Sofia’s swastika problem: photo gallery

Sofia’s swastika problem: photo gallery

A month ago I took a walk through central Sofia to document all the swastikas and other far-right imagery I’d seen on the streets in my few months there.

Spoiler: there’s a lot, or at least a lot more than I’m used to seeing on a city street (i.e., close to zero).

All the photos here, save one, were taken on March 17, 2018. Aside from a few crops/rotations, none of these photos have been edited.

I haven’t got much in the way of editorial commentary beforehand, other than:

  • Clearly it’s a minority of a minority of people doing this sort of thing – don’t go around saying that ‘muhh all Bulgarians must be Nazi sympathizers blah blah’ because, no.
  • For the most part, as the photos will indicate, it’s clearly Levski Sofia football hooligans doing this. Others I’m less certain about.
  • If you’re wondering why these swastikas and other blatant far-right/neo-Nazi symbols are allowed to stay up for an extended period of time in a European capital, don’t worry – I’m asking the same question.
    • Complacency? Cost of removal? The idea that ‘oh they’re just kids/idiots, they don’t know what it *really* means’? An accepted part of city life? I don’t know. I’d like to find out.

Nonetheless, here’s a selection of some of what I saw.

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On Vazrazhdane Square – the same square where the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria ‘Shalom’ (OJB Shalom) has its Sofia office in the Jewish Cultural House (Evreyski Kulturen Dom) ~100 feet away
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Vazrazhdane Square
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Vazrazhdane Square – the ’88’ code should be obvious enough, but the 1914 is a reference to PFC Levski Sofia’s founding
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Not far from the synagogue, on ulitsa Tsar Samuil. Not only are there more swastikas/far-right imagery on the shutters, but this has all been here since at least June 2015, according to Google Street View
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On ulitsa Ekzarh Yosif, same street as the Sofia Synagogue.
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At the corner of ulitsa Veslets and ulitsa Pop Bogomil – while this swastika’s been crossed out, it’s been here since at least June 2015
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ulitsa Tsar Simeon
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intersection of ulitsa Bacho Kiro and ulitsa Tsar Simeon – the butterflies are refashioned/painted-over swastikas
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ulitsa Tsar Simeon
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ulitsa Tsar Simeon – “Totenkopf 1488” has been there since at least June 2015
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ulitsa Tsar Simeon
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ulitsa Serdika
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Monument to the Soviet Army
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sig runes and a swastika behind the Monument to the Soviet Army
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next to a playground behind the Monument to the Soviet Army
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Rayko Daskalov square
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Rayko Daskalov square
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On ulitsa Ivaylo, Combat 18 (C18) graffiti with swastika – this has been here since at least April 2012
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ulitsa Lajos Kossuth
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ulitsa Ivaylo, across the street from a park and playground
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“We hate Gypsies,” on ulitsa Veslets – this phrase, along with the sig runes, has been here since at least June 2015
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The only photo here not taken March 17 (this one from March 19) – a swastika on a light pole outside the Levski Sofia club/store on Todor Alexandrov Boulevard
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Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov strikes again: demands German “green jihadist” MEP be deported “by truck” to Turkey

Valeri Simeonov is one of Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Ministers (in charge of economy and demographic policies), a co-spokesman of the far-right United Patriots and head of the Bulgarian Council on Ethnic Minority Integration.

He’s also a man with a mouth, one that’s doing a good job embarrassing his government right now – a government that happens to be hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

This week Simeonov and his party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (one of the three far-right parties that comprise the United Patriots), released a statement calling for the deportation of Ska Keller, the German co-chair of the Greens in the European Parliament. She’s been active in protests in Bulgaria against government plans to expand development in Pirin National Park, development that Keller and others say could lead to over-development in the park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is all far too much for Simeonov and friends, who responded to Keller’s presence with all the subtlety that could be expected from someone who’s called Roma “naked, self-confident and ferocious humanoids.”

The NFSB statement, signed by Simeonov, called Keller a “green jihadist” and demanded that Keller be deported from Bulgaria – specifically, “declared persona non grata and be deported by truck to Kapikule,” a border crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria, since they “don’t think the cost of airfare can be justified.” The party even offers to provide transport for her.

Simeonov himself, of course, has some experience at Turkey-Bulgaria border crossings; he assaulted an elderly woman during a protest to stop Bulgarian Turks living in Turkey from crossing the border to vote in last year’s elections.

This love of Turkey and Bulgaria’s Turkish minority shines through when they demand to know “from the height of which minaret, this Ska (what a name?!) who graduated the Sabanci university in Istanbul and serves the justice of a foreign country… and wants the Bulgarian sovereign government to change its position.”

