Bulgaria’s far-right movements are rather heterogeneous as far as their activities and structures are concerned. Ideologically, however, they share similarities. The framework within which they inscribe themselves is the typical fusion of ethnonational xenophobia and anti-political-establishment populism. The former finds its roots in the country’s ethnic miscellaneousity. In the local right-wing discourse, we encounter phrases calling for the defence of “traditional values” and the “Christian family” – an attitude usually extra-pronounced in ethnically uniformed countries. Recent developments in Bulgaria’s foreign policy added to this an extreme and flagrant homophobia. It is precisely those novel overtones, adapted from heretofore unexplicit attitudes, that guaranteed the flourishing of today’s reactionary parties and (in)formal movements. It is yet again worth mentioning how the active local far-right movements and the affiliated political parties fail to become a subject-matter of serious scholarly interest despite the growing threat for minority groups. However, several left-wing online platforms and civil society organisations, social media pages and groups, as well as the local anti-fascist movement, are trying to deal with the drastic fascistisation of political life in the country.
For 14th of November 2021, the third emergency parliamentary elections for the year were combined with the presidential ones. Only one far-right political party made it into the parliament. Kostadin Kostadinov’s Vazrazhdane (Revival), which was extremely active during the anti-Covid protests around the country (as a result mainly of their campaign strategy – i.e. anti-vaccination, anti-measures, pro-“normalcy” populist trajectory), took just above 1% over the minimum needed for entering the National Assembly. Within the 240 seats in the parliament, Vazrazhdane managed to get 13 people in (thankfully, not as part of the governmental coalition). If we attempt to dissect their political past and their rise from absolute marginals (in the last 5-6 years) to partners in the legislature, however, we will find that their “success” has been at the expense of older and self-discredited far-right parties (such as IMRO, ATTACK and NFSB, who were part of the previous government coalition conjoined in United Patriots).
Moreover, Vazrazhdane – even though it looks, at least on the outside, as a traditional leader-oriented party – it liaises with and relies heavily on activists. Given that the history of the last few governments (back to the rise of ATTACK in 2005) has proved that the presence of even a minority of pro-fascist but noisy and populist deputies in the parliament is capable of shifting the political discourse to its limits, we should be carefull. Furthermore, their parliamentary presence has often been used to push forward unpopular policies favouring the capitalist classes and the state, being disguised as “national salvation” strategies and, by themselves, quite well fertilised by the other political forces represented in the Assembly. Even though this time they may differ drastically in faces, in no way are they different in policy programs, pre-election promises or high-pitched tone in plenary.
The Covid-19 pandemic played a crucial role in the rise of fledgling populist messiahs. Besides Vazrazhdane’s leader, Kostadin Kostadinov and his entourage, countless vloggers, attention seeking political weasels, as well as formal and informal groups’ representatives found their way into public life. Elevating irrationality and the rejection of facts to the heights of “radical critical thinking”, they have offered those who have been hurt the most by the lack of economic measures easy solutions at the expense of their lives. Vaccination rates in the country, resulting from mass protests (most often organised by employers’ organisations in tandem with far-right thugs and Vazrazhdane activists) remain the lowest in the EU. In this sense, the main challenge people in the country face is to win their own right to a dignified and secure life during the next waves of the pandemic.
The only relationship with the neighbouring countries worth sharing at that time is the still ongoing conflict with (North) Macedonia, which the far-right has been conveniently exploiting for years. The current government is making some minor concessions in respect to their EU membership negotiations, but this, in turn, further weaponises the rhetoric of the public reactionaries, especially that of IMRO.
One of the oldest and most popular non-partisan movements in the country is the Bulgarian Nationalists Union (BNU, now with the addition of ‘Edelweiss’). They are chief organisers of the infamous Lukov March, which gathers together neo-fascists from countries all around the Old Continent. Аccording to unofficial data, the organisation’s members are about 500 people. We can say that Alexander Alexandrov (part of BNU), Hristo Ivanov ‘The German’ (leader of IMRO’s youth organisation and candidate for deputy on the same-party list at the last elections), Alain Simeonov (who initiated the ‘paedophiles hunts’) and few other male far-right actors are among the most involved and recognisable in the local far-right scene during the past year.
It must be added that the risk of far-right attacks – probably not that violent and terrifying as in other places – in Bulgaria remains high, especially due to the lack of persecution or consequences for their perpetrators. 2021 was a year saturated with various fascists events targeting all kinds of marginalised groups. Every month we were not that kindly reminded of their existence, largely because of the botched elections and the daily anti-Covid measures protests. An important reminder is that of BNU’s new club also opened this year in a neighbourhood of great significance for minority groups with the goal of making it, “once again”, a “home for Bulgarians”. It is there that films against the residents of the neighbourhood are planned to be screened and events of diverse nature are to be held.
