Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Opinion

Bulgaria must stop this neo-Nazi Lukov march

  • Anti-fascists gather in Sofia, Bulgaria, to oppose last year's Lukov march of neo-Nazis (Photo: YouTube)

Every February, far-right extremists from across Europe flock to Sofia to pay tribute to a notorious Bulgarian anti-Semite, whose movement helped the Nazis send more than 11,300 Jews to their death in Treblinka during World War II.

Nazi symbols are put on display in the heart of the Bulgarian capital, and marchers clad in dark clothing shout vile slogans while parading through the city with torches.

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The marchers call themselves nationalists, but they are no less than hard-core neo-Nazis gathering to honour the leading Bulgarian promoter of the Holocaust, Hristo Nikolov Lukov.

Every year, the Sofia municipality calls for a ban on this march, and every year it continues unfettered under heavy police protection.

This year, the World Jewish Congress and the Bulgarian Jewish community, represented by the Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', have joined forces in a petition signed by 175,000 people worldwide, demanding that the government enforce an administrative ban against this march and put a stop to the glorification of hatemongers like Lukov.

Lukov

Lukov was a top Bulgarian military and political figure who led the ultra-nationalist Union of Bulgarian National Legions from the 1930s until his assassination in 1943.

He served as minister of war from 1935-1938, during which he fostered close ties with senior Nazi officials in Germany; after retiring, he remained highly influential and strongly advocated for the Bulgarian Law for the Protection of the Nation, modelled on the infamous 1935 Nuremberg Laws in Germany that stripped Jews of their civic rights.

Marriages between Bulgarian Jews and non-Jews were henceforth prohibited, and the law forced Jews to pay a punitive tax on their net worth. Jews were expelled from universities, civil service and other professions, their properties were confiscated, and many were forced into labour camps.

Members of the Lukov movement cruelly beat Jews without respite and led pogroms on Jewish homes and shops. Their legionnaires' moto was: "We should expel from Bulgaria everyone who does not have Bulgarian blood."

In 1942, a 'Commissariat for the Jewish Problem' in the Bulgarian ministry of the interior was formed, that promised the Germans to hand over 20,000 Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories in Greece and Yugoslavia.

However, the Bulgarians overestimated the number of Jews living in these areas. They came up with a plan to include approximately 8,500 Jews from Bulgaria.

In 1943, German forces rounded up the Bulgarian Jews and led them to a square in the city of Plovdiv. But the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stepped in to stop their deportation. In this great act of courage, supported by the majority of society from intellectuals to average citizens, an estimated 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved from deportation.

But for more than 11,000 Jews living in the Bulgarian-occupied territories in northern Greece, Serbia and Macedonia, it was too late: they had already been put on cattle trains and ships, to be murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

75 years on, no forgetting

Lukov was one of Hitler's willing helpers. Seventy-five years after his death, his hateful messages are still promoted, and every year on the anniversary of February 13, 1943 assassination, ultra-nationalists, fascists and neo-Nazis take to the streets to honour his despicable legacy.

The Bulgarian government's calls to ban this march as a threat to public order repeatedly fall on deaf ears, and across Europe, we see similar far-right marches continue unhindered.

This year, we must put a stop to this phenomenon. We cannot stand by in silence as neo-Nazis and anti-Semites march through the streets of Sofia or any other city, in the same dangerous manifestation of the very anti-Semitic ideology that brought about the near destruction of European Jewry.

Last month, Bulgaria assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. In this position of great responsibility, it must uphold the values of the European Union, including those of tolerance and the rejection of extremism and anti-Semitism.

Bulgaria has made welcome and positive efforts recently to combat anti-Semitic demonstrations. This Friday, I am going to meet with Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov in Sofia to hand over the petition.

I will urge him and his government to stand firm in their opposition to the glorification of Nazi ideology and the intimidation of minorities.

Moreover, we call on other European government to join in this critical movement and unite in ensuring the security and well-being of all citizens.

Across the globe this month, millions of people - including Pope Francis and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres - joined the World Jewish Congress' #WeRemember campaign, a social media initiative aimed at combating anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia.

We owe it to all the victims of the Nazi killing machine, in Bulgaria and elsewhere, to ensure that they are remembered.

We owe it to all righteous Bulgarians and others who so courageously saved so many Jews from certain death to remember them as well.

We must remember because the survivors among us are dwindling, and their lives and stories will soon be just recent memory.

We must remember because if we don't, it could happen again.

Robert Singer is executive vice-president and CEO of the World Jewish Congress

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