ECHR finds against Bulgaria in discrimination cases against Jews and Roma

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Bulgaria in two cases, one lodged by two Bulgarian Jews and one by two Roma people, over rulings against them in cases involving far-right politician Volen Siderov.

Plovdiv residents Gabriela Behar and Katrin Gutman, both Bulgarian Jews, approached the Strasbourg-based ECHR after courts in Bulgaria ruled against them in a case concerning  antisemitic remarks and Holocaust denial by Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right Ataka party in two books and public statements on television, in interviews and in speeches.

Behar and Gutman cited as the basis for their court action two articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, one the right to respect for private and family life (Art. 8), read in conjunction with the prohibition of discrimination (Art. 14).

In Bulgaria, the two had sought an application for a court order against Siderov, seeking an apology for his antisemitic remarks and that he refrain from such remarks in the future.

In a separate case, Kremena Budinova and Vasil Chaprazov, Bulgarians of Roma ethnicity, also had lodged court action against Siderov over numerous anti-Roma statements on television, radio and in public speeches.

They complained to the ECHR that by dismissing their claim against Siderov, the courts in Bulgaria had in effect legitimised his statements.

They also complained, citing the articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, that by dismissing the claim against Siderov and by referring to his assertions as a “fact” the Sofia District Court, whose judgment was upheld by the courts, in effect legitimised Siderov’s racist attitudes, displayed racial bias, denied the applicants a fair trial, and discriminated against them.

The ECHR found that the courts in Bulgaria had erred in their rulings in both cases.

It found that statements in the two books by Siderov, “The Power of Mammon” and “The boomerang of Evil” had meant to vilify Jews and stir up prejudice and hatred towards them.

Viewed in the light of those earlier statements and of the antisemitic discourse in which his political party had been engaging, Siderov’s statements at a pre-election rally and in Parliament could be seen as directed against, among others, Jews, the Court held.

In the case of Budinova and Chaprazov, Siderov’s statements had gone beyond being a legitimate part of public debate about ethnic relations and crime in Bulgaria “amounting as they did to extreme negative stereotyping meant to vilify Roma in that country and stir up hatred and prejudice towards them.”

“By in effect ascribing considerable weight to the politician’s freedom of expression in relation to the impugned statements, and by playing down their effect on the applicants’ right to respect for private life as respectively ethnic Jews and ethnic Roma living in Bulgaria, the domestic courts had failed to carry out the requisite balancing exercise in line with the [ECHR’s] case-law,” the court said.

“By refusing to grant the applicants redress in respect of the politician’s discriminatory statements, they had failed to comply with their positive obligation to respond adequately to discrimination on account of the applicants’ ethnic origin and to secure respect for their ‘private life,” the Court said.

The ECHR ordered the Bulgarian state to pay 2762.53 euro to Behar and Gutman for costs and expenses, and 2900 euro to Budinova and Chaprazov for costs and expenses.

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