Monday, 30 Jan 2023 - 8 of Shevat, 5783

‘Hate speech endangers societies and democracy’

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A conference in Sofia, organized by Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office and the European Jewish Association, aims to create a platform for the exchange of experiences and good practices that will help to effectively and timely counter xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and discriminatory acts, incitement, and perpetration of hate crimes

“Hate speech endangers societies and democracy,” said Bulgaria’s Vice President Iliana Iotova in an address to a two-day international conference on Monday in Sofia.

“The Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers, but with hate speech against a minority,” she noted, adding that the media and social networks also play a role and can counter this process.

Titled “STOP HATE SPEECH”, the conference was organized by Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office and the European Jewish Association (EJA) and attended by chief and supreme prosecutors from countries of the European Union and the region, senior clergymen from different faiths, representatives of state institutions, NGOs, academics, human rights defenders, as well as civil activists.

Prosecutor General Ivan Gzshev noted at the opening of the conference that opened thaty “in recent years there has been a resurgence of anti-semitism and xenophobia.’’ ‘’Cases of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, infringement of minority rights and other anti-democratic tendencies are on the rise. Hate speech leads to all of them,’’ he added.

According to him, Bulgaria sets a positive example of minority coexistence, as there are places of worship of different religions in the centre of Sofia.

“After Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, it seems we are not learning from history. Action is needed to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust,” he concluded.

Punishment is an important tool, but it cannot be enough, Bulgarian Justice Minister Krum Zarkov said. He pointed out that the caretaker government recently submitted to the National Assembly texts proposing that a wider range of crimes for racist or xenophobic motives be punished more severely

A greeting from the Patriarch, delivered by Bishop Polycarp of Belogradchik, said the church is calling for nipping hate speech in the bud. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church advocates for the introduction of religion in school, which is the right place and time for bringing up future generations and teaching them the value of peace, dialogue, and understanding, Bishop Polycarp said.

“Hate speech and anti-Semitism do not exist where logic lives,” strssed Rabbi Menachem Margolin, President of the European Jewish Association (EJA).’’.

According to him, ‘’hate speech thrives among people who dislike themselves. It is easy to hate Jews because a politician has designated them a common enemy. Those who hate themselves, if there are no Jews to hate, will hate someone else.’’

The fight against hate speech is an essential commitment of the rule of law to protect public peace, said the representative of the Supreme Judicial Council, Boyan Magdalinchev, adding that hate speech not only affects victims but undermines the foundations of democratic society.

“In recent years we have witnessed more and more manifestations of aggression and intolerance towards different minority or ethnic groups, and homophobia. Such acts create insecurity, undermine trust in institutions and destroy social cohesion,” said Supreme Court of Cassation deputy chair Lada Paunova. There is a need for workable models for allocating responsibilities between different institutions, civil society, and minority groups to prevent hate speech. This is the only way to quell the feeling of impunity, she said.

The fight against hate speech ranks high in Bulgaria’s foreign policy priorities, Deputy Foreign Minister Velislava Petrova said. She stressed that new technologies and social networks create new opportunities for the spread of hate speech. The abundance of unverified and purposefully manipulated information, the lack of critical thinking, deepens the problem, she said.

The main objective of the conference is to create a platform for the exchange of experiences and good practices that will help to effectively and timely counter xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and discriminatory acts, incitement, and perpetration of hate crimes.

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