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Outrage Over Children Displaying Neo-Nazi Symbols at Football Game in Bulgaria

Racist and far-right incidents at games in the Balkan country have been frequent in the past few years.

14 May 2018

Pictures from a football (soccer) game on 9 May in Sofia that show two boys with Nazi symbols and slogans painted on their bodies have sparked an investigation from child protection authorities – along with international concern.

 

One of the two boys who were standing in front of the crowd had his arms raised in what seemed an anti-Semitic salute, while the other appeared to have a swastika drawn on his chest. Additionally, both had “ACAB” written on their torsos – an acronym that means “All Cops are Bastards” – and “Levski Hooligan,” in reference to the football team playing that day.

 

The photos leave the impression that the boys were less than 10 years old, according to Reuters, a matter of concern given that the Bulgarian Child Protection Act mandates that children under the age of 14 need to be accompanied at public events after 8:00 pm.

 

Stefka Lieva, an inspector of the State Agency for Child Protection, said: “We see Nazi greetings, which are a worrying fact for us.” She also said the agency wanted to establish the boys’ identities, adding that if they had been unaccompanied at the evening match their parents could be fined up to $300 (250 euros), Reuters reports.

 

The photographs, which also quickly went viral on the internet, provoked a public outcry.   

 

 

Shalom, the Organization of Bulgarian Jews, condemned what occurred and said in a statement: “It is unacceptable that young children should be encouraged to exhibit such behavior,” VICE News writes.

 

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) expressed its solidarity with Shalom, with WJC CEO Robert Singer saying that he was “categorically condemning the disgusting and cynical exploitation of children to spread messages of hate and intolerance.” 

 

In Bulgaria, Levski has been embroiled in several controversies over past extremist behavior. In 2012 the club was fined 30,000 euros by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for the racist behavior of its fans at a Europa League game, according to another Reuters article.

 

A year later, the team received another fine from the Bulgarian Football Union after its supporters displayed a banner showing a swastika, and another wishing Nazi leader Adolf Hitler a happy birthday during a game, Reuters writes.

 

 

  • A report on human right practices in 2017 released on 20 April 2018 by the U.S. State Department, which cited Shalom, spoke about the presence of continuous anti-Semitic rhetoric on Bulgarian social media and in comments under online articles, The Sofia Globe reports.

 

  • A petition created by the World Jewish Congress and Shalom, calling for a ban on the annual neo-Nazi march held in Sofia every February, collected more than 175,000 signatures worldwide. The march has been attracting thousands of people keen on honoring Hristo Nikolov Lukov, a Bulgarian anti-Semitic political figure who helped hand over thousands of Jews to Nazi Germany during World War II.

 

  • In May 2017, the appointment of an outspoken nationalist to head a major council on ethnic issues raised questions in Bulgaria about the presence of far-right party leaders in the government. Valeri Simeonov, who is the leader of a coalition of three nationalist parties, has described the Bulgarian Roma – the largest minority, accounting for around 10 percent of the population – as "ferocious humanoids" whose children "play with pigs in the street" and whose women "have the instincts of street dogs.”

Compiled by Melissa Castano

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