HOW SHOULD WE THINK OF ·ATTACK”? Krassimir KANEV The ·Attack” coalition’s penetration of the parliament was, for Bulgarian political life, like a foul-smelling skeleton falling out of the closet, where it had remained hidden for years. It came as a shock not only to politicians, but also to political pundits; a shock which quite understandably shook the approved interpretations of the Bulgarian political process. But even before the elections, some of them made an attempt to force the advance made by ·Attack” into the channel of speculative patterns regarding the Bulgarian transition, which look a lot like the schemes of a ·transition from capitalism to socialism”, only turned inside-out. According to them this group is, in the words of Ahmed Dogan, ·a normal tumour”; something which, as Andrey Raychev and Kuncho Stoychev are trying to convince themselves, exists in ·normal” democratic countries and is the Bulgarian equivalent of the parties of Le Pen in France, Haider in Austria, Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands or Umberto Bossi in Italy. In other words - we’ve become ·normal” and now we’ve got a ·normal” far-right party. It seems to me that this way of regarding ·Attack” just as appropriate as if we were to think of Bulgaria as being France or Austria; it is as far from reality as Bulgarian political and social life are far from the standards of such advanced democratic societies. In those societies, it would not be possible for a group using such forms and degrees of expression of racism and xenophobia to achieve parliamentary representation, nor even to be present in the public sphere. It would be impossible for such an aggressive Holocaust denier as Volen Siderov to find any place for himself there, other than in the dock in a court of justice. In this sense, if we are determined to find a political equivalent for him, we should look towards Adolf Hitler and Radovan Karadzic, rather than the European far right. LET’S MAKE A FEW COMPARISONS And let’s make them with regard the points on which they are possible and appropriate. In an interview in September 1987, the leader of the French National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made the following statement regarding the existence of the Nazi gas chambers: ·I am saying that there are historians who debate these issues. I am not saying that the gas chambers did not exist. I myself have not seen them. I have not studied the matter specially. But I do think that this is a minor detail from the history of the Second World War.” For this ·minor detail” (and please note, without having said that the Holocaust had not existed!), Le Pen was ordered by a French court to pay a fine of about 200,000 dollars for disputing those crimes against humanity. While on a visit to Munich some years later, in December 1997, he commented on his 1987 ·minor detail” about the gas cham-
bers as follows: ·If you take a book of a thousand pages about the Second World War, in which 50 million people died, the concentration camps would take up two pages and the gas chambers 10 or 15 lines, and that is what is called a detail.” Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined a second time for these comments, and this time had to pay about 50,000 dollars, in order for the court’s decision to be published in several French newspapers, as well as a significant amount to compensate the organisations that had filed the lawsuit. After this ruling against him, he stopped making any public statements on the matter. I am not sure that there is a Bulgarian politician from any political power, much less a prosecutor, who would, if he didn’t know that those statements had been made by Le Pen, find them at all problematic, much less deserving of such harsh penalties. Let’s turn now to the book of the leader of ·Attack” Volen Siderov, The Boomerang of Evil, whose first edition was published in 2002. It is a third-rate piece of antiSemitic propaganda, which seeks to uncover the Jewish ·worldwide conspiracy” using a collection of references to proven falsehoods, simple-minded ideological constructs and ·facts” pulled out of thin air. In it he calls
the Holocaust - the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis - ·the great swindle... the story that 6,000,000 Jews were murdered with gas and burnt up in the ovens of Hitler’s concentration camps.” Further on he adds that ·the lie of ‘the Holocaust’ is also very profitable”, since it has earned Israel and ·the Zionist organisations” over 85 billion marks. Straightforward, categorical, selfassured. And with total impunity. In eight member states of the European Union - Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - public denial of the Holocaust is a crime. Clearly, even mild forms of public statements to that effect, like those of Jean-Marie Le Pen, are included in the interpretation of ·public denial”. In addition to these countries, public denial of the Holocaust is also a crime in Switzerland and Israel. In several other countries there is a general criminal liability for public statements inciting racial and ethnic hatred and discrimi-
