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Despite a number of legislative barriers, hate speech towards various communities – mostly ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT – find propitious grounds in the Bulgarian public and media space. Regardless of the existence of multi-dimensional relevant legislation, however, hate speech proliferates in a disquieting manner. There is also a misunderstanding or unfamiliarity on the part of Bulgarian law enforcement authorities with the notion of ‘hate crime’.
When members of the far-right Ataka party attacked Muslims who had congregated for Friday prayer in Sofia’s Banya Bashi mosque on 20 May 2011, the ultra-nationalists’ actions were termed ‘hooliganism’ rather than a hate crime. The Bulgarian Criminal Code is deficient in recognising and punishing hate crimes, i.e. crimes perpetrated with discriminatory motives. The drawback of this legislation is that it does not recognise bias and hate as an aggravating factor.
On 17 April 2011, a group of far-right party VMRO supporters, alongside with skinheads from the city of Burgas, attacked the place of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Burgas. Video recordings from the incident reveal beatings, accompanied by hate-speech slogans and chants. Although the police and the Prosecutor’s Office announced that an investigation is under way, neither President Parvanov, nor the speaker of Parliament, nor PM Borisov have officially expressed any position on the disturbing incident.
At the same time, hate speech against ethnic, religious and sexual minorities continues to dominate in some media. These are mostly the SKAT television channel, more specifically its Paralax show, and the Ataka newspaper, publication of the extreme nationalist party of the same name. Hate speech is manifested in many other places, including in media which have signed the Code of Ethics of the Bulgarian Media. The ethics committees in the press and in the electronic media, as well as the Electronic Media Council, fail to regulate this practice although functioning media self-regulation is one of the key factors in the freedom of expression.
The Protection Against Discrimination Commission (PADC) has recently ruled on several cases of hate speech. In May and July 2001, PADC convicted a newspaper for abuse of the LGBT community by creating negative stereotypes. CPD obligated the publisher to introduce self-control rules and imposed a steep fine.
You can read more on the hate speech and crime problematic in BHC’s annual report and in the sections below.