European Parliament President Roberta Metsola has initiated a procedure against a far-right Bulgarian MEP, Angel Dzhambazki, over he made a gesture that has been interpreted as a fascist salute, though he strongly denies that it was.
Dzhambazki, last week elected as a co-leader of Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist VMRO party, made the gesture – captured on video – after taking part in a debate on rule of law in Poland and Hungary.
In a message on the European Parliament’s Twitter account, Metsola said: “A fascist salute in the European Parliament is unacceptable to me – always and everywhere.
“It offends me and everyone else in Europe. We stand for the opposite. We are the House of democracy,” Metsola said.
“That gesture is from the darkest chapter of our history and must be left there.”
Images of Dzhambazki making the gesture caused outrage on social networks and received extensive media coverage.
Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party group said on Twitter: “During today’s debate on the rule of law, (Dzhambazki) showed a ‘Hitler salute’ in plenary.
“On behalf of the EPPGroup we condemn this in the harshest possible terms. It is the opposite of what the European Parliament stands for and we call for immediate sanctioning,” Weber said.
The incident prompted a statement by Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry, though the statement made no specific reference to Dzhambazki.
“Bulgaria has historically proven its acceptance of different ethnicities and its intolerance to discrimination and hate speech,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“In this regard, any actions, which could be interpreted as symbols associated with totalitarian regimes, are unacceptable,” the ministry said.
“We call for a spirit of European solidarity and respect for fundamental European values,” it said.
Speaking in the European Parliament on February 17, Dzhambazki – who earlier had said that he just been waving goodbye when making the gesture – said that it had been “interpreted in a way that was deeply wrong and erroneous”.
“If I wanted to I would have told you (Metsola) and do it from the speaker’s podium, not while exiting the hemicycle,” Dzhambazki said.
“I do not use such symbols…I deeply believe such symbols have no place in this House or in society for that matter,” he said.
In a message on Twitter, Dzhambazki said: “Wrong interpretations can lead to a storm in a teacup. This is exactly what the outrage over yesterday’s incident.
“However, such outrage can have consequences and I insist those who spread lies to apologise,” he said.
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