Nationalism and unchecked violence in Bulgaria

Releasing a defendent on bail who faces murder charges can provoke protests in any country in the world. But this time, in Sofia, it’s a different story. Last week, a man was released who is not only indicted for murder, but is seen as a symbol for a movement of racially motivated violence that has gone essentially unpunished in Bulgaria for some time now.

Last year, Petko Elenkov, a security guard, shot and killed a Roma teenager, who had allegedly jumped over the wall of a refrigerator depot in Sofia in order to steal scrap metal. Elenkov, 50, denies any wrongdoing. A year on, the trial still hasn’t begun.

Elenkov was released on a 5000 leva (2500 euro) bail prompting Roma minority groups to demonstrate on the streets, calling for justice. Nationalist and pro-Nazi demonstrations ensued.

“Nationalism is on the rise in Bulgaria,” Daniela Mikhaylova, who heads the Equal Opportunities Initiative, an NGO based in Sofia’s Roma ghetto, told DW. In her opinion, this “new level of violence came as a result of a specific nationalist attitude that has gone unchecked for too long. When such violence happens and the media writes things like, ‘Very good, they [Roma] got what they deserved,’ people start thinking that this reaction is something natural and even legitimate.”

Roma, who number 400,000 in Bulgaria according to official statistics, are the largest and most frequently attacked ethnic group. But they are far from being the only target of hate speech and discrimination.