Why we are suing Volen Siderov Krassimir KANEV
n February 2006, several dozen NGOs and private individuals filed a civil lawsuit in Sofia City Court against the leader of the Attack coalition Volen Siderov. The claim requests an almost symbolic sanction for incitement to discrimination and harassment of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities in Siderov’s TV programmes, publications and public statements. The claim was filed because these NGOs believe that the Judiciary in Bulgaria should take measures when: Someone who wants to rule the country declares an entire ethnic group - the Roma people to be criminals and dangerous to our security and welfare. That someone, through all kinds of primitive methods, repeatedly and constantly tries to stoke up Bulgarians against Roma. Someone who wants to rule Bulgaria suggests that the Jews are plunderers and destroyers of Christians, and declares their trauma, the Holocaust, the best documented genocide in the history of mankind, a lie. Someone who wants to rule Bulgaria calls the head of the Catholic Church a maniac and ·mentally ill statesman”, and his Curia - a rival to the Cosa Nostra. The lawsuit makes no comments to Siderov’s criticisms of government policies and the exposure (true or not) of government corruption. On the contrary, among the NGO complainants there are quite a few who have during the past years critically evaluated the policies of all governments in a number of spheres of public life. The decision to start legal action for speech was not an easy one for me and my organization, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which in all these years has proven, in words and deeds, its devotion to and support for freedom of speech. A democratic society should always watch the balance between these two public interests. The interest of speech, which must find its way even when it is shocking or unpleasant to someone, and the interest of the ·others”, especially when they are socially vulnerable, to live in a society which honors their dignity and respects their way of life without abusing their pain. For these reasons, our decision to sue Siderov came after careful reading of the law and measuring these two public interests. We also considered the character and the extent of the legal sanction, which we want the court to de4 OBEKTIV
fine. That is why I am ready to defend our decision to anyone and in any kind of public forum. However, I am not ready to accept the arguments of some liberal critics who interpret our decision in a political context. In the December 12, 2005 issue of the Dnevnik daily, Stefan Popov qualified it as ·free PR for an amateur in a popular musical”. In the Novinar daily of February 6, 2006 TV journalist Ivan Garelov condemned the ·infantile action” of the NGOs who had decided to sue Siderov because this would ·only contribute to his increased popularity”. To me, such arguments reveal a strange understanding of the concept of how, about whom and with what purpose the law in a state governed by the rule of law should be applied. For example, if Siderov breaks a Roma teenager’s nose, should the law be applied against him, even at the risk (quite realistic, by the way) of increasing his popularity? What if he decides to cut the teenager’s head off? When exactly must the law intervene? And what about the other people who have committed crimes and will be prosecuted because they do not have voters standing behind them? In Bulgaria, if you label the Roma or the Jews criminals, use the media or the parliamentary forum to humiliate people on the grounds of their religion or sexual orientation, this is just as much a violation of the law as if you are involved in pedophilia. These crimes may be of different graveness, but there is no way that the law can turn a blind eye to an offense, even if the court’s decision is unpopular. Everyone must follow and obey the law notwithstanding the current political situation, and in a way commensurate to the fundamental principles of a state governed by the supremacy of the law. The Anti-Discrimination Act, on the basis of which our lawsuit was filed, was adopted by parliament in 2004 ·in the name of the people”. It was highly praised by the European Commission. At the time of its adoption, some people said that it had been adopted ·for the sake of the European Union”, to pull the wool over the eyes of the Europeans, and that we would continue by the old ways, meaning by not applying it or by applying it selectively. I always shudder at such attitudes, because at their core they are an expression of our own self-humiliation and low self-esteem. And this is something that, I am convinced, we don’t deserve.