PRESS RELEASE: Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov Found Liable for Anti-Roma Hate Speech

Valeri Simeonov, Deputy Prime Minister and Chair of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues of the Republic of Bulgaria, was found liable by the district court in the city of Bourgas for his anti-Roma hate speech as a Member of Parliament before the National Assembly on December 17, 2014. Simeonov is also leader of the Bulgarian ultranationalist party National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria. At the time, Simeonov’s party was not part of the government. His Cabinet appointment came in May 2017 when the United Patriots, a grouping of ultranationalist parties, became the minority partner in Boyko Borissov’s newly formed third government.

Plaintiffs in the case against Simeonov are two Roma journalists, Kremena Budinova and Ognian Isaev. They are represented by the Legal Program of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) – oldest and largest Bulgarian human rights organisation. The statement, which was found by the court in violation of the Bulgarian anti-discrimination law, reads:

It is an undeniable fact that a large part of the gypsy ethnicity lives outside of any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour. The laws do not apply to them, taxes and charges are incomprehensible terms, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but no obligations and responsibilities. For them, theft and robbery have become a livelihood, violation of the law – a norm of conduct, childbirth – a profitable business at the expense of the state, and the care for their offspring – is teaching minors how to practice begging, prostitution, theft and sale of drugs. Gypsy barons impose a pattern of existence, radically opposed to legal norms in Bulgarian society. Bulgaria stands on the brink of an ethnic crisis. Two opposing and mutually exclusive worlds are standing opposite each other in our tortured homeland: the world of the poor yet bill-paying pensioners, who are hanging themselves due to disease and poverty, and the world of the bloodthirsty thieves and abusers, getting drunk off of monthly child and social benefits. The question remains, what are the reason for part of the gypsy ethnicity to become a destroyer of statehood and laws? Why did people who worked during the time of socialism 25 years ago, sent their children to school, and contributed to the creation of public goods, have now turned into arrogant, presumptuous and ferocious humanoids, demanding wages without labour, demanding sick-leave benefits without being sick, child benefits for children that play outside with the street-pigs, and maternity benefits for women with the instincts of street bitches? What gave our swarthy compatriots the belief that they are allowed everything, that everyone is obliged to feed them, dress them and provide medical care for free? [...] In [a declaration of our parliamentary group] I stated that the Movement for Rights and Liberties political party usurped the right to be the only representative of the gypsy ethnicity, promising only privileges, without any obligations. Part, I repeat, part of the people of this ethnicity – part of those who 25 years ago were working, sending their children to school, contributing to the creation of public goods, have now turned into arrogant, presumptuous and ferocious humanoids, ready to kill in order to steal a few leva.”

The Court finds that this speech constitutes harassment within the meaning of the Protection against Discrimination Act, as it “leads to the violation of the dignity of the person and the creation of a hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment, and anyone from the Roma ethnicity may be affected by it, as the statement does not need to apply to the entire Roma community to be perceived as detrimental to the dignity of an individual self-identifying as such.”

The court issued an order to Simeonov to cease the violation, and to refrain from further violations in the future. The plaintiffs did not claim compensation.

“The judgment is good news. It is a success for the court itself, showing independence in a political environment currently dominated by racist narratives of the worst kind. The defendant – an ultranationalist opportunist without socialization and culture – is a Deputy Prime Minister. His party, which challenges the democratic rule of law, is legitimated as part of the government,” said Margarita Ilieva, attorney at law and director of BHC’s Legal Program.

“This institutionalised racism is not compatible with the rule of law. It is good that in a country governed for years by prime minister Boyko Borissov, who encouraged “refugee hunters,” the court is able to deliver such a ruling,” added Ilieva.

The decision is subject of appeal before a regional court. ♦