Demonstrators protest neo-nazi march
In late March 2019, the Bulgarian authorities offered financial support (3 485 028 Leva - about 1.78 million Euro) to countries in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Caucasus to finance projects for the development of education, science, culture, social integration and civil society. A number of 42 approved projects will be implemented in nine countries: the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Republic of Albania, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, the Republic of Armenia and Georgia. Projects aiming for the development of civil society will be implemented in Ukraine, the Republic of Armenia and Georgia.
In March 2019, the parliament voted to write off a 4.2 million Euros debt accrued by the office of the Grand Mufti, the country’s senior Muslim cleric representing the Muslim community in Bulgaria. However, following political and public pressure who argued the decision was politically motivated and unfair for other religious communities, the ruling party GERB who was behind the proposal, announced that another amendment will be tabled providing instead for deferring the Grand Mufti’s debt to be paid in instalments.
The parliament’s decision to provide amnesty for the Grand Mufti’s debt sparked controversy and protests by the main opposition - the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP who argued that by this decision, GERB is “striking behind-the-scenes deals” with the opposition ethnic Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms (MRF), in a bid to overturn earlier Presidential veto on the controversial electoral code changes that would make preferential voting redundant.
The above mentioned debt benefits for the Muslim faith body followed a decision to adopt a set of changes to the law governing religions, the Law on Religious Confessions. Additionally, These regulations, voted in December 2018, will provide state subsidies to religions which have followers totalling to at least one percent of the population, increase more oversight by the state on religious activities with the aim to address religious” ‘radicalisation’. An additional amendment that sought to limit external financing of religious activities was withdrawn by parliament after protests.
On 16th February 2019, a protest dubbed ‘No to Nazis on Bulgarian Streets’ was held in Sofia as a counter protest to the so-called Lukov march that was held on the same day in remembrance of Bulgarian general and Nazi sympathizer Hristo Lukov. The protesters opposed the Lukov march which they said was neo-nazi, and also what they termed as a tolerance for neo-nazi manifestation in the Bulgarian society. This was the sixteenth time the Lukov march was held in Sofia. According to the protesters, the march has over the years seen “Nazis and fascists from all over Europe come to Bulgaria, to march together with their Bulgarian adherents in hour of an antisemitic general”.
In recent years, the Mayor of Sofia has banned the Lukov march annually, although this decision has always been overturned in court. Anti-nazi protests organized each year show intolerance for neo-Nazi rallies in Bulgaria and all over the world.
In April 2019, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a new edition of its annual media freedom Index. According to the Index, RFS once again ranked Bulgaria lowest among European Union countries, placing it as 111th out of 180 countries surveyed. Although this was the first in many years that Bulgaria’s ranking did not fall in the index, threats against reporters have increased in the last year and journalism has become a dangerous activity in Bulgaria, as reported previously on the Civicus Monitor.
According to the Association of European Journalists who reacted to the new RSF index, the country has not registered any good news and Bulgaria continues to be the last in the EU and even among the Western Balkans countries.
Association of journalist – Bulgaria said:
“It is a fact that the freedom of speech situation in Bulgaria continues to cause concern. Bulgarian journalists believe that the media in the country [is] not sufficiently free and independent, as [it is] supposed to be in a democratic country, a member of the European Union.”