nation. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires that states prohibit by law and prosecute ·any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” All attempts by individuals penalised for denying the Holocaust to turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, demanding the recognition of their right to freedom to express such opinions have been dismissed, with the argument that such limitations exist in pursuit of a legitimate goal - that of preventing the possibility of using the notion of freedom of speech to harm the rights and freedoms of other people. For all of the statements made by him that were determined to be xenophobic and anti-Semitic, and for which he was isolated in French society, Jean-Marie Le Pen never went half as far as Volen Siderov. I am certain that Le Pen himself would be shocked, were he to read The Boomerang of Evil. Not to mention the other repre-
sentatives of the European far right, who have never made any statements resembling Le Pen’s. Regardless of this, their statements about immigrants, which most Bulgarian politicians would probably echo, were widely declared to be ·xenophobic” and ·racist” throughout those societies. They provoked mass protests and attempts to isolate them politically and socially. Obviously the notions of racism and xenophobia have different meaning in different societies - there is xenophobia a la Karadzic and Siderov and xenophobia a la Le Pen. XENOPHOBIA, RACISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM Volen Siderov’s books The Boomerang of Evil and The Power of Mammon suggest a virulent form of antiSemitism. It has little in common with the more elegant forms of historical revisionism of the Holocaust, such as those of David Irving, Arthur Butz and the Institute for Historical Review. As a message and quality of propaganda, these books are rather more closely related to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the proven hoax by the imperial Russian secret police, The Worldwide Conspiracy by Bulgarian author Nikola Nikolov and the anti-Semitic propaganda brochures found in several countries in the Middle East. In his books Siderov suggests that almost all of the world’s evils - from communism to capitalism - are the result of a Jewish ·worldwide conspiracy”. In The Boomerang of Evil he denies the Nazi Holocaust, but at the same time he endeavours at length to provide evidence of ·the genocide committed by a Jewish ruling class against 66 million Russians, over 70 years of communism” in the former Soviet Union. One of the book’s chapters is entitled ·Today Judea is called the USA”. In it Siderov claims that the world’s Jews control America, in which ·Christianity is not only brought to its knees, but is openly persecuted in the guise of ‘religious pluralism’.” It turns out that the Jews are to blame for the slaughter of the Indians, as well as for supporting dictatorial regimes all over the world - from Venezuela to Indonesia. In some respects The Power of Mammon goes even further. In it Siderov wants no more and no less than to turn back the wheel of modernity, and all its humanism and rationalism. He presents it as a process of theomachy [battle of the gods], inspired by the Jews, who are described as evil-doers who destroy everything that even smells of Christianity. Here is a representative citation: ·The genocide against the Russian, Bulgarian and other Orthodox Christian peoples was conducted under the direct leadership of Talmudist circles in the West, led by the Rothschild family. This genocide in-
cluded not only physical destruction via wars, ‘revolutions’ and terrorism (which has been Judaism’s hallmark for centuries). This genocide was also applied via the systematic and successive plunder of the money and resources of these Christian peoples.” This was written in 2004! However, the anti-Semitism in The Boomerang of Evil and The Power of Mammon is just one, and from a political standpoint perhaps not even fundamental, element of the ·Attack” leader’s xenophobic propaganda. He goes much further in his stereotyping and incitement of hatred towards Bulgaria’s Turks and especially the Roma. Long before the elections, his forum was the private cable television channel SKAT, that true equivalent of the Libre des Mille Collines radio and television in Rwanda, from the time leading up to the genocide. On his TV show, Siderov was harsh regarding the Turks, but not particularly imaginative. He contented himself with simple reiteration of certain theses that had been routine for anti-Turk nationalist propaganda in Bulgaria since the early 1990s: the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) is an unconstitutional party formed on an ethnic basis; its leader Ahmed Dogan is a politician disloyal to Bulgarian national traditions; news broadcasts on the national television network in the Turkish language should be prohibited; certain regions of Bulgaria are being overrun by mosques, etc. Nothing spectacular - or rather, nothing that many Bulgarian politicians on the left, as