The data indicate: Our society is ill from racism Emil COHEN Where did the political coalition ·Attack” come from? Politicians and journalists, analysts and their listeners/viewers, people who read newspapers and those who scorn the ‘yellow press’, fans and critics of talk show host Slavi Trifonov are all asking themselves this question. The shock caused by the emergence of ·Attack” is comparable only to the surprise of hypocritical parents who discover one day that their virtuous daughter (‘But how is it possible? She is still a virgin!’) has become pregnant and is having the child. It goes without saying that there can hardly be a simple answer to the question where this shocking movement originated from. It will require a lot of thought and empirical data, some of which future studies will have to provide. But the hidden premise contained in most analyses is the idea of ·immaculate conception”, of emergence ·from nowhere” of nothing short of a miracle, which Volen Siderov created in just two months, and in a state of media isolation, no less. Analysis of the data from the sociological survey1 that the BHC conducted with the assistance of BBSS Gallup just a month before the elections may bring us a bit closer to solving the mystery of the origins of ·Attack”. We cannot state exactly who the supporters of Siderov’s formation are. We will learn that from post-election studies, which have yet to be conducted. But our data can provide a sketch of who the most likely voters for ·Attack” were, and may provide a portrait of the type of person who would be the most inclined to support the ·attacking” coalition. WIDESPREAD RACIST ATTITUDES Our first approximation of the answer we seek may be formulated thus: racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic prejudices and stereotypes are widespread amongst the so1 ·Interethnic Attitudes, Social Distances and Value Orientations. Nationwide Representative Survey of Bulgarians Aged 18-70”, conducted by BBSS Gallup by request of BHC. The authors of the study were: Dr. Krassimir Kanev, Emil Cohen and Zhivko Georgiev. Interviews were conducted with 1,112 people. They were questioned about their opinions and attitudes on a wide range of issues, with a focus on the status of interethnic attitudes, stereotypes and social distances, as well as their attitudes towards religion, religious rights and religious pluralism. This article will highlight just a few of the aspects of the interethnic attitudes of the majority group towards minorities.
called ·ethnic Bulgarians”. In our society there is a group that constitutes about 1/5 of the population whose attitude is so anti-Gypsy and anti-Turk (and to a lesser degree, anti-Jew), that they don’t even recognise the right of these people to live in the same country with the ·pure Bulgarians”. On the other hand, negative attitudes towards minorities, and especially towards the Roma and the Turks, are relatively evenly spread throughout different age and social groups and education levels. This means that we are dealing with deeply rooted prejudices, carried over (intentionally or unintentionally) from the entire child-rearing and educational system. These people, and there are hundreds of thousands of them, are the soil out of which ·Attack” sprouted. The messages coming from Volen Siderov and company found their echo amongst the most extreme holders of xenophobic attitudes, amongst those whose stereotypes and prejudices are the deepest and the strongest. All of a sudden, in the face of the candidate for new Bulgarian saviour - Siderov - these people found a herald to voice their deeply hidden thoughts.2 Because, you will agree that in a liberal society it is somehow unsavoury to publicly display your hatred towards Turks, Jews, Gypsies or generally towards any ·undesirable others”. But it is allowed in the sermons preached on SKAT television. And at ·Attack” rallies, you are perfectly free, surrounded by a crowd of like-minded people, to vent your hatred towards ·those minorities”... and afterwards to vote for the coalition. This does not in the least obviate the fact that a large part of those who voted for ·Attack” were making an expression of protest, against poverty, against political corruption, against street crime, against the scissors being opened on their incomes, against that which they perceive as the inability of politicians to help them get their lives in order. It would be foolish to claim otherwise. It would also be unreasonable to deny the fact that some of the coalition’s demands, if they are accepted, would increase the level of democracy in the country; for example, the holding of more referenda or the implementation of a ·clean hands” anticorruption campaign. 2 Lately, Internet forums abound in discussions about ·Attack”. Here is one opinion I found after I had formulated the thesis that Volen Siderov had set loose longstanding attitudes, let them out in the open, and made it acceptable to voice them: ·The success of ‘Attack’ doesn’t come from anywhere else than the fact that they behave like strong men. Nobody likes the mangali [derogatory term for Roma people], everyone thinks they should be ‘neutralised’, but nobody’s doing anything about it, they just keep watching them reproduce. Then suddenly, along comes this guy to the tune of a Wagner melody and says ‘let’s wipe them out’ and you think, ‘that’s easy, all I have to do is put a check in the little box, and I’ve solved the problem!” It could hardly be put any clearer.
