Nine months ago, in Sofia, Bulgaria, a 21 year-old Australian named Jock Palfreeman was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder, following an altercation between Jock and a small group of Bulgarians on the streets of the capital. Jock maintains that he is innocent, and that the death of 20-year-old student Andrei (Andrey) Monov, and injury to Antoan Zahariev (19) — both of whom Jock admits he stabbed — were the result of acts of self-defence. According to Jock, on the night of December 28, upon leaving a bar, on Stambolijski Boulevard he witnessed a group of Bulgarian men beating a Gypsy (Roma), and intervened in order to end the assault. Subsequently, the group turned on him, and he drew his knife. In the ensuing melee, Jock stabbed the two men, one of whom later died.
Jock’s court case commenced in May, and is continuing. The prosecution case appears to rest on the testimony of the dead man’s friends, as video footage of the confrontation has been lost. According to the prosecution, Jock attacked the group of young men without provocation — “police say… an unprovoked frenzied attack on a public street” — and probably while drunk or under the influence of (other) drugs. His defence, at this point, rests upon the testimony of other witnesses, who confirm the broad outlines of Jock’s account, and the existence of a Romany (which Andrei’s friends deny outright).
Jock’s case is complicated by the existence of ultra-nationalist currents in Bulgaria, and the fact that the dead man, Andrei Monov, was acknowledged by his father, in court, as being a right-wing nationalist and as believing in ‘Bulgaria for the Bulgarians’. Secondly, and intimately tied to Bulgarian ultra-nationalism, is the existence of a strong current of anti-Roma feeling: according to this view, Roma are not Bulgarian, and do not belong in the country. Finally, Jock claims to have been assaulted by ‘nationalists’ in Bulgaria on a number of prior occasions, and that this was the reason for his carrying a knife.
Please note that, contrary to Marnie O’Neill’s claim (The Daily Telegraph, January 20, 2008), this blog is not “run by Palfreeman’s close friends”. In fact, this blog is “run” by one person; I have never met Jock; and I knew nothing of his existence until I read of his arrest in December, 2007. My interest in his case, therefore, derives from my more general interest in monitoring the activities of the far right, particularly, but not exclusively, within Australia.
- For further information, please see:
Happy New Year, Suckers! // Justice 4 Jock, January 1, 2008
Palfreeman not scared, did duty (says Mister Miranda), January 7, 2008
‘Murder accused has star status’ (Er… Marnie? Um…), January 20, 2008
Jock Palfreeman : Update, February 6, 2008
Jock Palfreeman in court, May 22, 2008
Dad’s bid to free murder charge son Jock Palfreeman, July 8, 2008
Man Shoots Neo-Nazi in Self-Defense, September 23, 2008
Recently, Organise has published a survey of emerging ultra-nationalist and fascist currents in Bulgaria, and reading it provides some further background to Jock’s case, as well as demonstrates, I think, that his account of previous harassment, and being witness to an apparent assault upon a Roma, if not proven, is still not improbable. See also this video, titled ‘Special treatment for bulgarian anarchist’, dated December 6, 2007, and apparently showing footage of a gang of Bulgarian fascists harassing an elderly Bulgarian anarchist:
In June 2007, boneheads attacked fans at the Tangra Mega rock concert, injuring several (among the headline acts on June 20, 2007 @ Universiada Hall, Sofia, Bulgaria was the English punk band The Exploited).
Bulgaria and “Bulgarisation”
The example of Bulgaria is illustrative of the continuing problems in the peninsula. Bulgaria is a country of nearly eight million people, with a history of toleration of minorities and with a substantial Roma and ethnic Turk population. For years, even under the Ottoman rule that was endured for nearly five centuries, ethnic Bulgarians and ethnic Turks could live [as neighbours]. The program of the Bulgarian Central Revolutionary Committee, the 1870s organisation for the liberation of the country, forbade Bulgarians from attacking ordinary Turkish citizens in the struggle for independence. This stability continued into the 1980s until Todor Zhivkov, the infamous ruler for the majority of the People’s Republic’s life, started a campaign for “Bulgarisation” of the Turks in Bulgaria, forcing them to change their names, resulting in almost 300,000 leaving the country. The mid-to-late 1980s climate of terrorism by ethnic Turks, police actions against whole villages in their drive to “Bulgarise” them, and then the sudden collapse of the monolithic state threw things wide into the open. Rampant privatisation and ineffectual government in the nineties left a legacy of division that simply did not exist before. Many Roma families, left without the jobs provided for them under communism, fell into poverty and crime. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) monopolised the Turkish vote and has been an element of every coalition government since its inception. Unemployment rose generally.
Latent nationalism lifts its head
It was, in short, a good climate for latent nationalism to come to the fore – one that was present since the 1980s. The National Union Ataka is the natural outgrowth of this. This is a party that was created only two months before the 2005 legislative elections, a coalition of insignificant right-wing and ex-communist splinters. It managed to win 9% of the popular vote in June of that year, bagging 21 seats out of 240 in parliament. Little, you might say, but considering it was running against parties with decades long histories such as the Socialist Party (BSP) or ones that had already had a stint in office such as the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII), it is no mean feat. What’s more, its leader – Volen Siderov – managed to poll 25% at the presidential elections of 2006. He was the only candidate apart from the winner, Georgi Parvanov, who made it to the second round, brought about by low voter turnout. For a party that is based around a strong Fuhrerprinzip (leader principle akin to that in Nazi Germany), that is significant.
