Over 130 were the participants in the international conference “STOP HATE SPEECH”. It was held on December 5th and 6th in the city of Sofia and was organized by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria and the European Jewish Organization. Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, Vice President Iliyana Yotova, Minister of Justice Krum Zarkov, Chief and Supreme Prosecutors from countries of the European Union and the region, senior clerics of various faiths, representatives of state institutions, non-governmental organizations, academia, human rights defenders and civil activists and others were among the panelists at the conference. One of them was Deyan Kolev, chairman of the Amalipe Center.
The main goal of the conference was to create a platform for the exchange of experience and good practices, which would help to effectively and timely counteract xenophobic, anti-Semitic and discriminatory acts, as well as incitement and commission of hate crimes.
“Bulgaria has shown and continues to show that it is a positive model for tolerance and respect between people. The fact that representatives of four main religions in the country are sitting here today is indicative – Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims”. This was stated by the chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev in his welcoming speech.
The Vice President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Iliana Yotova, also welcomed the participants in the forum. In her speech, she made an analogy between public attitudes in Germany in the 1930s and the spreading hate speech in modern Bulgarian society. “One of the greatest dangers today is the rewriting and rewriting of history, including that the Holocaust never existed. With the lessons of the past, we must move forward in this very dangerous, divided and divided world. Intransigence towards hatred, violence, the return to civilization and tolerance, the frank conversation about what is happening in our societies is our main task,” stated Iliana Yotova. She pointed out that the anti-Semitic virus and the virus of hatred is ready to mutate in every social and public crisis. “This mutation is infecting our societies and affecting more and more people. This is a threat not only to Jews, it is a threat not only to minorities, it is a threat to our own societies and to our democracy,” Yotova pointed out.
“Hate speech and anti-Semitism do not exist where logic lives. They do not exist in happy minds. They grow in the minds of people who do not love themselves, do not like their place in the world, and want to blame others for the situation in which they find themselves. Hate speech thrives among people who do not love and respect each other. Hate cannot and will not win,” said Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, to the forum participants.
“Universal rights cannot be limited, but we must always remember that my rights end where the rights of others begin and no one has the right to violate the rights of others!” said Grand Mufti Dr. Mustafa Haji in his speech.
Speeches were also made by the Chief Rabbi, Bishop Polycarp (representative of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church), representatives of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc.
On the second day of the conference, a special session was devoted to the language of hatred against minorities from Bulgaria. It was moderated by Lilia Dragoeva from the Bilitis Foundation. The moderator pointed out that the LGBTI community falls victim to hate speech on a daily basis. She recalled the intrusion of Boyan Stankov-Rasate into the foundation’s office.
Milena Kotseva from the Ministry of Justice and Radoslav Stoyanov from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee recalled the case of the murder of medical student Mihail Stoyanov in 2008 because they thought he was gay. He was attacked and beaten to death by three men who claimed during the trial that they were “clearing the park of gays”, and in the case there is also a judgment against Bulgaria in the ECHR. Milena Kotseva also recalled several decisions of the ECHR on the occasion of discriminatory statements by the leader of “Attack” Volen Siderov.
Deyan Kolev from the “Amalipe” center welcomed the ongoing conference and wished it to become the beginning of a
comprehensive fight by the prosecutor’s office and other institutions involved in human rights (CCP and Ombudsman) against the manifestations of hate speech and anti- Roma discrimination. He recalled that the Holocaust during the Second World War was also aimed at the Roma, and the European Parliament recognizes August 2 as the day of the Roma Holocaust. Kolev also recalled that in October 2020, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a definition of Antigipsyism – “anti-Roma discrimination”, which equates the forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Roma discrimination. Kolev also presented the data from a series of studies on social distances, according to which in the period 2007-2012 there was an improvement in the attitude towards the Roma community in Bulgaria, as well as towards other minorities. According to him, however, in the period after that – from 2013 to 2018, and to this day, there is a serious worsening of the social distance towards the Roma, and the attitude towards them is significantly more negative compared to the pre-accession period.
One of the possible reasons favoring this negative process is the language of hatred on the part of high-ranking politicians and the lack of reaction on the part of the prosecutor’s office, the KPD and the National Ombudsman. Kolev presented as an example the anti-Roma statements of Valeri Simeonov and the fact that the prosecutor’s office did not react to them, and the court of second instance justified him with the argument “Freedom of speech”. As another example, Krasimir Karakachanov’s “Anti-Roma Concept” from 2019 was presented, which no institution or party denounced and was about to be adopted by the Council of Ministers. “The lack of reaction on the part of the prosecutor’s office, the CCP and the Ombudsman, as well as the justification of these openly discriminatory statements with “Freedom of Speech” strengthens anti-Roma and anti-Semitic sentiments in society,” emphasized Kolev.
“Amalipe” also made some specific recommendations: for purposeful and uncompromising activity of the prosecutor’s office, the CCP and the ombudsman against all manifestations of anti-Semitism, anti-Roma discrimination and other manifestations of intolerance, and that freedom of speech should not be accepted as an excuse for such manifestations ; for social attention on hate speech by politicians, as well as programs and campaigns for tolerance. See Deyan Kolev’s presentation here:
The professor of criminal law at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Dr. Iva Pushkarova, who analyzed the legal framework, and Prof. Vili Lilkov analyzed the historical aspects of the problems related to discrimination and hate speech. “I can honestly say after the conference that, listening to the speakers, I find in myself some prejudices that fell away after we saw each other, after we talked and after we discussed hate speech from all points of view,” said Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev at the closing of the “STOP HATE SPEECH” conference.
Geshev himself years ago was checked by the Commission for Protection against Discrimination after his statement “…that’s what all the defendants do, that’s what the gypsies do too…”, talking about the case against Desislava Ivancheva. The inspection of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination showed that in the case of Geshev, then Deputy. chief prosecutor, did not commit a violation, reminds Marginalia – an independent media for human rights journalism.