World Jewish Congress vice president Robert Singer delivered a petition, signed by over 175,000 people, to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, protesting a planned march by neo-Nazis to celebrate a World War II leader who had close ties with the Third Reich.
The torchlight procession known as the Lukov March commemorates Hristo Lukov, the late Bulgarian war minister and leader of the pro-Nazi Union of the Bulgarian National Legions, who supported anti-Semitic legislation that denied Jews civil rights. It been held annually since 2003 in the capital, Sofia, and is scheduled this year for February 17.
“This is a neo-Nazi march,” Singer said in an interview published Tuesday in the Bulgarian SEGA daily newspaper. “We know that this is a marginal phenomenon, that the Bulgarian people do not support it, and the government does not support it, that the mayor of Sofia has made efforts to ban it during the last three years, but it continues.”
The online petition, launched in January, urges Bulgarian authorities to actively ban the march rather than simply withholding permission for it to be held. Singer gave Borrisov a printed version of the document.
“Administrative action against the Lukov March must go further than the mere announcement of withdrawal of permission for the event, while in effect allowing it to proceed,” the petition added. “There must be no room on the streets of a European capital for a parade that worships a man and an age that represented this most sinister part of our history. In the context of Bulgarian and of European history, permitting the Lukov March would be an abomination.”
The plea noted that for the first six months of 2018 Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of Council of the European Union.
“In this position, the nation of Bulgaria will be looked to for leadership and to uphold the shared values of the European Union, including those of tolerance and the rejection of extremism and anti-Semitism,” the petition stated. “It would be anomalous for the country at the helm of the EU to permit a parade of torchlight-wielding, dark-clad supporters of a man and an ideology that epitomized the darkest period of 20th century.”
Singer noted that the online petition gained support not just from Jewish organizations, but from “many people all over the world,” including Bulgarian citizens.
“Judging by the names, the majority are not Jews,” Singer said to SEGA.
While considerable restrictions on the march have been implemented over the past three years — participants are now only supposed to only lay wreaths at Lukov’s house in the capital — the conditions have been violated and the demonstration has nevertheless continued to take place.
In 2017, demonstrators marched, without a permit, from the National Palace of Culture to Lukov’s home surrounded by heavy police presence. Flags of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian National Union in addition to several others representing a Polish neo-Nazi group draped the streets as the procession advanced.
Sofia police reported at the time that a number of Polish nationals with criminal records were in attendance. These ultra-nationalists had been associated with a group that disseminates pro-Nazi propaganda.
Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.