This use of evocative language by the author is of course, deliberate. The party has been called fascist by many, and its members do appropriate the jackbooted style of many ultranationalist groupings. A closer examination of its stances, set out in the “20 Points of Ataka”, reveals a nationalist, populist party. What are its main currents? At the heart of Ataka’s political program lies a statement that Bulgaria is a monolithic, one-nation state, indivisible along ethnic or religious lines. The party also attacks the MRF and the national channel’s news in Turkish indirectly by stating that the national language is Bulgarian only, and that any ethnic parties should be prohibited. The party also supports an ill-defined criminalisation of verbal attacks on national “holies”. On economic issues, it supports a protectionist policy and state provision of health, social security and “spiritual and material prosperity” for all citizens. The party aims for isolationist foreign policies, including a withdrawal from NATO, operations in the Middle East and the expulsion of US bases from national soil. Quite apart from that, unofficially but widely supported, is the inclusion of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in political decisions – a de-facto merging of state and church.
What emerges is a party that cleverly combines populist policies designed to appeal to both business people and the common person on economic grounds, and taps into cultural chauvinism that is an expression of dissatisfaction on the part of many Bulgarians with the current state of affairs. It is easy to blame Romas for crimes and the West for poor conditions, and whipping up the historical Turkish threat is also popular. Calling to spirituality, which is on the upswing in this traditionally conservative country, is also a good source of support. The official program of Ataka is worrying enough – it would create a state based on ethnic supremacy where other ethnic groups would not be allowed to be heard in the political process.
Privately, things are worse. The author himself has seen the graffiti – “all gypsies into soap” – and a visit to the forums of Ataka’s newspaper would reveal what its members really want. Complete social regression is the norm of the day, the ideals of Christianity imposed on all society; scapegoating of the traditional suspects – Romas and ethnic Turks – which goes hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism (which Siderov himself is guilty of in his various books). Ataka is not a fascist party then – if it was it would by easy for people to dismiss it. It is an ultranationalist entity that has addressed real poverty, income disparity, crime and corruption at the highest levels of politics in radical ways – nationalisation, exclusion of foreign business in preference for domestic firms, for example. At the same time it has taken unofficial harsh actions against ethnic minorities and has branded the current government as one of Turks and not Bulgarians. Centred around a charismatic ‘strong’ and ‘intelligent’ leader figure with a sharp tongue, the party is rallying social conservatism and economic promises that hark back to an almost quasi-Communist state of the nostalgic yesteryear. Alongside Christianity and populist history that is directed against “those other Bulgarians – the Macedonians” the party has a strong base from which to build on.
The consequences would be disastrous, of course. Bulgaria is not faced with the same problems that Serbia is – sectarian troubles – but it has a very sizable and growing Roma population while the nominally Bulgarian population is facing a demographic collapse, a Roma population that, it has to be noted, was not forced to revert to crime when they had housing, educational and job prospects in the years of Communism (not to excuse that state of affairs, of course). But rational debate is thin on the ground in Bulgaria. The popular media is distinctly patriotic, as in the popular history show of Bozhidar Dimitrov that champions any Bulgarian achievement with little academic justification, plus Ataka with its own channel. People find it easier to blame others rather than take action themselves. You might say that the election results show little, yet the voter turnout has always been extremely low – under 50% – and Ataka can only grow, with many of the voters who didn’t support the party in 2005 now turning towards it. The last polls in Bulgaria showed the party second in popularity only to the ruling Socialists. When the generation of the “red grandmas” – the elderly who vote Socialist out of nostalgia and promises of social security – leaves the political scene, and with some flocking to a party that is also promising pensions, who knows what might happen?
What we are facing is quite frankly a quiet nationalism rising up in a country that, for the Balkans, is stable and on the upsurge in economic terms. This nationalism threatens civil war between ethnic groups, even if a Kosovo scenario is unlikely because there are no real regions in the country that could secede or are likely to do so (even where ethnic Bulgarians are the minority). Time will tell. The next legislative elections will show whether the nationalist party have retained their appeal. But as long as it manages to play at its populist game while the establishment does nothing to address organised crime and corruption among its own ranks, the mentality of the population is unlikely to change. With the centre and centre-right of the political spectrum fractured in a way that we only think Communists can follow, there are few alternatives to the status quo in a political sense. Whilst everyone looks to Serbia or the Caucuses for the obvious signs of nationalism and ethnic trouble – as has been fashionable for a long time – a quiet, ‘unfashionable’ force is arising in a country that the EU would like to portray as a model for the Western Balkans…
~ ‘Unfashionable Balkan nationalism? The rise of ultranationalist politics in Bulgaria’, Organise, No.70, Summer 2008