Poll: 70% of Bulgarian Jews see hate speech as a problem in Bulgaria

Seventy per cent of Bulgarian Jews polled by Alpha Research see hate speech as a problem in Bulgaria, compared with 37 per cent among the wider population.

The percentage of Bulgarian Jews who see antisemitism as a growing problem in the country was lower than that established in a separate recent survey by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) among European countries.

“Against this background, the estimates in Bulgaria are more moderate, but not a cause for reassurance,” Alpha Research in a comment on the findings of the poll, the results of which were released on April 5.

The agency said that differing sensitivity to hate speech affected the ability to identify its sources and specific manifestations.

Among the wider public in Bulgaria, people saw hate speech as mainly in informal communication, and therefore enclosed in the internet and social networks (48 per cent), sporting events (37 per cent) and inscriptions on public and residential buildings (29 per cent).

Among Bulgarian Jews, 95 per cent pointed to the internet and social networks, and 84 per cent to inscriptions on public and residential buildings.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Bulgarian Jewish respondents believed that hate speech had also permeated public appearances, including on radio and television (43 per cent).

“That is, among Jews there is a feeling that the phenomenon is going beyond informal borders and is gaining a kind of ‘legitimacy’ through its use in speeches by public figures and politicians, including in the mainstream media,” Alpha Research said.

The poll registered growing anxiety among the Jewish community about the intensification of antisemitic manifestations.

The polled held the view that this growth was more clearly visible in Europe (90 per cent) than in Bulgaria (73 per cent).

The agency categorised three groups of people who had antisemitic attitudes.

The first was a group with the most radical antisemitic attitudes, who were firmly reluctant to communicate with people of Jewish descent, and had a tendency to justify various antisemitic manifestations – “often even acts of vandalism, or physical aggression”.

This group consisted mainly of men, young and of economically active age, engaged mainly in manual labour.

“They are informed mainly from the internet and especially from Facebook,” the agency said, estimating that this group made up about three to four per cent.

The second group was those who had latent antisemitic attitudes.

“They are characterised by declarative solidarity with the Jews, but also strong susceptibility to conspiracy theories about them. This group covers not only low-status, but also more educated people from the capital and big cities,” the agency said.

Their main sources of information were television and the internet, newspapers, radio, even podcasts. They made up about 10 per cent of the target group polled.

The third group was those were informed and actively opposed antisemitism.

They were characterised by an unconditional acceptance of Jews and other ethnic communities as part of Bulgarian society, who had knowledge about issues related to the Holocaust and antisemitism, and who strongly condemned antisemitic manifestations.

This group was made up of highly educated people, aged between 30 and 45 and covered about 12 to 15 per cent of society, Alpha Research said.

The poll found that awareness of the Holocaust, antisemitism and anti-Jewish legislation was gradually fading and remained concentrated in the older generations.

Only 17 per cent of those polled saw themselves as well-informed on Holocaust-related issues, a further 42 per cent saw themselves as fairly informed, while 37 per cent were “almost uninformed, or not at all”.

Only 12 per cent said that they well understood what antisemitism is, 35 per cent said that they understood fairly well what it was, and 49 per cent said that they did not understand what it was.

Noting the trend that the younger those polled were, the less informed they were, Alpha Research said: “If this trend continues, more and more young people, and therefore society as a whole, will not know these historical events”.

This bore two risks, the agency said. That it would easier for larger groups to fall under the influence or overt or covert antisemitic propaganda, and, as a result, for the sinister events of the past to be repeated.

The poll found that both the Bulgarian Jews and the general public supported the study of the Holocaust in schools and universities.

Ninety-four per cent of the Bulgarian Jews and 53 per cent of the general public approved of the idea of ​​building a museum or permanent exhibition, including online, dedicated to the prevention of the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews to the death camps of the Holocaust during the Second World War.

The poll found that the relationship between the Jews and the rest of society was assessed by both parties as “good and very good” (82 per cent of Jews and 73 per cent of the general public.

Eighty-three per cent of the general public were positive about having Jews living in their neighbourhood, 59 per cent to Jews occupying senior management positions, and 52 per cent to the possibility of a family member marrying a Jew.

Eight-two per cent of the general public believed that Jews were well integrated into the Bulgarian community, while 91 per cent of the Jews polled were of the same opinion.

Eighty-eight per cent of Bulgarian Jews said that they felt safe in their daily lives. Of these, half felt completely safe and the other half, to some extent, Alpha Research said.

Only 11 per cent avoided visits to Jewish institutions and organisations and participation in events related to the Jewish community, out of concern for their safety.

Alpha Research said that by comparison, the FRA poll in 2018 found that 34 per cent of Jews in the 12 countries surveyed avoided such visits because they did not feel safe.

The agency said that a total of 37 per cent of the general public were able to name at least one Jewish holiday, the most frequently-mentioned being Hannukah (23 per cent) and Passover (16 per cent).

A slightly lower share, 30 per cent, were able to name notable Bulgarians of Jewish origin who had contributed to the development of Bulgaria.

As to the image of Jews, the first most commonly associated were “The Jews have maintained a strong spirit and rich culture, through their historical trials” (37 per cent), “Jews have too much influence on world politics” (36 per cent), “Jews are well integrated into society” (35 per cent), “Jewish are enterprising and love working” (34 per cent), “Jews have been the victims of centuries of discrimination and harassment (21 per cent).

Alpha Research said that just less than five per cent of those polled had named only negative definitions.

The survey “Public Attitudes towards Antisemitism and Hate Speech” was conducted by Alpha Research as part of the project “Strategic Cooperation between Bulgaria and Norway in Support of Bulgaria’s International Commitments to Combat Antisemitism and Preserve the Jewish Heritage”, which is implemented by the Diplomatic Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The survey consisted of two modules – a national representative sample of 1000 adult Bulgarians from all over the country aged 18-55, and a survey among the Jewish community in Bulgaria, involving 100 interviews.

The survey was done between February 5 and 21 2022.

(Photo, of the interior of Sofia Central Synagogue: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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