Besides Kostadinov that we’ve talked about earlier, Boyan Rasate, who is now leader of BNU-New Democracy, also deserves mentioning. His organisation is extremely marginalised and spat upon by its former associate from BNU-Edelweiss – as well as by most of the far-right groups in the country. The organisation has no more than 100 members nationwide. Rasate was generally inactive for more than four years. Suddenly, this last year he reappeared as a candidate for the presidential elections and initiated an attack on LGBTQ+ community centre, the information of which can be found within the country’s reports.
While we could say that there was a shift from attacking migrants and Roma people (POC in general) to other marginalised groups – the LGBTQ+ people, be they somehow organised or not, this may be true only for the time of writing. Probably as a result of the refusal of signing the so-called ‘Istanbul Convention’ by the Bulgarian state and the general tendencies worldwide, the LGBTQ+ activists in the country are rather active lately. This has caused counter-reactions by the far-right in the form of violent attacks, numerous threats, as well as disrupting peaceful protest, unbothered by police. Even at the International Day for Fighting Violence against Women, the fascists from the BNU and IMRO tried to unfurl a large banner whose message was that the “biological Bulgarian woman” is only a mother and that “gender ideology” must be fought by all means. These actions speak, to some extent, of the far-right’s refocus on the LGBTQ+.
There are, interestingly enough, other conflicts between local far-right groups besides the one between the two factions of BNU. The parties on the right are so divided that they failed strategically at the elections, considering the great support for their ideological views within the society. United Patriots (UP), the electoral coalition that participated in the last ruling government with the centre-right party of GERB, split up in March. The IMRO started their campaign (for the first elections) all by themselves, apparently hoping that four years of governance have prepared the ground for independent participation in the electoral race. The only remaining accomplice after the leaving of ATTACK, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, formed a new electoral coalition with Volya (see data for both). The latter was also part of the last parliament with just a few members and played the part of the “golden finger” for the fragile quorum.
Тhe key contra-reaction to the reactionaries in the country, on the other hand, consist of several antifa collectives, mainly following an anarchist and anarcho-communist ideology. Despite the unquestionable efforts and devoted actions of those collectives, the pandemic crisis further complicated the work of the left in Bulgaria. The events they organised happened less frequently and under strict measures. It is needless to explain why the right-wingers, especially the far, did not face such a problem. The main issue before these collectives and organisations are the aggressive nature of the right-wing groups they encounter and the constant, unorganised but, needless to say, unpunished attacks by the same actors. Аt particular events, media and police support for the perpetrators was quite clearly visible and further distorted the reality perceivable by the more general public. In addition, we have seen support for the right wing by the courts and at the expense of not a few victims of fascist manifestations. Examples of this included the Rainbow Hub attack (by Rasate and his entourage, see data), the sabotage of a protest against violence against women, the lack of adequate punishment for Alain (the ‘Pedophile Hunter’, see data), as well as the non-recognition of General Lukov as an open Nazi and, consenquently, of the event memorating him as a neo-Nazi gathering.
Historically, after the fall of the Socialist regime in Bulgaria and the subsequent ‘pluralisation’ of parliamentary life, a field for the development of numerous nationalist formations opened up. Their unsuccessful electoral performance (I.Baeva:2019, N.Genov:2010; etc.) in the early years of the ‘Transition’ imposed the need for a different approach. Back then the liberal, pro-EU parties hegemony created a laborious obstacle in the country’s parliamentary life. Liberal’s goal to ensure national security by including Bulgaria in supranational structures like NATO and the EU guaranteed themselves rigid parliamentary presence. This tendency turned around in 2009, when all was done and for the first time an undisguised national-populist party found its way to the parliament. It was ATTACK, led by Volen Siderov – who himself made it to the second tour of the presidential election three years earlier – which gradually shifted the horizon of what is rhetorically and politically possible towards the ultra-right.
As far as the terrorist attacks by the far-right are concerned, several that are important, and at the same time horrific, deserve mentioning. In June, the 6th, 2010 National Resistance (NR), an ultranationalistic movement linked to various attacks on immigrants, Roma people, Turks, LGBTQ+ groups and leftists, made it into the headlines. Back then four left-wing activists were attacked in a tram while heading for a pro-immigrant rally. Most of them were without serious injuries. However, one of the victims suffered a particularly serious condition with lifelong brain consequences. The same faction is also directly connected to a bomb attack over the office of Euroroma (political party founded in 1998, engaged in defending Romani’s rights) in the small city of Sandanski. On 29 July 2012, this very act critically injured Malin Iliev, a 58 years old man from Roma origins, who died a few days later. At the same town, three months earlier, two handmade bombs nearly costed the life of the accommodation tenant in another violent homophobic act. Аs a gift for his devotion, Nikolai Yovev – оne of the major suspect of both terrorist acts – was nominated as an independent candidate for the EU Parliament in 2014. His campaign was initiated by the newly formed Nationalist Party of Bulgaria, which was then met with insurmountable public resistance. The latter consist entirely from extremely militant, far-right – both formal and informal – movements of street toughs with rich history through the years. In the factions involved one can find the Bulgarian division of Blood & Honour. The same individuals stand behind this-August formed party by the name of ČEST (Dignity, an abbreviation for “Pure, United and Sovereign Fatherland”), which was later dissolved by the court as a result of invalid founders. In the chairman’s board, we could’ve found some of the active far-right figures of BNU, National Resistance and Blood & Honour.