well as the right, hadn’t said more than once before. Where Siderov outdid himself and others was in his stereotyping and incitement of hatred towards the Roma. During his pre-election campaign, conducted under the motto ·No to Turkification! No to Gypsification!”, he produced a series of seven programmes on the theme of ·The Gypsy Terror” on SKAT TV. In them he tried to suggest that Bulgarians were the object of criminal ·Gypsy terror” - that they were being murdered, robbed, beaten and raped daily by an alien minority in their own country and were not getting any protection from the law enforcement authorities, who had united with the Roma against the Bulgarians because they are the employees of a corrupt antiBulgarian ruling class. He was very much helped in this respect by the clash between a group of Roma and Bulgarians in the Zaharna Fabrika district of Sofia, followed by the death of Prof. Stanimir Kaloyanov, under still unexplained circumstances. For the originator of the myth of the ·Gypsy Terror”, however, the investigation ended with the professor’s death and he immediately pronounced his verdict: ·Murdered in a terrorist attack by a Gypsy gang”. There are no people in Bulgaria who as a group are more rejected, isolated and discriminated against than the Roma. Special proof of this is not necessary (although there is a total overabundance of such evidence), because it can be seen at a glance and makes an impression on even the most disinterested outside observer. They are the object of selective induction by the criminal justice system, a state bureaucracy which
in Bulgaria, as well as everywhere else in the world, follows the path of least resistance. Because of this it focuses its repression with a priority not on organised crime or the crime of the wealthy and powerful, but on those who are defenceless - who have no money, connections or access to quality legal representation. In uncovering the ·Gypsy terror”, however, Siderov took a Goebbels-like approach and scope by reversing the perspective. In his approach the Roma became the masters of the lives and security of all Bulgarians, a criminal people, who sow terror against the Bulgarians, unhindered by the state. Thus, just as once upon a time the Nazis reversed the perspective with regard to the Jews, who at the beginning of the 20th century were a strongly discriminated against minority. Hitler and Goebbels described them as the masters of the world, as the corrupters and destroyers of the ·Aryans”. SOCIETAL ATTITUDES In line with the theory of ·normalisation”, immediately after the election attempts were made to explain the support received by ·Attack” as a vote by those disappointed in the European perspective of Bulgaria, of those ·discarded and crushed by the transition” (Yuriy Aslanov). The same as in France and the Netherlands. It became clear, however, that most of those who had voted for this coalition were middle-aged men from the cities, a significant portion of them having a university education even. This is hardly the social group that was the most adversely affected by the transition. Not that there aren’t people in Bulgaria who were ·crushed by the transition”. We can find them above all amongst the Bulgarian Roma and Turks, but those are the exact people against whom ·Attack” directed its vicious propaganda. It is true that in addition to its xenophobia, ·Attack” also delivered several other messages: it denounced the government for its failed healthcare reform and it demanded the withdrawal of Bulgarian troops from Iraq, the review of privatisation and restitution transactions, renegotiation of the closure of the third and fourth reactors of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, and the prosecution of those who had become wealthy by criminal means. However, these messages were, in one form or another, contained in the platforms of other parties, as well as in the multitude of statements over the past years from their political leaders, which had been able to reach the voters much more easily. Therefore, this is not what ·Attack” attracted its voters with. It attracted them with its xenophobic cry of ·Bulgaria for the Bulgarians”, with its incitement to ethnic hatred towards the poor and the downtrodden of Bulgaria. In Bulgarian society there is a serious potential of such a message catching on. For 13 years now, I have been engaged in studying interethnic attitudes in this country and throughout the Balkans. A series of territorial emigrations since 1992, the likes of which are not seen in advanced democratic countries, systematically show
