Bulgarian MEP, Experts Unanimously Condemn Xenophobia Endemic
The Representation of the European Parliament in Bulgaria organized a conference "Europe in the 21st Century: Democracy against Racism, Xenophobia, and the Language of Hate".
The event held on January 24th, was initiated by the Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament, Metin Kazak. Mr. Kazak is a member of the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
Speakers at the conference were representatives of civil organizations, the major religious denominations, legal experts, and members of governmental commissions for the prevention of discrimination and acts of hatred.
We present you with some of the main points of the discussion and the opinions of the experts.
Mr. Metin Kazak – European Parliament Member of ALDE and DPS
“We have been witnessing an increase in radical and xenophobic rhetoric in Bulgaria, especially since the start of the Syrian crisis. These attitudes are targeted both at foreigners and domestic minorities. They create divisions within society and form a negative international image of Bulgaria.”
Mr. Kazak referred to a recent study by the Mediana center for political, marketing, and social studies.
“In 2013, Bulgaria has moved from the top of the ranking of most tolerant European countries, to one of the most xenophobic. Nearly 64% of those surveyed, say that they frequently hear the language of hate being used. Alarming is the fact that most of them admit hearing it from the media and politicians.
Around 50% of the victims of hate crime and hate speech do not report it to the police. Major reasons for this are the lack of adequate reactions from the authorities, as well as biased interpretations of events from the media.”
The MEP stressed that this is not an exclusively Bulgarian phenomenon, but a European one.
“The overall tendency in the EU is towards deterioration. Nearly 25% of surveyed minorities by the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) say that they have experienced hate crimes or hate speech against themselves during 2013.”
Mr. Kazak believes it is essential that the upcoming campaign for the European Parliament elections be held in a civilized tone and not based on populist xenophobic rhetoric.
Mr. Ognyan Zlatev – Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria
“Xenophobia is on the rise in Europe since the start of the economic crisis. There is also an increased online propaganda for radicalization. At the same time, the political will to speak out against this radicalization seems too low.
EU states must draft their own strategies for coping with the problem. What is needed is better cooperation between civil NGOs, government officials, authorities, and affected citizens (victims).”
Dr. Tuncer Kardjaliev – Head of the Bulgarian Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Citizen's Complaints and Petitions
“Immigrants are becoming the scapegoats for the economic crisis around Europe. In Bulgaria, there is also one other factor contributing to the racist and xenophobic attitudes. This is the demographic crisis. Bulgarians feel threatened, that with the low birthrates, their nation will become extinct or taken over by foreigners and minorities.”
Dr. Kardjaliev believes that the most effective tool for combating racism and hate speech is for prominent social figures to condemn it frequently, in order to create a public resistance against such acts.
“It is absurd to call a few thousand Syrian refugees a burden for Bulgaria, when in the meantime there are over a million of them sheltered in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Unfortunately, the media is often falling prey to the populist sentiments and they do not distinguish between immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees.”
Ahmed Ahmedov – Chief Secretary of the Grand Mufti of Bulgaria
“Humanity has always suffered from those who see justice in the use of force. The problem requires a wide, holistic approach in order to be solved. It is not only the job of the authorities, but of every sector of society to influence the change.
The most effective way to deal with issues of xenophobia, racism, and religious intolerance, is to educate young children. The change has to start from there, for the future generations.”
According to Mr. Ahmedov, the prosecuting of hate crimes as acts of hooliganism, as is the case in Bulgaria, contributes to the recurrence of such acts.
Krasimir Kanev – Head of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC)
“The difficulty in legal terms is that the definition of hate speech is too wide and vague. It includes discrimination, and not all discrimination is based on hatred. Furthermore, international law acknowledges only racial, ethnic and religious groups in terms of hate speech victims. I ask, why not sexual orientation, disability, and gender?”
Mr. Kanev revealed that there have been only 2 cases of people convicted for inciting hatred in Bulgaria, of which one was a Roma person, and another was the creator of a Facebook page calling for the extermination of gypsies.
The BHC head says he finds the new draft penal code of Bulgaria “extremely unbalanced and unclear in its provisions for combating hate speech”.
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