’ row

Bulgaria’s Sofia University has dismissed controversial professor Mihail Mirchev as a visiting lecturer after a series of lectures he gave led to allegations of insults and hate speech on racial and ethnic grounds.

The dismissal followed an investigation by the university’s ethics committee, prompted by a complaint from the Student Society for Equality about Mirchev’s lectures, videos of which had been posted online.

In a lengthy statement, Sofia University said that following the complaint by the student society, it had received numerous letters in support of the call for Mirchev’s dismissal, as well as letters in his defence, the latter denying that the lectures contained hate speech, discriminatory and hate speech.

As The Sofia Globe reported on November 16, some of these defences, coming from far-right groupings, referring to the “dictates of minorities”.

The Sofia University December 16 statement said that in a letter on November 30, Mirchev had rejected the allegations, denying that his lectures contained racist, xenophobic and antisemitic content.

The ethics committee found that the Student Society for Equality’s complaint contained both well-founded allegations, but also extreme insults and exaggerations.

It did not accept the allegation that Mirchev, in his lectures, put forward extreme right-wing and fascist theories, and nor that they were filled with xenophobic and antisemitic content.

It found, however, that there were statements that amounted to generalisations, stereotyping and one-sidedness in statements about individual ethnic groups.

“Reinforced with suggestions of hostility and aggression, they could reinforce prejudice and lead to discriminatory attitudes.”

Mirchev’s lectures included statements that were not supported by genuine data and did not refer to reliable sources and statistical analysis, and nor did they precisely define basic concepts such as “community”, “national minority”, “collective rights” and “diaspora”.

Negative stereotypes and clichés from everyday speech were used, as well as generalisations in which conclusions about a community as a whole were made on the basis of negative examples.

The ethics committee cited as an example a description of Roma behaviour in the second lecture, “in which there is stereotyping and generalisation”.

“No concrete evidence of Roma ‘collective rights’ was provided, no alternative views were presented, and the focus was on the negative and offensive message suggesting that all Roma behaved as offenders.”

The committee cited further examples from this and the third lecture, regarding Mirchev’s comments about Roma people, refugees and migrants.

“In summary, the committee points out that the Code of Ethics of Sofia University expresses the values ​​around which our academic community is united. The limits of academic freedom are also indicated, which, like any other freedom, is not unlimited freedom and is associated with great responsibility – both for research and educational activities at the university and before society.”

The committee found violations of the ethics code, including regarding intellectual honesty in academic activity, as well as academic responsibility in professional conduct that requires accuracy and reliability.

It also found that the ethics code had been violated under two other articles.

One was “Relationships in academia are based on respect for every human person, regardless of their current position, experience and perspectives. Dependencies, coercion and discrimination based on ethnic, gender, religious, political and other grounds are unacceptable in the academic community. “

The other article of the code violated was that “Every scientist has freedom of thought and expression and is free to choose the methods by which to solve scientific problems in accordance with established ethical standards, without violating the dignity or privacy of others. The freedom to learn, teach and research must be exercised for the benefit of society, where this work finds application and recognition. Every scientist is free to discuss ideas openly, to participate in debates and to express critical positions, striving for these positions to be publicised and justified, and to adhere to accuracy in presenting different points of view. Academic freedom is exercised while respecting the diversity and opinion of the other – a key feature of academic tolerance.”

The statement said that based on the findings of the ethics committee, Sofia University rector Professor Anastas Gerdzhikov judged that there were sufficient grounds to terminate Mirchev’s civil contract.

“Sofia University has always been a leading force in defending democratic and liberal values,” the statement said.

“It is in constant partnership with Roma and Jewish organisations, organises joint events, such as honouring the victims on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, offers programmes dedicated to women and gender, the integration of minorities and people with special needs, and founded the only Hebraic studies specialisation in the country,” the statement said.

It said that on November 18, the General Assembly – the supreme collective governing body of the university – had in a declaration reaffirmed the commitment of Sofia University to the traditions of mutual respect and understanding and strongly condemned all messages that claim to be academic, that belittle other ways of life and cultures, or in another form undermine the values ​​of equality.

(Photo of Sofia University: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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