SYMBOL OF HATRED: A fan of CSKA Sofia football team wears a swastika-emblazoned t-shirt at a 2000 match.
Dimitar Peshev is widely seen as having added honour to the name of Bulgaria. Dimitar Stoyanov might not be seen the same way. These two Dimitars, years apart in their careers, represent very different aspects of the question of anti-Semitism in Bulgaria.
Peshev has been honoured for his role in preventing the deportation of Jews from Bulgarian territory in World War 2.
Stoyanov, an MEP for Bulgaria’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party, said in a January 2007 interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph: "There are a lot of powerful Jews, with a lot of money, who are paying the media to form the social awareness of the people…they are also playing with economic crises in countries like Bulgaria and getting rich. These are the concrete realities".
The most recent human rights report by the US state department, released in late January 2009, said that according to Jewish organisation Shalom, anti-Semitism was not widespread in Bulgaria.
However, it is by no means true that Bulgaria’s history is untarnished.
In what is becoming increasingly distant history, the prevention of deportation of Jews during the era in which Bulgaria was allied to Nazi Germany did not extend to stopping Jews being sent to death camps from other territories under Bulgarian control. The country had its anti-Semitic laws; Peshev, as deputy speaker of parliament was among those who opposed such abuses.
More recently, one of those who spoke at the 1998 funeral of former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov was one Roumen Vodenicharov, whose anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.
Human rights organisations and Israel’s foreign ministry keep a record of anti-Semitic incidents.
Bulgaria’s list includes a 1999 Molotov cocktail attack on the Jewish school in Sofia; the publication in 2001 in Bulgaria of anti-Semitic texts including Mein Kampf; a threatening message left on the answering machine of a Jewish organisation in 2002; the appearance in 2003 of a website named for the god Tangra which included lists of "Jewish leaders in Bulgaria" and citations from the blood libel forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; and also in 2003, posters placed outside the Jewish Beyt Ha’am community house advertising a book by Holocaust denier Jurgen Graf.
In 2008, a Jewish cemetery in Shoumen was desecrated (the youths were caught and ordered by the court to attend an educational programme) and in January 2009, anti-Semitic slogans including "Juden Verboten" (Jews forbidden) were painted on the Holocaust memorial in Plovdiv.
Other anti-Semitic incidents have taken place at football matches. At a match between Varna team Cherno More and a Netanya team in August 2008, the Bulgarian fans chanted, "put the Jews in Auschwitz". In July 2006, a match played in Bulgaria between teams from Israel and Bulgaria saw Bulgarians shouting "Heil Hitler", "Holocaust for the Jews" and "Free Palestine".
Some may this list as a scattered series of incidents, probably much shorter than in other European countries, and hardly persuasive of an anti-Semitic theme in Bulgaria today. However, so far Ataka has not been mentioned, and it is Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist party that is a recurring motif in every report in recent years on anti-Semitism.
There was a Siderov before there was an Ataka.
The Israeli foreign ministry’s 1999 report on anti-Semitic incidents included the fact that then-journalist Siderov had written an article published in Bulgarian-language daily Novinar "proving" that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus and saying that Judaism was initially pagan and adopted monotheism only later. Siderov denied that his views were anti-Semitic, and said that Shalom existed only to detect anti-Semitism.
In his 2002 book Boomerang of Evil, Siderov wrote: "This community has transformed itself through the ages from Pharisees and Sadduccees, to different oligarchic circles, which even today meet periodically in luxury resorts to decide who and how to have control on the markets, the resources and the fate of millions around the world."
Ataka’s cable television mouthpiece Skat has been alleged to be anti-Semitic on several occasions. Numerous incidents include one in 2006 in which Georgi Zhekov, host of the channel’s Bezkompromisno ("No Compromises") show, said on air that "Hitler was a Jew, and the Nazis were the best thing that ever happened to the world".
Skat has been the subject of complaints to the Council on Electronic Media (CEM), on the grounds of article 10 of Bulgaria’s Radio and Television Act which bans the airing of programmes that incite hatred on the grounds of race, gender, religion and national identity. In June 2008, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee complained to CEM, invoking this article, after Anton Sirakov (also deputy leader of Ataka) said on air that Jews were not a nation, but parasites.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in a report on Bulgaria published on February 24 2009, said that no action seemed to have been taken against Ataka for its anti-Semitic messages.
In a 2005 report, Shalom said: "A few days after the (2005 parliamentary) elections in a forum called Aren’t We Tolerant? opened on Attack’s internet site a list of over 1500 Bulgarian Jews appeared (a number of non-Jewish eminent social and politic figures among them), who supposedly did great damage to Bulgaria. We must admit that Attack declared the publishing of the list to be a provocation and closed the forum for a while.
The list had been downloaded from the site of Dulo Patriotic Society led by Anton Rachev, more famous as ‘The Fuhrer from Rousse’ having a suspended sentence for desecrating the Jewish Cemetery in Rousse."
Again, if anyone is to argue that anti-Semitism in Bulgaria is a trend of scant significance, it has to be remembered that Ataka entered Parliament in 2005 with nine per cent of the vote, and in the 2007 presidential elections, Siderov was in a run-off against Georgi Purvanov.
The 2009 military action by Israel against Hamas in Gaza saw protests in Bulgaria similar to many elsewhere in the world, including the carrying of posters equating the Star of David to the Nazi swastika. At a January 2009 news conference, Israeli ambassador in Sofia Noah Gal-Gendler said that there was a conflation of anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism.