BRUSSELS – The World Jewish Congress has sharply condemned the “reprehensible” neo-Nazi march glorifying Holocaust promoter Hristo Lukov held in Sofia on Saturday, but praised the Bulgarian government for its “strong friendship” with the Jewish community and its “steadfast” opposition to the annual rally.
This year's march took place under heavy police protection, with a turnout of some 1,500 demonstrators from across Europe, according to sources in Sofia. The World Jewish Congress and the Bulgarian Jewish community have made a series of active efforts in recent months to curb the demonstration, engaging with the Bulgarian government to demand a complete administrative ban be placed on the march.
WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer said: “The World Jewish Congress welcomes the Bulgarian government’s strong friendship and support for the Jewish community and its steadfast condemnation of this reprehensible demonstration. We cannot stand by in silence as neo-Nazis and anti-Semites from across Europe march through the streets of Sofia or any other city, in the same dangerous manifestation of the very anti-Semitic ideology that brought about the near destruction of European Jewry. As marginal as the Lukov march may be, what happened today is a disgrace. On March 10, we will mark the 75th anniversary of the courage Bulgarian people showed in saving 48,000 of their Jewish neighbors from the extermination of the Nazis. This, and not the assassination of a Nazi collaborator, is a date worthy of honor and commemoration.”
“We thank all of those who objected to this despicable march, including the Bulgarian government, and the Sofia municipality, and hope that proper legislation will be initiated and put in place to avoid events like this in the future, and put a stop this scourge once and for all,” Singer added. “There can be no room on the streets of a European capital for a parade that worships a man and an age that represented this most sinister part of our history.”
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder sent a personal letter to Bulgarian President Rumen Radev on the matter last week, commending the “great strides” the Bulgarian government has made in combating anti-Semitic demonstrations, and adding that with Bulgaria as the current holder of the presidency of the Council of the European Union, it would be “looked to for leadership and to uphold the shared values of the European Union, including those of tolerance and the rejection of extremism and anti-Semitism… It is in this spirit, that I urge your government to be firm in preventing any glorification of the Nazi ideology that epitomizes the darkest period of the 20th century.”
WJC CEO Singer and Dr. Alek Oscar, president of the Bulgarian Jewish Community’s Shalom organization, earlier this month delivered to Prime Minister Bokyo Borisov a petition signed by nearly 180,000 people calling for an administrative ban on the march. The Bulgarian prime minister, as well as other government officials, made it clear during their meetings with the WJC delegation that the great majority of citizens see the march as a blight on their community, but that it is exceedingly difficult to prevent from a legal standpoint.
The annual neo-Nazi march in Sofia has been held since 2003, with dark-clad demonstrators mounting a torch-lit parade in honor of Hristo Lukov, leader of the Nazi-era Union of Bulgarian National Legions. Lukov was a major backer of the introduction of anti-Semitic laws, and his movement supported the deportation of 11,343 Jews from Bulgarian-controlled territories in Macedonia, northern Greece, and east Serbia to their deaths in Treblinka. The WJC petition calls on the government to use administrative action to enforce a ban on the march, which continues to occur each year despite efforts to sanction it.
As a result of the intervention and subsequent actions by the WJC and the Bulgarian Jewish community, the organizers of the march were told that they must alter the parade route, diverting it to less important street, and the march was moved from evening to mid-afternoon, to eliminate the annual torch-lit spectacle. But the organizers of the march disregarded government orders, and the demonstration began close to night fall.
GERB party MPs and Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev, Bulgaria’s National Coordinator in the struggle against anti-Semitism, have publicly condemned the march and those behind it. Furthermore, the government has pledged to elaborate an appropriate legal framework to prevent such acts of incitement in the future.
Dr. Oscar, President of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria ‘Shalom’ said: “On behalf of the Bulgarian Jewish community I would like to thank the WJC and the thousands of people around the world for the tremendous support in the fight against the dissemination of hate in Bulgaria.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of World Jewish Congress