Bulgaria: Sofia Mayor and Ambassadors at Conference Against Hate Speech
A conference called “Sofia Says No to Hate Speech and Extremism” began at Sofia University in the Bulgarian capital this morning. Just two days before an international Nazi gathering called “Lukov March” is scheduled to take place, the participants denounced all forms of hate speech and demanded respect for everyone, including members of minorities.
The organizer of the conference, Yuliana Metodieva of the NGO Marginalia, invited the Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev, who is also the Sofia government’s point man for the fight against antisemitism, the Ambassadors of Israel and the United States to Bulgaria, Irit Lillian and Eric Rubin, as well as many others.
Mayor Fandakova admitted that the topic of hate speech “is visible in our municipality”. She said a lot of graffiti paroles and symbols of hate had been removed from walls in Sofia.
Also there had been several initiatives against hate, including in sports. “Sofia Municipality supports all good ideas”, Fandakova stated. “Combating hate speech means more than just talking about things”, the Mayor said.
Yordanka Fandakova said she had banned the so-called “Lukov March” this time, and in the past few years. But, due to court decisions, it had taken place anyway, and it would this time around.
While this was deplorable, Sofia was still a city of tolerance. The Mayor mentioned what is known as the Triangle of Tolerance in the center of Sofia, where a Catholic Church, a Christian Orthodox Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue are located, within half a mile.
“Hate and aggression might sometimes be the easiest way, but they are always wrong”, Fandakova said during the “Sofia Says No to Hate Speech” conference.
The President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, also spoke to the participants in a pre-recorded video message. “There is almost no other country that has demonstrated its friendship and caring of its Jewish citizens like Bulgaria”, he said, referring to the salvation of the Jews in Bulgaria proper as “one of the few positive moments during the Holocaust.” He said the Jewish people would be forever grateful and inspired by the Bulgarian people’s heroism and decency.
Lauder also said there was nothing more important right now than the “fight against the rising tide of antisemitism, xenophobia and hate that we see throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world today.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev called Nazi events like “Lukov March” a “global phenomenon”. He said it was Bulgaria’s task to fight it actively. Along with his government, Georgiev had already condemned the scheduled Nazi event before today.
“Our society is guided by tolerance and wisdom. We will withstand attempts to change that”, Georgiev told the other participants.
For the organization Shalom its President Alexander Oscar said there were attempts to abuse freedom, and hate speech was everywhere, including in both the media and social media.
“In democracy, media have a responsibility. Your task is to educate the audience”, Dr. Oscar said.
Condemnations of the “Lukov March” by parts of the Bulgarian government, and the involvement of Mayor Fandakova in the fight against hate speech were clear messages, Alexander Oscar said.
Sofia Cohen, the Head of the Central Israelite Spiritual Council, said her organization was concerned about the Nazi event taking place on Saturday. The purpose of “Lukov March” was to spread xenophobic ideas. This was “a disgrace for a peaceful society” and a country which was part of the European Union.
The Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria, Irit Lillian, said even though Hristo Lukov may have been seen as a war hero during World War I, he had spread the message of racism and antisemitism.
“It is for those ideas that these people will be marching for him”, Lillian said. “A person who is deliberately downgrading others, should never be seen as a hero”, she added.
To Ambassador Lillian, the only way to stop hate speech “is to draw red lines”. She said, indifference to phenomena like hate speech was “the real threat to our society”.
Eric Rubin, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Bulgaria, thanked Bulgaria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva, Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev and Mayor Yordanka Fandakova for their “hard stance against hate speech”.
The city of Sofia was leading the effort in this country regarding programs designed to fight hate speech, Rubin added. He said that fight was a global challenge, but the most important step was to act locally.
“I add my voice to the condemnation of hate speech in the media”, Rubin said at the conference. He and other speakers were referring to an article in the Bulgarian daily “Trud”, in which Jews were blamed for the turbulence in the world.
Regarding “Lukov March”, Rubin stated his opinion, according to which “efforts to glorify dark chapters of history are unacceptable”.