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No comment: "The others" - a threat to Bulgaria?

The Bulgarians leaving their homeland are much more than the foreigners settling in the country. However, in Bulgaria they do not like "outsiders" and the different. Many Bulgarians believe that "others" are a threat to the country.

A young Bulgarian man called for the slaughter of gypsies on his Facebook account, and 76 people joined the group he created. The 23-year-old from Varna was sentenced to 10 months suspended imprisonment and a public reprimand for inciting violence and racial hatred. Following the murder of a 19-year-old boy by Roma in the village of Katunitsa and the anti-Roma protests that followed, Prosecutor General Boris Velchev ordered that "investigations into incitement to hatred be prioritised" and that police immediately arrest those responsible.

Neo-Nazi violence in Bulgaria is escalating - that is the feeling. At the same time, society is increasingly aware of hate crimes in its everyday life. And it is reacting more and more sensitively. But anyway, the hostility towards different people is a fact, says Svetla Encheva, a sociologist at the Center for the Study of Democracy. Here are the more prominent episodes since 2009:

Three years ago, criminals killed a young man in Borisova Garden just because they decided he was gay. In 2010, neo-Nazis beat up a young man on a tram as he left for a rally in defence of foreigners in Bulgaria. To this day there have been no convictions for the tram beaters. So-called football "ultras" beat up Roma after a football match, and an Afghan man who, you see, looked like a "Mangal" was also subjected to violence. Two young men were also beaten because one of them had pink hair, so he looked gay.

A few months ago supporters of VMRO and fans of Burgas football teams attacked a house of prayer of Jehovah's Witnesses. The video footage clearly shows young people beating visitors to the temple, while on the street in front others wave the red and black flags of IMRO, sing songs and chant slogans against the "Jehovah's Witnesses sect". Weeks later, after another provocation by a group of nationalists from Ataka, clashes and violence broke out in front of Sofia's Banya Bashi mosque, resulting in innocent people being injured.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee classifies all this as an alarming escalation of xenophobia and religious hatred, as a serious attack on the physical integrity and rights of Bulgarian citizens.

Refugee = paw?

Attitudes towards refugees are particularly negative today, human rights activists said. According to the reports, Bulgarians widely believe that foreigners have no place in their country, that they are only "pawing" from its resources. In fact, Bulgaria is a country in which the number of its citizens leaving is much higher than the number of foreigners wishing to settle there. There are no large immigrant communities in Bulgaria, and most immigrants do not have access to the Bulgarian social system - free education, healthcare, pensions, social security and benefits.

However (as is the case in other Eastern European countries) Bulgarians consider immigrants a threat. Illogical, even absurd, but it is a fact! It's just that people in the country have not yet gained experience and are misled by appearances and political manipulations. "Immigrants often seem like a threat to them, Bulgarians still think of them as criminals and terrorists by definition," said sociologist Svetla Encheva from the Center for the Study of Democracy. Thus, immigrants most often find themselves imprisoned behind the fences of refugee centres, and the locals in Bulgaria like it.

Hate is a "European import"

On the other hand, the demands on Bulgaria, which has to secure its borders against refugees in order to enter Schengen, further fuel latent xenophobia in the country. Moreover, manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and hostility are not a Bulgarian patent at all - they were present in the West, in Europe, much earlier. In other words, Bulgarians are reproducing an existing trend, they are partly "imitating" the Europeans.

According to Svetla Encheva, hatred of Turks and Muslims existed a dozen years ago, but now it draws additional legitimacy from the "war on terror", as well as from the mood in Europe against burqas and minarets. But unlike Western countries, Encheva points out, Bulgaria has no functioning mechanisms of regulation and self-regulation to deter (neo)Nazism and hate crimes.

In Bulgaria, human rights work is still in its infancy and seems too exotic. However, both the mainstream Bulgarians and the highest political level in the country are convinced that the majority (ethnic, racial, religious, sexual) is always right, that only its opinion should be respected. And yet: compared to other countries in the Balkans and the former USSR, Bulgaria is ahead, summarises Svetla Encheva. The country, for example, held a legal gay pride parade for the fourth year in a row. Rallies against neo-Nazi violence are also a fact. Although these are rare, they are all signs that a democratic culture unencumbered by the past is gradually emerging in Bulgaria.

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