the level of disenfranchisement of Bulgaria’s ethnic minorities. Comparative studies show that such a level of prejudice and social distancing is comparable to that of white Americans in the southern USA towards black people in the early 60s of the previous century.* We could say that ·Attack” did not succeed in absorbing this high potential for xenophobia. It didn’t manage to reach ·its own” voters in the smaller villages, where SKAT TV does not broadcast, and the short duration of the coalition’s existence was insufficient for them to build up any structures. There is no doubt, however, that these villages hold potential for ·Attack”.* POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM AND DEMAGOGUERY The thirst for power, which is one of the motivations for the political behaviour of ·Attack” at least as dominant as racism is, pushed the coalition to embrace political ideas, the adherence to which might purely be an attempt at political opportunism. Incidentally, it still remains to gauge whether the ideological hodgepodge that we find in the ·Programme Outline” and the 20 principles of ·Attack” constitute a well-thought out political platform that the coalition intends to uphold, populist demagoguery or simply the prattle of incompetent people, who don’t know what they’re talking about. Let’s take a look at just a few examples:
• The return of the death penalty This would mean Bulgaria breaking two ratified international treaties - the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Not only would such a step permanently obstruct the possibility of the country’s membership in the European Union, but would provoke its expulsion from the Council of Europe, thus placing it behind such countries as Russia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. • Legislative reinforcement of Orthodox Christianity as the official religion of Bulgaria Religious instruction in the primary schools. It is not clear whether the religion would also have to be studied in the schools that have Muslim pupils. And how is an ·official religion”, which is taught in the schools, supposed to fit in with the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state? But ·Attack” goes even further: it wants all important social issues and legislation to be agreed upon in co-ordination with the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This is perhaps the most extreme of the coalition’s ideas. This sort of practice doesn’t exist today even in the Iran of the Ayatollahs. • Taxation and pension policy On this point, the left hand of ·Attack” obviously didn’t * For more on this see Emil Cohen, "The data indicate: Our society is ill from racism", Obektiv, issue 123.
know what the right one was doing. In the ·Programme Outline” we read of the “introduction of a minimum monthly pension, adequate to the European pension”. On the other hand, the 20 principles demand the correspondence of the tax burden with the “payment abilities and the needs of the Bulgarian population”. The ability of the Bulgarian population to pay taxes, however, is not large. In that case, where is the money for European-size pensions going to come from? • Economic policy In the 20 principles, the coalition wants “Bulgarian production, commerce and banks to be in Bulgarian hands”. This could hardly be read as signifying anything other than the confiscation of the property of the foreign companies in Bulgaria. And that would be a sure way for Bulgaria to become the economic pariah of Europe. It isn’t clear in this case how the high pensions would be secured or how the requirement in the ·Programme Outline” for the ·correspondence of troop numbers and the defence budget with those of neighbouring countries” would be met. Incidentally, I came quite close to feeling enthusiasm for the ·Programme Outline” when I read that ·Attack” wants put an end to the prosecution of journalists by legislative means. My enthusiasm quickly cooled, however, when I read the demand in the 20 principles for ·harsh penalties for abuse of revered Bulgarian national symbols and insults against Bulgaria”. So maybe ·Attack” intends to punish only neighbourhood drunks for such offences, and of those, only the ones that aren’t journalists? I am not going to go into the prattle about the ·mononational and monolithic state”, about the ·self-detachment” of the Bulgarian nation by those who place ·differentiation by origin or faith” above ·national identity”; the establishment of a criminal punishment structure for ·national treachery” and the prosecution in court of national traitors (it is unclear whether this would be for deeds committed before or after the formation of that body). These formulations were obviously intended to serve the purpose of xenophobic propaganda, but it is not clear whether the man who wrote them knows that they mean. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THOSE IN POWER AND THE POLITICIANS The levels of prejudice and social distancing with regard to minorities in Bulgarian society remain steadily high, but they are not increasing. In this respect, the voters who supported ·Attack” did not come out of the political nothingness. They are the former voters for the main political forces in Bulgaria - and, as surveys show, mostly for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). They recognised racist tendencies in them. It’s no accident that a significant number of ·Attack” politicians are familiar faces from the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), BSP and the National
WHAT IS THE DANGER OF “ATTACK” BEING IN PARLIAMENT?