THEY CHOSE ·ATTACK” BECAUSE THE SCAPEGOAT IT BLAMES FOR THE MISFORTUNES CORRESPONDS TO THEIR CONCEPTIONS Yes, of course, the guilty party is the political class. But it is not only guilty in and of itself, but because it ·overindulges” the Gypsies, because it has been ·infiltrated” by Jews and is a ·slave” to foreign interests. ·Europe”, the IMF and the World Bank are the ones pulling the strings of our politicians, because they are wealthy. And why are they wealthy? Because ·we” are poor. And why are we poor? Because ·they” are using us. Our external (the rich West, the powerful and aggressive USA, IMF, Turkey) and internal (Gypsies, Turks, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Jews, sell-out politicians) enemies have become one: isn’t it NATO and the USA who support Turkey, that ever-present threat to Bulgaria? Isn’t it ·Europe” that is forcing us to tolerate and even ·integrate” the Roma, instead of ·neutralising” them? In the messages of the other parties, these people probably did not see the entire mixed cocktail of their attitudes. In the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) campaign, for example, they could find some agitation against the war in Iraq, calls to re-examine the fate of the third and fourth reactors of the Kozloduy nuclear plant, and a threat to take steps to strip former monarch Simeon II of his properties. The keynote of the socialist party’s propaganda was its criticism of the actions taken by the team in charge of EU accession negotiations. Nobody disputed the suggestion by BSP deputy chairman Rumen Ovcharov that some of the already-closed chapters of negotiations with Brussels be reopened. Not to mention the party’s proposals for civil servants and pensioners the idea of an unprecedented increase in their salaries/ pensions to parallel entry into the EU. All of this was concrete, well-grounded (whether or not it is right is another matter) and alluring. But there was no anti-Turk or antiGypsy rhetoric, membership in NATO was accepted as a fact, and while cooperation with the IMF and World Bank wasn’t praised, it wasn’t denounced either. But all of this was probably totally worthless to those who voted for “Attack”. It wasn’t the Coalition for Bulgaria idea of a fantastic wage increase that struck a chord amongst them, it was the calls for the ·degypsification” and ·deturkification” of the country; not the idea of reforming the pension system, but the necessity of a ·programme for combating Gypsy crime and drug trafficking”; not the call to re-examine the agreements negotiated with Brussels (this was also amongst the 20 principles of ·Attack”), but the idea of ·harsh penalties for abuse of revered Bulgarian national symbols and insults against Bulgaria”. FOR ABOUT 1/5 OF BULGARIANS, SOME KIND OF ·ETHNIC CLEANSING” WOULD BE THE BEST SOLUTION But let’s take a look at the data from the survey. It is very rich, and I will only comment on a few of the indicators regarding interethnic attitudes in the country. When
studying inter-group attitudes and stereotypes it is usual to ask the respondents to say what they think of other (ethnic) groups. The answers to this sort of question show what the image of one (ethnic) group is, in the eyes of another. But besides attitudes, crystallised into opinions, we also have attitudes, which guide our actions. And these attitudes give the most accurate orientation to our true thoughts, because when we ask one group about its opinion of another, we must bear in mind that we may receive misleading responses, since there is something like a hidden social censorship of demeaning speech about another ethnic group. (In fact, isn’t this the reason for the opinion I cited above about the use of the euphemism ·neutralising” instead of what the author really thinks - expulsion or killing?) And for this reason we also asked people about their possible actions. If I think someone is bad, corrupt or a criminal, then I wouldn’t want to have them as a neighbour, friend or relative. Therefore, if I disliked someone that much I wouldn’t want to live in the same country with them. We asked the interviewees a series of questions having to do with hypothetical situations, starting from the most intimate and personalised social relationships and ending with the most impersonal. Whether to be friends or start a family with a despised or deeply alien person is something entirely up to you. In other words, you don’t have to be intimate with a person you can’t stand. But maybe you have been forced to work with such a person, or to live in the same place with him - that is, to inhabit the same country, no more than that. These were the responses of Bulgarians to the question ·Would you agree (would you or would you not accept) to live in the same country with Roma people (Gypsies)?” More than a quarter of the Bulgarian respondents (27%) answered ·No”. Can one imagine a greater degree of hatred than this? About 1/5 (18%) of Bulgarians would not want to live in the same country with Turks, 16% are against Jews living alongside them in Bulgaria and 13% wouldn’t object to the Armenians in this country being kicked out. This represents hundreds of thousands of people, and they wouldn’t have any objection to some form of ethnic cleansing of the Roma, Turks, Jews and Armenians. So do we really need to wonder who voted for ·Attack”? Let’s take a closer look in the irrationality of this desire. If the animosity towards the Roma, to the point of a desire for ethnic cleansing, might somehow be ·justified” with ·arguments” of the sort that ·they are dirty, uneducated and thieving”, then how do we explain the desire of the 16% who want to cleanse our country of its Jews? According to data from the 2001 census, there are 1,363 Jews living in Bulgaria - no more, no less. There are 6,655,210 Bulgarians. This means that the likelihood of a Bulgarian meeting a Jew and receiving from this contact some facts justifying the idea of ·cleansing” of Bulgaria of its Jews is approximately 1 in 5,000, because there are about 4,861 times more Bulgarians than Jews.
