Praise has come in for the banning of the “Lukov March” in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, an event held in tribute to a pro-Nazi Bulgarian general who led the fascist Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1930s up till his assassination in the 1940s.
First held in Sofia in 2003, the Lukov March annually has drawn neo-Nazis from elsewhere in Europe to Bulgaria’s capital to join in a torchlight procession in honour of Lukov, whom local extremists falsely seek to portray as a patriotic hero.
Successfully banned in 2020, the February 13 2021 event again was the subject of a banning order by Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova. Police prevented a large-scale procession going ahead, though wreaths were laid outside Lukov’s house in central Sofia.
In a statement of appreciation for the ban, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said: “On behalf of Jews around the world, the World Jewish Congress greatly appreciates the leadership of Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandukova and Bulgaria Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, together with local law enforcement, in preserving the peace and repudiating intolerance by refusing to allow the notorious Lukov March to take place.
“Such gatherings, and all other manifestations and rhetoric that promote and venerate racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia must be condemned and prevented from spreading their virulent messages of hatred and bigotry,” Lauder said.
“We join the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, Shalom, in expressing our sincere gratitude for the Bulgarian institutions’ definitive actions against intolerance and hate speech, which set a strong precedent so that this and similar glorifications of evil will not be permitted to rear their ugly head in Bulgaria in the future,” he said.
Shalom expressed its gratitude to Sofia municipality, Fandukova, the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and national co-ordinator of the fight against antisemitism Georg Georgiev, Lauder and all other responsible institutions, for the thwarting of the Lukov March.
“The Bulgarian state has once again shown that it pursues a consistent and categorical policy against intolerance and hate speech, and in particular against the manifestation of antisemitism, xenophobia, hatred and intolerance in the form of a march through the streets of Sofia,” Shalom said.
“Once again, we would like to sincerely thank you for taking concrete steps to reduce the threat of far-right nationalism,” the organization said.
The Embassy of Israel in Sofia expressed its “sincere appreciation to the Bulgarian authorities for their endeavours to bring about the cancellation, once again, of the infamous Lukov March”.
The embassy thanked Borissov, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, Georgiev, Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev, Fandukova, the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior and the State Agency for National Security for all their efforts.
“The cancellation of Lukov March is an expression of the strong, continuous and sustainable Bulgarian efforts to combat antisemitism, xenophobia, intolerance and hate speech,” the Embassy of Israel said.
“Tonight, it has become evident once again that fighting these vicious phenomena is indeed a major priority for Bulgaria. The actions of the Bulgarian authorities will no doubt resonate beyond its borders,” the Embassy said.
The United States Embassy said that while it fully supports the democratic principles of free speech and the public’s right to assemble in a civil and peaceful manner, “we condemn displays of xenophobia, hate speech, or incitements to violence as contrary to the basic values of modern society”.
“We reiterate our appreciation for the dedicated efforts of the Government of Bulgaria and all those who denounced the Lukov March and call on all Bulgarians to unite around the positive examples from their shared history,” the US Embassy said.
The British Embassy in Sofia said that it “welcomes the clear opposition of the Bulgarian authorities to today’s so-called Lukov March and their efforts to ensure public calm and prevent violence”.
“Less than three weeks on from remembering the victims of the Holocaust, incitements to violence and the glorification of historical figures who promoted hate can have no place in our societies,” the British Embassy said.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry expressed its support for the ban, describing the Lukov March as “the antithesis of the unwavering and strongly expressed traditional tolerance of Bulgarian society”.
“We will continue to strongly condemn and oppose any attempt by extremists to manipulate public opinion and incite hatred, making the most of the fear and insecurity caused by the pandemic,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“In the face of the unprecedented challenges we all face, more unity and more tolerance are needed. The Lukov March and events calling for hatred and glorifying the dismal ideologies of the past have no place in modern Bulgarian society,” the ministry said, pledging that the fight against antisemitism, intolerance and hate speech would continue until these were but memories.
(Archive photo: Circlephoto/Shutterstock.com)
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