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Conference “Europe in 21st Century: Democracy against racism, Xenophobia and hate Speech.”
Conference regarding an increasing manifestations of hate speech, xenophobia and discrimination in the state of Bulgaria was held on the 24th of January at the Information Office of the European Parliament Information Office to the Republic in Bulgaria. Crucial issues concerning a growing negative attitude towards persons of different ethnic origin, refugees, asylum seekers and representatives of ethnic and religious minorities in the country were discussed by Metin Kazak, Member of European parliament, Ognyan Zlatev - Head of the European Commission in Sofia, Tuncher Kardzhaliev – Chairman of the Human Rights, religion, Citizen's complaints and petitions committee of the national Assembly, Krassimir Kanev - Chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Prof. Dimitar Gotchev, former Constitutional Court judge at the European Court of Human Rights and representatives of Jewish, Muslim minorities, as well as Bishop Tikhon - president of the church board of the church ' St. Alexander Nevsky.
The conference was opened with some initial numbers using statistics to illustrate an alarming situation. 64 % of surveyed affirmed that they hear hate speech frequently. Nearly ¼ of surveyed minorities have experienced hate crimes during 2013. 50 % of victims do not report hate crimes to the police. It was emphasized, that unwillingness of political figures and state authorities to speak up against hate speech as often as possible, moreover, and attitude of authorities contribute to these numbers. Remarks made during the conference all amounted to unanimous condemnation of hate speech, discrimination and xenophobia, stressing not only a severe violation of human rights, but also creating a negative image of Bulgaria in international environment.
Notwithstanding the fact that the increase of discrimination especially frequented after the start of Syria crisis, xenophobia is on the rise since the economic crisis. Gradually, immigrants are becoming the ones who are belong blamed for economic crisis too.
Dr. Tuncer Kardjaliev – Head of the Bulgarian Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Citizen's Complaints and Petitions pointed out that “Whereas xenophobia in other EU countries is increasing due to economic reasons, in Bulgaria this issue is even more heightened because of demographical reasons.”
The situation is not improved by media, which fails to properly distinguish between immigrants, illegal immigrants and refugees, thus creating a false impression to the society.
“Our society must realize that those, inciting hatred, and those, committing violent crimes, are linked. “ - Mr. Ognyan Zlatev stressed.
Mr. Krasimir Kanev tackled the topic on more legal approach, saying that combating xenophobia, discrimination and hate speech is a challenge for Bulgarian law. He shared, that so far only two people had been convicted of hate speech – one of them being a person of Roma origin himself. Another was the author of social media page inciting for extermination of Roma.
According to Mr. Kanev, the definition used for hate speech is too vague and too wide. It includes discrimination, and not all discrimination is based on hatred.
Several suggestions were made during the conference that supposedly would improve the quality of outcomes when combating discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech.
The most important tool, said Mr. Ahmed Ahmedov, Chief Secretary of the Grand Mufti of Bulgaria, is to educate the young generation. Moreover, speakers pointed out that EU states must draw their own strategies and agendas, better cooperation between NGOs/authorities/victims is needed. Public figures should speak out against racism and xenophobia to create resistance against it within society.
Bulgaria has to step out of the “convenient” implementation of existing laws and must do better than just apply national and international legislation, thus implying about need of educating the society and awareness raising.