Movement of Simeon II (NMSS). Each of these parties in turn had these foul-smelling skeletons in their closets, and even tried to use them when nobody was looking in order to gain votes. Out of fear of alienating the nationalist vote, nobody ever discussed racism or the necessity of integrating minorities, outside of protocol speeches for consumption by the ·Europeans”. A special myth was even created of the ·Bulgarian ethnic model” of successful integration of minorities into the country’s political and social life. This propaganda cliché served domestic political goals, as well as foreign policy aims. The police and the judiciary, following a steady line since the Zhivkov days, enforced the provisions of the Penal Code that penalise incitement to national and racial hatred only with regard to people from ethnic minorities when they tried to assert their identity a little bit more aggressively. This was the case, for example, with Ahmed Mussa, the Muslim who was convicted last year in Pazardzhik of espousing racism and nationalism, as well as religious enmity and hatred. The only political party to have been banned by the Constitutional Court as being unconstitutional, in contradiction to the facts and common sense, was the minority United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden-PIRIN. Nobody has ever sought any liability on the part of the ·Attack” activists for their racism. In November 2003 the Council on Electronic Media decided to enforce the provisions of the law that prohibit the dissemination of ethnic and religious enmity, when it banned the Den television network, not out of concern but in fulfilment of a political favour. After it failed in that effort, the CEM decided to leave the xenophobic messages on SKAT television, which are incomparably more vulgar and more virulent than those of Den TV’s Nick Stein, unpunished. The Framework Programme for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society, adopted by the UDF government in 1999, has to a large extent simply remained a
piece of paper, both during that government and that of the NMSS/MRF coalition. It was also mostly utilised for showing off to the ·Europeans”. Meanwhile, the isolation of the Roma in Bulgarian society has deepened. There are fewer and fewer points of communication between Bulgarians and Roma, and along with this the idea of belonging to the same society has lost more and more of its meaning. In such a situation it was entirely natural for attitudes of dehumanisation to appear. The Roma were called ·cockroaches” on SKAT television, which is precisely what the semi-official media had called the Tutsis in Rwanda on the eve of the genocide. ·Attack” appeared on the scene when the BSP and the other parties, which had each recently become members of various ·internationales”, decided to clean up their images, probably under the critical eye of their international overseers. But they, as well as the Bulgarian state institutions, continue to refuse to think, or to develop a capacity for thinking, about the racism and xenophobia in our society. Even after the skeleton has fallen out of the closet. To call a pack of political opportunists, who engineered their penetration of the parliament in two anti-Semitic lampoons and seven television shows about the ·Gypsy terror”, a ·normal tumour” isn’t that an attempt to wave a hand and once again sweep the garbage under the rug? This is not the first time that Bulgarian society has displayed a serious deficit of social control over propaganda. It is not the first time that an organised propaganda campaign has succeeded in driving a large number of Bulgarians to believe in absurd ideas, which a healthy and educated human sensibility would never arrive at on its own. Historical experience has shown that under Bulgarian conditions, the road back to common sense sometimes (although unfortunately not always) may be relatively short. Everything depends upon how seriously we take the challenge.
WHAT IS THE DANGER OF “ATTACK” BEING IN PARLIAMENT? Ivan BEDROV, Journalist with bTV The main danger is that the things ·Attack” says, and with which it won over its voters - ·turn the Gypsies into soap” and ·Bulgaria for the Bulgarians” - do not constitute a programme, but in parliament, concrete things happen. They have no programme outline on judicial reform and taxation laws, which is what lies ahead on the agenda. They do not have a clear ideology. And there is danger that corruption could rise. That they could be sold cheaply to any given lobby, and they could move themselves in any direction. They are not a well-structured organisation. The recent proposal should not be allowed - that of having a vote on a government by secret ballot in order to form one made up of only two parties and with support from some others - because those votes would come from ·Attack”, there isn’t anywhere else for them to come from.
Published on Mar 27, 2011