site.btaHate Crimes Increasingly Common Problem, Says Roma Rights Activist
Hate crimes, including hate speech and discrimination, are an increasingly common problem, Deyan Kolev, Chairperson of the Amalipe Centre for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance, said in a BTA interview. Kolev is participating in the "STOP HATE SPEECH" International Conference, which is taking place in Sofia on December 5 and 6.
In recent years, hate speech is often used by politicians and their actions go unpunished, which is a problem, Kolev said.
"[Krassimir] Karakachanov's "anti-Roma" strategy was almost adopted by the government in 2019-2020 [Karakachanov was deputy prime minister at the time]. Although this did not happen, it was not rejected or publicly condemned by any of the politicians in power at the time, neither by the government, nor by the opposition, and not even by the ombudsman… Not to mention the Istanbul Convention, which was so stigmatized that it cannot be spoken about publicly to this day, despite the numerous examples of domestic violence and murders out of jealousy," Kolev explained.
In his words, hate speech is almost always interpreted as freedom of opinion. A typical example is Valeri Simeonov's speech in the National Assembly at the end of 2014. From the parliamentary rostrum, Simeonov described Roma women as women who have a "routine stray bitch syndrome" and Roma children as children who "play with pigs in the streets", Kolev recalled.
It is a fact that even in cases of crime with a clear discriminatory motive, the perpetrators receive punishment for hooliganism or no punishment at all. This sends a signal to a large group of people that speaking and acting in such a way is acceptable, especially when politicians use it and the prosecution and court do not penalize them, he stressed.
"In the 2013-2020 period, anti-Roma speech has increased a lot and has become almost a common practice. Social distance surveys, conducted by colleagues from the Open Society Institute, show clearly that Roma are the most hated and discriminated minority in Bulgaria. In the 2007-2013 period, those annual surveys showed a reduction in social distances and that society was becoming more tolerant. Unfortunately, after 2013, the surveys show a serious deterioration and now social distances towards the Roma are significantly greater, even compared to the period before [Bulgaria's] EU accession. No such surveys have been conducted since the COVID-19 pandemic, and I hope there will be an improvement, especially since the ultranationalists were out of Parliament for a while," Kolev told BTA.
According to him, public attitudes can be changed with very serious work with those working in the field - teachers, policemen, doctors, social workers, among others. Desegregation is needed - children need to learn together in ethnically mixed classrooms, young people need to participate jointly in youth initiatives, adults need to work together. Thus, people are more easily freed from prejudices, stereotypes and show significantly more tolerance for differences, Kolev said.
It is also particularly important for politicians and political parties to refrain from using hate speech and not to play the "anti-Roma card" every time before elections, he added.
"In the Amalipe Centre, we have many good examples of joint activities in which we engage together Roma and Bulgarian young people. For example, two weeks ago, we organized trainings for chairpersons of student parliaments. The interest was so great that we had to do two trainings - one in North Bulgaria and another in South Bulgaria, with some 100 participants in each. Roma and Bulgarian youngsters were together and there was absolutely no tension between them. It was quite the opposite - they planned campaigns together, asked very meaningful questions, and managed to make a very strong impression to the MPs who were in attendance - Krassimir Valchev, Elisaveta Belobradova, Georgi Gyokov, and Veska Nencheva," Kolev said.