As far as international connections are concerned, the well known important ones are just a few, orbiting around the already familiar Bulgarian National Union and their main event – Lukov Marsh. In 2019, on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s birthday, BNU has launched a new multinational organisation by the name Fortress Europe. Among the founding members, according to the official list on their website, are the French Les Nationalistes, Hungary’s Légió Hungária, Czechia’s Národní a sociální fronta, Germany’s Die Rechte and Poland’s Szturm. The Fortress “crowns” – as the message goes – those groups now decade-long collaboration and their need for “further and more efficient coordination”. There was also a Nazi concert in remembrance of Ian Stuart that took place in a bar called “Rock It”, near the South Park in the capital city of Sofia at 25th of September. Unconfirmed information we have suggests that guests were the infamous and banned in Germany heavy-metal band Landser. One can suspect, therefore, that even though the Bulgarian branch of Blood & Honour are not that visible at the moment, they are still operating on a low-level, underground scale and, therefore, that the organisation’s network still has some strength, probably even financial, at least in Sofia, if not in the whole country.
On the EU scale deserved to be mentioned that during the last elections, the far-right parties in the country scored the following results (in percentage): NFSB – 1,15%; IMRO – 7,36%; ATTACK – 1,07%; Volya – 3,62%; Vazrazhdane – 1,04%. One can speculate that, if they were united, as they were – at least some of them – in the previous parliamentary elections, they would score something between 14-15%. In this particular situation, however, only two deputies from IMRO – Andrey Slabakov and Angel Dzhambazki — entered the European Parliament, the latter serving a second term after being the only far-right deputy from the country after the 2014 elections. There is no official evidence, but we can surely speculate, and probably rightly so, that the time United Patriots spended in the government, as well as the time served in EU parliament by some of IMRO representatives, helped financially the far-right street thugs (especially those from BNU) to regain ground. The court’s various decisions in favour of the infamous Lukov Marsh were probably also influenced by their political situation.
These very same decisions, however, encouraged many active politicians (not necessarily on the far-right spectrum) or popular commentators (again not necessarily there) to take off their masks and celebrate the “truth” and “legitimacy” of both the marsh and the historical figure of Hristo Lukov. Another worrying trend is that gaining enough funding – either as a result of their participation in governance or through sufficiently stable high-level political connections around the European Parliament – enables right-wing parties to be extremely well established among mass movements in the country, especially during pandemic times. This, in turn, helps them “recruit” working class people and encourage them to spread hateful messages at literally every protest that has happened in the past year.
On the side of the media, there are just a couple of main far-right publications in the country that have some public influence. One of them, Консерваторъ (The Conservative) has for a long time given a platform to prominent far-right political figures like Kristian Skvárek and Angel Dzhambazki, but also to far-right intellectuals, Christianised fanatics and others. The overwhelming majority of their regular writers are within (or are just coming out) of their student years, mainly in various economic or managerial disciplines and law, making them a convenient breeding ground for reactionary ideas. Their platform has a large audience and influence. The student club of the largest university in the country, i.e. Sofia University, the so-called Спаичъ , is directly linked to them. Lately, The Conservative started republishing pieces (or being republished) from the media platform by the name of Glasove (Voices), that for years launched analysis and foreign far-right positions (mainly from France and their reactionary intellectual movement of Nouveaux Philosophes) on touchy subjects concerning migrants, identity politics, foreign affairs and the future of Christian Europe. A more underground, but still important publication, is the so-called Война и мир (War & Peace) who is important not so much because of his articles and interviews, but because of the community he has managed to build around him on social networks and which the fascists behind it plans to move to an independent online forum soon. The situation with the far-right parties isn’t much different. ATTACK owns a TV station of the same name, while NFSB has SKAT TV, who for years have been busy promoting their own politicians and proclaiming cheap populism at the expense of marginalised groups.
However, the main problem with the country’s media landscape comes mostly as a result of the ignorance (or unwillingness to know) and non-recognition (or unwillingness to recognize) by major media of the far-right precisely as far-right. Platforms for hate speech by established politicians, for street fascists such as those part of the so-called “paedophile hunt”, as well as those who recently attacked the women’s rights demonstration, are commonplace across the TV and internet lately. It is worth pointing out that the national broadcaster that threw light on the “paedophile hunt” initiative and helped popularise them, presented only cut footage (unlike those found on Telegram) in which the youths’ brutality is largely concealed, framing the whole initiative as pure heroism on their side. Lukov Marsh, on the other hand, has for years been viewed as a simple patriotic procession in honour of a great Bulgarian, and hate crimes are presented – without any reference to their motivation – mostly as vandalism of a minor order.