Far right political party “United Patriots” worrying role in Bulgaria’s EU Council presidency
According to many watchdog organisations and activists racism is on the rise in Bulgaria, and the presence of far right parties in government could create a crisis for the EU when Bulgaria takes the Presidency of the EU from January to June 2018.
Since the far-right United Patriots (UP) became coalition partners in government earlier this year, public debate has become coarsened by frequent hate speech against Roma, Muslims and migrants; and the country has witnessed a worrying sequence of racist mob attacks on Romani neighbourhoods over the summer months.
Concerned at the surge in racism, the UNCERD recently called on Bulgaria to prevent, condemn and sanction hate speech by politicians, and to prosecute perpetrators of racially motivated violence.
CERD expressed its concerns at the continued marginalisation of Roma in all walks of life, and the denial of access to basic services; called for an end to racial segregation in education and housing, and urged the government to “stop the persistent practice of forcibly evicting and destroying Roma settlements without offering alternative housing or adequate compensation.”
In this context, the appointment of Patriot Front leader, Valeri Simeonov, to lead Bulgaria’s National Council on Co-operation on Ethnic and Integration Issues is reprehensible. It prompted a public denunciation by nearly 400 Bulgarian human rights activists and intellectuals, who described Simeonov as a “pronounced supporter of fascist and neo-Nazi ideology.”
Simeonov, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, described Roma as “brazen, feral, human-like creatures” who “receive child benefits for children that play with pigs on the street, and for women that have the instincts of stray dogs.” Simeonov’s party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), has called for the demolition of “Gypsy ghettos” and the isolation of Roma in closed “reservations” that could generate income as tourist attractions.
Ðorđe Jovanović, President of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), has described Simeonov’s appointment as “nothing short of a direct provocation and a calculated insult to Bulgaria’s ethnic minorities, and a direct affront to European values.”
The forthcoming Bulgarian EU presidency holds the very real prospect of extremist UP politicians chairing committees of the Council of the European Union during the country’s six-month term at the helm.
Now is not the time for the EU to equivocate in the face of fascism. The appointment to high office in Bulgaria of extremists who openly espouse racist views presents the European Union with a direct challenge to its core values of equality, dignity and respect for human rights.
Soraya Post MEP, Co-Preisdent of ARDI, said: “The Council presidency must show that there is no place for fascist ideas within the European Union. Therefore, I call on the EU to take up the issue with the Bulgarian government and prevent fascists groups from holding positions of high authority whilst they continue to violate principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Human rights are indisputable, they belong to everyone.”