“I have been an active politician for many years and I have never had something like this happening to me – either in any European country, or in other, non-EU states,” Keller told BIRN.

But Simeonov’s no normal politician. As I wrote last year:

  • He’s been convicted of breaking anti-discrimination legislation with some of his comments about Roma.
  • Speaking in an interview in October with a cable television channel, Simeonov said that “bTV turned out to be like an infantile fatty with certain mental abnormalities put into a porcelain shop, not knowing what he is doing.”
  • After it emerged that a deputy minister from the United Patriots had been photographed giving a Hitler salute, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”.
  • “I cannot allow a handful of Sorosoids to badger us while we are trying to solve important problems.”
  • “…it is indisputed that a large part of the Gypsy ethnicity lives beyond any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour. For them, the laws do not apply, taxes and charges are incomprehensible concepts, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but not obligations and responsibilities. What has created the belief in our swarthy compatriots that everything is allowed… and that everyone is obliged to feed, dress and treat them for free?”
  • In 2013 his National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), in its platform, said it “initially envisages the abolition of all illegal structures in Gypsy ghettos and the creation with minimum resources of individual settlements outside the large settlements. Promotion of voluntary birth limitation through free contraceptives. The isolated settlements can be turned into a tourist attraction, which is a mass practice in the most developed democracies…”

Aside from the embarrassment he’s causing his own government, Simeonov doesn’t seem to be doing himself many favours these days. While the United Patriots managed to score just over 9 per cent in last year’s parliamentary elections, recent polls show them hovering at between 5 and 6 per cent. What’s more, the #SavePirin protests actually seem to be fizzling out a bit, at least here in Sofia. Has Simeonov just done his bit to help change that?

An International Anti-Corruption Day addendum/hangover

An International Anti-Corruption Day addendum/hangover

It was International Anti-Corruption Day on Saturday – a good day, as I wrote in the Balkanist, to raise a glass and remember that Bulgaria, the most corrupt country in the European Union, is taking over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU* in three weeks.

Only after writing that piece did I see new survey numbers that had just come out from a recent Special Eurobarometer survey on corruption in the EU. Ah well.

As you might have guessed, the numbers for Bulgaria aren’t good.

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“Kill corruption” (Credit: BGNES)

There’s a full report and a 20-page summary report available, so I’ll just rehash a few of the key (damning) findings about perceptions of corruption in Bulgaria, but still enough to make me feel like I’m suffering from some post-International Anti-Corruption Day makhmurluk:

  • It’s not just that Bulgarians think there’s corruption in their public institutions – many feel that it’s actually getting worse.
    • When asked whether there was corruption in local or regional public institutions, 86% of Bulgarians said there was. This isn’t just one of the highest figures in the EU – it’s increased 7% since the 2013 survey asking the same questions, which is the biggest increase in the EU.
    • As for corruption in national public institutions, 87% of Bulgarians said there was, again one of highest – and, again, the biggest increase since 2013 (5%), which is also especially striking given that this figure increased in just four of the 28 EU countries.
  • Only 14% of Bulgarians think there’s sufficient transparency and supervision of the financing of political parties, the lowest in the EU (but still risen from 9% in 2013).
  • Only 13% think there are enough successful prosecutions in the country to deter people from corrupt practices. Yes, the lowest.
  • 83% of Bulgarians, second only to Greece, think that high-level corruption cases are not pursued sufficiently in the country.
  • Are measures against corruption applied impartially and without ulterior motives? Only 15% of Bulgarians say so – the lowest in the EU.
  • In 20 of the 28 EU countries, there’s been an increase in the proportion of respondents who think government efforts to combat corruption are effective. Bulgaria’s not one of them – only 15% agree, the second worst in the EU behind Latvia.
  • Bulgarians don’t know where to report corruption: only 28% say they know where they’d report an act of corruption, with only Hungary being lower. Worse, this figure’s declined 15% (!!) since 2013, the biggest decrease in any EU country.
  • Bulgarians aren’t particularly trusting of the police and/or customs, and they’re getting more distrustful over time:
    • When asked who they’d trust most to deal with a case of corruption they’d complained about, 25% of Bulgarians identified the police, compared to a 60% average across the EU;  that figure’s dropped 11% since 2013.
    • Worse, when asked whether they felt the giving and taking of bribes and abuse of power for personal gain was widespread across a number of institutions, 71% of Bulgarians named police/customs. This was the highest in the EU and the most common response in Bulgaria – only Latvia had police/customs as a most common response. For reference, the EU average is 31%.