It is obvious that the desire cannot be justified by means of any ·personal experience”. It is very important to stress the fact that the negative attitudes and stereotypes are not significantly influenced by age group, education level, size of village or town of residence or income level. For example, 3/4 of those interviewed responded negatively to the question of whether they would vote for a candidate nominated by ·their” party, if the candidate was Roma.3 This opinion was expressed by 75% of the men and 77% of the women; 75% of those aged 18-30 and 80% of those aged 60-70; 68% of those with university degrees and 69% of those having only primary education; 80% of those living in Sofia and 77% of those living in villages. The lack of differentiation on the basis of such indicators as gender, age and social status (84% of the poorest respondents, with a monthly household income of less than 75 Euro, and 75% of those with an income of 300-375 Euro shared the same opinion) shows that we are facing deeply fundamental prejudices and stereotypes. GOVERNMENT SERVICE - FOR BULGARIANS ONLY When we choose someone to do a job, it is normal to evaluate beforehand whether or not he is suitable to carry it out. This is also the nature of political choices. For this reason, we asked the respondents whether, all other conditions being equal (level of preparedness and skills), they would agree to have a Turk, a Gypsy or a Jew as the chief of a local police station, an army officer or a government minister. These were the responses: Would you personally accept: 1. As a local police chief: a Roma (Gypsy)? a Turk? a Jew? 2. As an army officer: a Roma (Gypsy)? a Turk? a Jew? 3. As a government minister: a Roma (Gypsy)? a Turk? a Jew?
10 20 30
82 70 52
7 10 18
16 24 33
74 65 49
11 12 18
13 30 38
76 59 49
11 12 14
As we can clearly see, for the overwhelming mass of Bulgarians, it is unthinkable to have Roma or Turks as police or army officers or as high-level government officials - from over 3/4 to about 2/3 of those surveyed. The situation regarding Jews is better; ·only” half of those interviewed would not accept them as police or army 3
The exact wording was: ·If, at the next election, the party you support nominated a suitable (competent and honest) candidate for your region, would you vote for him/her, if he/she were Roma (Gypsy)?” Similarly, we asked them about their attitudes to a Turkish or Jewish candidate: 64% said they would not vote for a Turk and 50% said they would not vote for a Jew.
officers or as government ministers. In practice, this means the following: if someone were to propose that the best heart surgeon in the country be made health minister, 76% of Bulgarians wouldn’t accept it and would consider it an attack on their beliefs, if he were a Roma. Not only that, 86% of the respondents agree in full or in part with the claim that ·the Roma (Gypsies) are lazy and irresponsible” and 85% feel that ·it’s impossible to trust or depend on Roma people (Gypsies)”. Further: 57% agree with the claim that ·the Turks are religious fanatics” and more than 2/3 (69%) believe that ·the Turks are taking up too many leadership positions”. Even in the almost complete absence of Jews from the state leadership, 29% of those surveyed still feel that ·the Jews are taking up many leadership positions”. Ethnic intolerance is usually closely bound to religious intolerance. And indeed, in answer to the question ·What should the state’s attitude towards religious communities be?”, 46% stated that ·Christian cults should be banned”, 15% (!) feel that Judaism should be banned, and 11% share this opinion with regard to Islam. The desire to ban ·cults” is apparently an expression of the huge campaign of 1992-97 against non-traditional religious communities. But for people in a country where Judaism has existed for centuries and Islam is the professed faith of about 14% of the population to support the idea of banning those two traditional religions is an expression of such deep racism, that there is simply no way to comment on it. CONCLUSIONS 1. In contrast to the usual opinion, racism, antiSemitism and xenophobia do exist in Bulgaria. They are widespread, and 1/3 to 1/6 of representatives of the largest ethnic group go so far as to say they would support some form of ·ethnic cleansing” in the country. 2. People with such beliefs form the basis for the radical populism and anti-minority demagoguery of Siderov and his activists. 3. Attitudes are very difficult to change. Racism is not just a product of the so-called ·transition”. Let’s not forget the rapturous demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy on 30 May 1989, when Todor Zhivkov called on television for the Turks to emigrate and the ·great excursion” began. 4. The so-called ·Bulgarian ethnic model” has been accompanied neither by any policy of seeking criminal responsibility from those who ·preach or incite racial or national enmity or hatred or racial discrimination” (Art. 162 of the Penal Code), nor by adequate efforts to educate the younger generation in the spirit of tolerance. 5. There are racists in every society. The state’s job, and that of civil society, is to compel them to keep their beliefs for their ·own personal use”, so that they don’t receive public - much less political - expression or representation. If we don’t manage to fulfil this task, the path is open to some sort of interethnic clashes, authoritarianism and perhaps even the return of totalitarianism.
Published on Mar 17, 2011