Will real sanctions follow MEPs outraged tweets over Dzhambazki’s fascist salute in the European Parliament?

18 February 2022

By Bernard Rorke

European parliamentarians expressed outrage at Bulgarian MEP Angel Dzhambazki’s fascist salute, following his intervention during a rule-of-law debate in Strasbourg. He accused the EU of trying to shame Hungary and Poland, described the ruling of the European Court of Justice as driven by “hate for nation states”, and declared: “Long live Orbán, Fidesz, Kaczyński, Bulgaria, and our nation state. Long live Europe, the Europe of nations.”   

In a tweet following the debate, where the vice-president of the European Parliament, Italy's Pina Picierno, described the parliament as a “living monument of democracy against barbarism and fascism," she condemned the incident and asked for “this shameful and unacceptable gesture to be sanctioned." 

The French government’s secretary of state for European affairs Clement Beaune, who was present as part of his country’s EU presidency, called the gesture “scandalous and outrageous” on Twitter.

From the right of center European People’s Party, German MEP Manfred Weber condemned the salute "in the harshest possible terms" in a tweet, and called for immediate sanctioning. The President of the Parliament, the EPP’s Roberta Metsola tweeted that "a fascist salute in the European Parliament is unacceptable to me -- always and everywhere", and according to Politico is already set to launch a sanctions procedure against Dzhambazki.

It is to be hoped that the Parliament will impose the strongest sanctions possible against Dzhambazki, who accused fellow MEPs of ‘libel and defamation’, and in an email to his colleague seen by Politico, described the incident as a ‘small misunderstanding’, and the gesture as a humble wave. It is to be hoped that the Parliament doesn’t fall for any such feeble excuses, and makes up for their failures to take action against Dzhambazki in the past. 

‘The mask slips’ 

Italian MEP Sandro Gozi, whom Dzhambazki had targeted in the chamber, said: “The mask slips. Every time we discuss democracy and the rule of law, the nationalists and the extreme right remind us of their motto: intolerance and provocation.”  

Dzhambazki is no stranger to controversy, in 20 May 2021 during a plenary debate on Roma equality and inclusion, the Bulgarian MEP stated: “Rights should go along with obligations. Obligations to learn, to work, to seek work, not to commit crimes, not to steal, not to kill elderly people, not to rape elderly old women(…) there is no integration for people who do not want to be integrated”

The Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) request that action be taken against Dzhambazki for anti-Roma hate speech went unheeded, as did an earlier protest by ARDI on the grounds that the application of Rule 10 on MEPs’ conduct “shall not otherwise detract from the liveliness of parliamentary debates, nor shall it undermine Members‘ freedom of speech”.

Dzambazki willfully courts notoriety with frequent outbursts of hate speech. As reported by Balkan Insight in 2017, his racist statements prompted an online petition calling on the European Parliament to penalize him for spreading “aggressive anti-Roma propaganda” in the parliament, in the media and on social networks.”

In 2016, protests by anti-racist MEPs called for sanctions against Dzambazki for his racist hate speech, which they deemed to be in direct violation of democratic principles, and especially dangerous and irresponsible in this very charged political context. Soraya Post, then Co-President of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) in a letter to the head of the ECR group stated that, “Mr Dzhambazki has in the past few weeks openly called for a civil war against Roma in Bulgaria in an article authored by him as well as engaged in hate speech online against Roma people, Muslims and LGBTI people.”

Dzhambazki’s Dark Materials

Lest MEPs be inclined to give Dzhambazki yet another pass, and accept that his fascist salute was a ‘humble wave’, below is a few examples of his ‘dark materials’. This is a glimpse of what 21st Century racism and neo-fascism really looks like. This is what should cause outrage across social media:   

  • On 18 March 2020, Dzhambazki publicly called for a complete shutdown of Roma neighbourhoods: “Think about whether or not the ghettos will turn out to be the real nests of infection” because ‘Gypsies have a very low health culture’ and ‘have no personal hygiene’
  • On a radio interview, where he condemned those organisations which defend Roma as ‘anti-Bulgarian traitors’, Dzhambazki stated: “If you leave the gypsies free to walk up and down and probably spread the infection, it is mild to say ill-advised, mild to say irregular, mild to say beyond any logic. Gypsies are engaged in begging, theft and prostitution.”
  • In 2017, he referred to Roma as ‘primates’, and stated that Bulgarian society has “conveniently taught them not to work and leaves them unpunished for paedophilia, prostitution, drugs and whatever other evil doings you can imagine.”
  • That same year, referring to interethnic clashes, Dzhambazki stated: “The Gypsies are free to kill Bulgarians in domestic disputes. This is part of their lifestyle. That excuses them. This is part of their gypsy uniqueness.” As for European Union recommendations for Bulgaria to step up efforts on integration, Dzambazki retorted: “Tell me something about integration. About tolerance. About ‘liberalism’. About ‘humanism’ … And I will tell you how to use a rope.” 

The ERRC has followed the career of Angel Dzambazki for some years. As a leading member of the extremist VMRO, Dzhambazki has also been involved in campaigns to secure the release of criminals connected to the Bulgarian neo-Nazi scene - Nikolai Yovev and Dimiter Lazarov. Yovev, a well-known football ultra and political extremist, was arrested in 2012 in connection with bombing of aEuroRoma political office and the murder of a Rom who died as a result of the explosion. VMRO claimed that the accusations against Yovev constituted “repression against nationalists”, and actually nominated him for parliament prior to the 2013 election in an attempt to secure his release, while Dzhambazki attended several protests against Yovev’s detention.

Similar tactics were used to attempt to secure the release of Dimiter Lazarov, a VMRO member with ties to nazi groups such as Blood and Honour and National Resistance, who was arrested in connection with a violent attack on left-wing demonstrators. VMRO nominated the right-wing extremist for office prior to the 2014 parliamentary election, and Dzhambazki personally attended the trial and publically defended Lazarov.

It is to be hoped that this fascist salute controversy will finally prompt the European Parliament to take action against Dzhambazki, since years of unabashed anti-Roma racism have gone completely unpunished.  Dzhambazki, with his hate speech, incitement to racist violence, and close links with violent neo-Nazi extremists,  embodies all the poison and prejudices stirring in the dark side of our democracies. Beyond outraged tweets, the honourable MEPs need to demonstrate to the citizens of the Union, that there is no place in our parliament for racism or neo-fascism.


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