Last weekend far-right, identitarian and neo Nazi activists from several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden, descended on the Bulgarian capital Sofia. They were joining their local Bulgarian counterparts, who included Kruv i Chest (Blood and Honour), National Resistance and Byal Front (White Front) for the annual “Lukov March”. This march commemorates Hristo Lukov leader of a pro-Nazi Bulgarian legion, who was assassinated by two Bulgarian anti-fascist partisans in February 1943.
The two partisans were Ivan Burudzhiev, who fired the first shot, and Violeta Yakova, a Sephardic Jewish communist who fired two more shots and killed him after the wounded Lukov fought back and shot Burudzhiev. Yakova was later hunted down by the Bulgarian security forces (she had also assassinated the pro-Nazi chief of the Bulgarian police). In June 1944, she was captured, tortured and killed in the city of Radomir. After the war she was recognised as a “national heroine” and a memorial statue stands in Radomir today
There were hundreds of counter-protesters to the Lukov march this year, organised through Antifa Sofia. They confirm that alongside openly Nazi parties there were participants from IMRO – the Bulgarian National Movement, who are part of the United Patriots alliance that is a partner in the Bulgarian government. More significantly for anti-racists and anti-fascists in Britain, IMRO are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group of the European Parliament that is dominated by Britain’s Conservative Party and the Polish Law and Justice Party – a party that has antagonised Jews within and beyond Poland with its Holocaust revisionism and outlawing of narratives that suggest there was collaboration by some Poles with the Nazis as they exterminated Jews. The Bulgarian IMRO have helped to mobilise for the Lukov march, alongside other ultra-nationalists and open antisemites, for several years running, yet they were welcomed into the Conservative Party’s European-group in 2014 by David Cameron.
Since Theresa May became leader in 2016, she has not questioned the participation of IMRO in the Conservatives’ Euro group, but has the gall to throw cheap accusations at the Labour Party, with regard to antisemitism, despite the Labour Party’s long record of involvement in anti-racist and anti-fascist causes.
The number of far-right and openly Nazi groups participating in the Sofia march last weekend (some of whom are banned in their own countries) is testimony to the alarming growth of Islamophobic, anti-Roma and antisemitic forces across Europe. All of them were boosted by Donald Trump’s election in America, and they benefit too from Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon’s, growing operations in Europe.
Statistics from surveys across Europe have shown a rise in antisemitic incidents ranging from physical threats and violent assaults, daubings of synagogues and cemeteries, to verbal abuse and incitement on social media. In pretty much every country concern about this is expressed first and foremost towards the governing party in each country. They are the people with the power to take action internally against far right groups, to promote educational work, and exert a positive influence on the national atmosphere towards one that promotes respect for minorities.
It is absolutely astounding that in Britain, where antisemitic incidents have been growing year on year recently under the watch of a Tory government, infamous for the hostile environment it has operated towards migrants and refugees, aided and abetted by the pro-Tory press, that undoubtedly boost the rhetoric of Far Right ideologues, that the fire has been misdirected away from the Tory Party and towards the Labour Party. It was misdirected there again yesterday, as one of the excuses for their door-slamming exercise by the Independent 7 who have splintered from the Labour Party.
They began to plan their departures in 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, a
democratic decision that they refused to accept then, and again in 2016 when he was emphatically elected again by the membership. And while they were busy denouncing the party they have just left, as “institutionally racist and antisemitic” at their somewhat shambolic launch, one of their number, Angela Smith, made a disgraceful racist comment. Equally disgracefully, the figure among the 7 who has made the biggest noise around antisemitism (Luciana Berger), has not even commented on her colleagues’ remark, which was broadcast live yesterday.
That is not to say there are no incidents connected with Labour Party members. There have been many allegations, though 40% of the incidents reported to the Labour Party since April last year, for which Labour members were being blamed, were found to have nothing to do with any Labour Party members, and in a further 20% of cases the investigations found no evidence of a case to answer. In the remaining 40% of cases, mostly to do with social media comments, including hyperbolic comments about the Israeli government and military’s racist and repressive actions, there have been a range of sanctions and 12 members were expelled.
Such hyperbolic comments, sometimes mixed in with antisemitic tropes, are undoubtedly hurtful and need to be exposed and challenged. They also taint rather than help the Palestinian cause they allegedly support, but can anyone seriously suggest that such social media comments compare in any way with the Tory Party’s openly hostile policies towards the Windrush generation and a range of migrants and refugees, that have seen them lose their livelihoods, become destitute and face forcible deportation? Or can unpleasant social media posts really compare with the Tory Party’s verifiable links and collaboration since 2014 with a party that has participated with neo-Nazis marching in Sofia not just last weekend but for several years in a row. We need to call out antisemitism wherever it appears, but we also need some perspective about where the real boost to the antisemites, racists and fascists in Britain and the wider world is coming from in 2019.