Religious Hatred and the Role of the State [in Bulgaria]

By Viktor Kostov

Published initially in Dnevnik, a daily Bulgarian newspaper, on April 25, 2011, after a violent attack on Jehova’s Witnesses building and assembly indoors in the Bulgarian city of Burgas
Link to video UNAVAILABLE )

The attack on a religious minority in Burgas is not accidental. Violence against people who had gathered peacefully, without weapons, indoors, on their private property by hooligans whose supreme achievement is to mentally distinguish the colors of their favorite team and that of the opponent and to consider whether the match result is a loss or win.

When under the guise of its power the state violates its own laws the result is violence and division in society.

The report by the State Agency “National Security” (SANS) for 2010 puts “non-traditional religious communities” in the category of “extremism and unconstitutional activity;” they are classified as indirect threat to national security, but a direct threat to national unity.

From what happened in Burgas on 17 April 2011, it is clear that the threat to public order and democratic structure of the country are not the “non-traditional religious community” of Jehovah’s Witnesses but rather the instigators of violence against them. However, the seeds of this violence are sown earlier, and by the authorities.

In 2008 the municipality of Burgas and Ministry of Interior (Commission for fight against the delinquency of minors) sent a letter to all schools requiring its content to be made available to all students and to provide feedback on how principals have satisfied this post-communist “party- state” assignment.

The letter contained “information,” which describes “the three main and most dangerous sects in Bulgaria.” Listed here are the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical-Protestant Christians. In subsequent talks between the municipality and the pastors and leaders of evangelical churches in Burgas has become clear that the SANS is behind this initiative.

In a meeting with the local head of department in the National Security Agency in 2008 he did not deny his agency’s participation in the antireligious propaganda campaign. On the contrary, they had received “complaints” [against the sects] and it would be good for pastors to know that.

When we compare the text and the message of the municipal police initiative in 2008 and the report of the National Security Agency for 2010, it is clear that the thinking, the tone, terminology, summaries are almost identical.

Of course, the state or the secret services cannot come to the fore in organizing such a ruffian attack. The question that stands is how hard it is for the secret services to organize and motivate a group such as the one that carried out the attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses on 17 April in Burgas, without the organized even realizing it.

Because of this question the management of SANS should convince the public that despite its antireligious rhetoric and report, they have not contributed to the realization of the sectarian violence on 17 April.

The role of SANS is helping to protect the constitutional order and the values ​​of the democratic (i.e. “popular”) society, and not some vague and invisible to the public perceptions and ideological interests.

Notable is also the sluggish reaction of “our police” that “protects us,” as a pop-folk star sings praises, sealed on the video, [of the] assailants … in Burgas. Policemen walk around as if they attend just a verbal confrontation between two groups of peaceful protesters, rather than a scene of crime in progress, which must be stopped and the perpetrators captured.

The video distributed on the Internet is a record of several crimes committed under the Criminal Code – against the person, against private property, violations of privacy of those categories, criminal breach of freedom of religion, violations of the Law on Religious Confessions.

In addition to those crimes committed because of religious hatred, there are others – incitement to a crime against the person because of religion or belief, and threats – one the video one can clearly hear the cheers among the crowd: “freaks,” “there will be no prayer,” “we will stab you.”

Paradoxically, there are no detained and accused for the perpetration of these crimes.

People uncritically given over to some nationalism of unclear definition are among those who can quickly and easily be won over for the “cause:” to show strength in winning the “theological” argument with the doctrine of the “sects” – due to the lack of strength of argument, or even due to ignorance about what the arguments actually are.

But although another puppeteer of the registered violence on religious grounds transpires, the direct instigators and perpetrators should be brought before the law for their actions.

Prosecutors should immediately carry out the motions required to bring the perpetrators before the law. If the authorities fulfill their legal obligation they will indicate that there should be no escalation of violence against dissenters of thought or belief, especially given that they assemble peacefully and exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and expression.

Otherwise, the real threat to constitutional and democratic order – not sects, but terror against the different beliefs, practices will receive approval of the authorities.

As to the speeches of Vice-Chairman of IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, who organized the rally, ed. note), that the people’s emotions boiled over and therefore expressed their anger against the “dangerous sects” because the state did not do anything, it is just pulling the wool over our eyes. Honoring the “ones who perished at the hands of the sects”?

In what reality does he live? Let him demonstrate what the “danger” of “sects” is and with solid, credible evidence, other than that they differ in thought, and then we will take him seriously. Currently he and his organization should apologize and express regret for the violence and crimes committed because of religious hatred, rather than justifying them.

Unfortunately, in the incident which took place it is evident that there is a lack of clarity in the categories – what is legal and what not. The meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses was lawful, the participants in the violent mobs’ actions were criminal.

The role of government according to the Bible is to punish the bad people.

Even to people who do not believe in the Bible, common sense says that the role of secular government is actually to ensure order and security for members of the society under its jurisdiction, regardless of their beliefs. In the end, both “sectarians” and “orthodox” (however inappropriate those terms in this case) support the state administration with their taxes.

When will, finally, this simple truth be understood by the state authorities – local and central? As to the essence of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology there is a time, place and manner of keeping the private and public debate going. But it does not include violence against the person, property and dignity of man.

Viktor Kostov, Ph.D., an attorney, is the publisher and editor of the online magazine for freedom of conscience, religion and the word “Freedom for All” –, (limited issues in English).

Link to the original publication:

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