World Jewish Congress slams trivialisation of Holocaust by Bulgarian pro-Russian leader

In a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, the World Jewish Congress has expressed its grave concern regarding the impact of ongoing political discourse distorting the history of the Holocaust in Bulgaria.

The letter follows a Facebook post in which Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the pro-Kremlin minority party Vuzrazhdane, described the representative organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria, Shalom, as “Jewish Nazis”.

In a homophobic incident in June, a small crowd, made up largely of individuals wearing Vuzrazhdane t-shirts, prevented the Sofia Pride Film Festival screening of the award-winning film Close. People wearing Vuzrazhdane t-shirts, led by an MP from that party, went on to intrude into a beer shop that had placed in its window a sign that it would not serve supporters of Vuzrazhdane, a party notorious for its support for the regime of Putin, which stands accused of numerous war crimes in Ukraine and the unlawful abduction of large numbers of Ukrainian children.

Subsequently, in a show of solidarity and rejection of Nazi symbolism and hate speech, members of Shalom’s leadership posted photos online of them patronising the beer shop.

After that incident, the windows of the beer shop were daubed with words and symbols of striking similarity to those used by the Nazis in Kristallnacht, the overture to the Holocaust. No one has claimed responsibility for the antisemitic incident, which came a night after the intrusion by the Vuzrazhdane crowd.

This was one of a number of incidents in which Vuzrazhdane – the third-largest party in Bulgaria’s current Parliament, albeit with only 37 out of 240 MPs – was involved. The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on June 27 that Vuzrazhdane’s leader, Kostadinov, was under investigation for alleged violation of Bulgarian law against hate speech.

Vuzrazhdane, until a few years ago a fringe political force in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, has created its brand as a pseudo-patriotic force opposing Bulgaria’s membership of Nato and the European Union, opposing Bulgaria’s accession to the European common currency the euro, parroting every line of Putin’s regime, opposing Bulgaria supplying arms to Ukraine for that country to defend itself against Putin’s regime illegal invasion of it, and denouncing the pro-Western government that took office in Bulgaria earlier in June 2023 as “appointed by the American ambassador”.

The letter from the World Jewish Congress’s executive vice president Maram Stern was addressed to Denkov, who on June 27 approvingly quoted a description of Vuzrazhane as “neo-fascists”.

The text of the letter reads:

Dear Prime Minister Denkov,

Allow me to express my warmest congratulations to you upon assuming this new office, in which I wish you every success.

I am writing today to express our grave concern regarding the current political discourse in the Republic of Bulgaria, in which it apparently has become acceptable to minimize and trivialize the Holocaust and the fate of Jews during World War II.

Mr. Kostadinov, leader of the Vazrazhdane (Revival) party, has frequently used the Holocaust as a political platform to address contemporary political matters.

Most recently, Mr. Kostadinov has leveled offensive accusations of Nazism against Dr. Alexander Oskar, Chairman of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria (OJB) Shalom. Especially as OJB Shalom is affiliated with the World Jewish Congress as the representative body of Jews in Bulgaria, and a driving force for Jewish life in Bulgaria, we are alarmed that some parties are attempting to slander Dr. Oskar while simultaneously trying to delegitimize OJB Shalom, claiming that it is “just one of the Jewish Organizations in Bulgaria.

Furthermore, representatives of Vazrazhdane have drawn comparisons between the vaccination certificate or Covid testing and the oppressive tactics employed by the Nazi regime against the Jewish population and have employed conspiracy theories pertaining to Jewish influence on a number of occasions during their election campaigns.

Additionally, they have been known to discredit individuals in public life based solely on their Jewish heritage. The emergence of an establishment in Sofia bearing the inscription “JUDE” and a Jewish star can be directly attributed to the normalization of such discourse in the country. The World Jewish Congress expresses its opposition to using the history of the Holocaust in political discourse. Employing terms such as Nazism and National Socialism outside their historical context is entirely inappropriate and considered antisemitic under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which Bulgaria has embraced as its operative definition.

In the name of Jewish communities around the world, I would therefore respectfully request that Mr. Kostadinov refrain from using such rhetoric and instead be encouraged by other government leaders to employ less offensive approaches to attain his political and social objectives.

Very truly yours, 

Maram Stern

Executive Vice President

Kostadinov said that he had referred the shop’s “discrimination” to the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination and to the Consumer Protection Commission and was wondering “whether to inform the World Jewish Congress about Shalom’s support for Nazi practices”.

Israel’s embassy to Bulgaria said of Kostadinov’s post: “This antisemitic statement is truly alarming and has no place neither in Bulgaria nor in any other country. We urge the official authorities to step in and take immediate and decisive action against hate speech”.

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