These figures don’t make one feel all that confident about Bulgaria’s fight against corruption. Bulgarians themselves certainly don’t seem to be.

 

*not the “European Council” as I wrote in my piece, and I think I’ve inadvertently written before. That president is Donald Tusk. Having confusingly similarly-named institutions is a great idea, guys. 

 

a few choice words from Valeri Simeonov

a few choice words from Valeri Simeonov

As Bulgaria gets ready to take up the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January, it’s time to hear from Valeri Simeonov – one of Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Ministers (in charge of economy and demographical policies), co-spokesman of the far-right United Patriots and head of the Bulgarian Council on Ethnic Minority Integration.

  • Speaking in an interview on October 31 with a cable television channel, Simeonov said that “bTV turned out to be like an infantile fatty with certain mental abnormalities put into a porcelain shop, not knowing what he is doing.”
  • After it emerged that a deputy minister from the United Patriots had been photographed giving a Hitler salute, Simeonov reportedly made comments to the effect that in the 1970s, he had been taken on a visit to Buchenwald and “Come to think of it, who knows what kind of joke photos we took there…can anyone say now, submit your resignation and go back to the village”.
    • Also, “Is that really a Nazi salute? On what basis should he be withdrawn – that he’s a Hitlerite or a member of the Nazi party? Nonsense.”
  • “I cannot allow a handful of Sorosoids to badger us while we are trying to solve important problems.”
  • “…it is indisputed that a large part of the Gypsy ethnicity lives beyond any laws, rules and general human norms of behaviour. For them, the laws do not apply, taxes and charges are incomprehensible concepts, electricity, water, social and health insurance bills have been replaced by the belief that they have only rights, but not obligations and responsibilities. What has created the belief in our swarthy compatriots that everything is allowed… and that everyone is obliged to feed, dress and treat them for free?”
    • Roma are also, in his opinion, “naked, self-confident and ferocious humanoids ready to murder, to steal a few leva.”
    • …and Roma also want “sickness benefits without being ill, child care for children who play with the pigs in the streets and maternal benefits for women with the instincts of street bitches”.
  • In 2013 his National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), in its platform, said it “initially envisages the abolition of all illegal structures in Gypsy ghettos and the creation with minimum resources of individual settlements outside the large settlements. Promotion of voluntary birth limitation through free contraceptives. The isolated settlements can be turned into a tourist attraction, which is a mass practice in the most developed democracies (Indian Reserves in the US, Aboriginal Settlements in Australia, Gypsy Settlements in the Czech Republic and Hungary, etc.).”

He also assaulted an elderly woman during a protest to stop Turks from crossing the border to vote in March’s elections. Oh, and he also just got convicted of breaking anti-discrimination legislation with some of his comments above about Roma.  Happy Friday!

 

Another quick look at Bulgaria’s “Gallup International” (aka Part II)

Another quick look at Bulgaria’s “Gallup International” (aka Part II)

I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember Bulgaria’s Gallup International (no, not that Gallup – the Gallup International “being sued by Gallup Inc. for using its name without authorization”), who very briefly popped into western headlines in March thanks to a Wall Street Journal article.

Published only days before the election, the article alleged that the pro-Kremlin Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) received a secret strategy document proposing, among other things, that they “promote exaggerated polling data” to help build momentum for the party and get them elected. Gallup International was specifically named in the article, and referred to by Bulgaria’s former ambassador to Moscow Ilian Vassilev as one of Moscow’s “Bulgarian proxies”; Vassilev, talking about a poll Gallup International published on an apparent lack of NATO support in Bulgaria, accused the polling agency of making a “wrapped-in-secrecy poll [that] had no details on methodology nor funding sources.”

Of course, the WSJ article wasn’t without its critics, myself included. One journalist in Bulgaria said the WSJ article “completely ignored all the internal political factors that led to the landslide victory of [President] Rumen Radev and focused only on Russian influence in elections,” which ultimately, in his opinion “backfired, instead of there being alarms for (legitimate) concerns about Russian involvement in Bulgaria.” (To say nothing of the role of the “crackpot outfit” at RISI apparently being involved in producing the document.)

Debates about the scope and scale of Russian influence in Bulgaria aside, I decided to take a look at polling data in Bulgaria leading up to the parliamentary election on March 26. Is there anything to support this idea that Gallup International and potentially other Bulgarian pollsters have used and promoted “exaggerated polling data” to benefit the BSP?

There might be.

Here’s a table of all the polls I’ve been able to find in 2017 leading up to the election, with levels of party support noted and the final actual election results at the bottom.

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(larger pdf of same chart here: Bulgaria polls)

Almost all polls from polling firms like Trend Research (3 of 3), Alpha Research (3 of 3, and, full disclosure, whose managing director I interviewed as part of my April piece for Coda Story) and Estat (2 of 3) showed Boyko Borisov’s GERB having a lead.

To break it further down (remembering that GERB ended up winning by 5.6%)

  • Trend Research: average GERB lead of 1.93%
  • Alpha Research: average GERB lead of 2.77%
  • Estat: average GERB lead of 3.47%

But the story’s pretty different with Gallup International, who one Bulgarian source described to me as “the main political/sociological advisor of the [BSP] at election time.” They published four polls during the campaign, only one of which showed GERB in the lead – their final poll, about a week before the vote, which showed GERB with only a 0.6% lead. On average, Gallup International’s polls showed an average BSP lead of 0.7% throughout the campaign.

Again, GERB ended up winning by 5.6%.

The numbers are even stranger for AFIS, a pollster run by Yuriy Aslanov, a sociologist who has sat on the BSP board. Both its polls showed the BSP in the lead by an average of 1.3%.

Again, GERB ended up winning by 5.6%.

In sum – a pollster that’s been accused as being part of an effort to “promote exaggerated polling data” on behalf of the party it’s linked to consistently showed results that played up the support for said party, contradicting most other polling firms’ results throughout the campaign. As a western observer and polling nerd who’s worked for multiple firms in Canada and the UK, I feel I’m in a position to confidently say this isn’t normal.

Of course, this all needs a few caveats. There’s absolutely no evidence of anyone cooking up numbers or anything like that – I am accusing no one of that. I’m also well aware of how statistics work and am well aware of the (however unlikely) possibility that these figures from Gallup International and AFIS are all down to random survey errors or even differences in methodology. Still, something’s off here.

Above all though, I’d stress this message to other journalists who haven’t had the pleasure of drowning a considerable part of their adult lives in SPSS – if some polling numbers look consistently very different from what other polling numbers are saying, ask why. Sometimes it’s an easy answer – a different, new methodology that may or may not pan out, a rogue poll (i.e., the one out of 20) or the polling firm just really sucks. But sometimes it’s not that simple.

A quick look at Bulgaria’s “Gallup International”

A quick look at Bulgaria’s “Gallup International”

Something in this WSJ story about Russian meddling in Bulgaria caught my eye – the bits about “exaggerated polling data” and this rather curiously-named polling firm:

“A Bulgarian polling company, Gallup International, which isn’t related to U.S. pollster Gallup Inc., accurately predicted Mr. Radev’s victory. The company, which is being sued by Gallup Inc. for using its name without authorization, also co-published a February poll that said citizens of four NATO members, including Bulgaria, would choose Russia, rather than NATO, to defend them if they were attacked. Those results were at odds with a similar poll by Gallup Inc., published a few days earlier, showing that most NATO members in Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, see the alliance as protection.

Gallup International didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“This wrapped-in-secrecy poll had no details on methodology nor funding sources,” said Ilian Vassilev, Bulgaria’s former ambassador to Moscow. “Russian media strategists and their Bulgarian proxies used the Western name to fool people about its credibility and spread their message.””

So I decided to take a quick look at Gallup International’s website, here. Without digging into the actual polls they do themselves, not much to comment on here.

Things are a bit more interesting on the affiliations page.

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Screenshot, March 24, 2017

First on their list of affiliations is the WIN/Gallup International, “made up of the 80 largest independent market research and polling firms in their respective countries.” It’s an affiliation I’ve never come across and has several members I’ve either never heard of or are minor players in their respective countries (not including Leger in Canada, who’s well established in Canada and, coincidentally, also part of ESOMAR), which I guess underscores the “independent” part of the description.

But it’s the ESOMAR bit which interests me most. ESOMAR is a large, well-respected international network of market research firms who abide by a code and guidelines on market research. Not everyone’s a member of ESOMAR (in fact, none of the big firms I worked for were members) but it’s a reassuring thing to see on a polling firm’s site if you know nothing about them.

But this is what you get when you do a search for Gallup International in the ESOMAR directory.

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Hmm. (Screenshot, March 24, 2017)

I double-checked the list of Bulgarian members to make sure I didn’t miss them. There are eight Bulgarian members of ESOMAR, according to the directory. Gallup International isn’t one of them.

Hmm.