Public attitudes to hate speech in Bulgaria in 2018


Hate speech is a common and permanently established phenomenon in the Bulgarian political and media landscape. In 2018 about half of the respondents in a nationally representative public opinion survey (51%) reported they had heard in the last 12 months public statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression towards ethnical, religious or sexual minority groups. These results remained almost unchanged in the last five years, though they mark an insignificant fall compared to 2016 when 58% of the respondents declared that they had heard such statements.

These are the main findings from a nationally representative survey carried out by Open Society Institute – Sofia in the spring of 2018. It is the fourth survey carried out in the last five years registering the trends in the public attitudes towards hate speech in Bulgaria. The data from the survey is summarized in a report “Public attitudes to hate speech in Bulgaria in 2018”.

According to the report the Roma remain steadily regarded as the main target of hate speech. In the four surveys carried out since 2013, the highest share among people who have heard hate speech reported that it was directed towards representatives of the Roma community. In 2018, this share dropped to 81% of the registered peak of 92% in 2016. In 2018, the share of people reporting that they had encountered hate speech towards most of the other groups surveyed, including Turks, Muslims and foreigners decreased. At the same time, however, the share of people who report they have heard statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression towards homosexuals has doubled since 2016 (from 21% in 2016 to 42% from all who have heard hate speech in 2018).

In 2018 gay people were the second minority group most affected by hate speech, following closely the Roma. This finding coincides with the heated public debates about the failed ratification of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (The Istanbul Convention). Our observations over the last five years show that the spread of hate speech has evolved in stages that have been directly tied to the political situation and in different periods have affected different minorities while feeding a permanent sense of anxiety and tension in the public.

Even though the highest share of people who have heard hate speech during the year report that they have heard it on television, the demographic group breakdown shows that the access to Internet is the main precondition for more frequent incidence of hate speech: the social groups which have easier access to the Internet (young, educated, living in Sofia people) report considerably more frequent encounters with hate speech than the national average and compared to the groups that have low use of internet (elderly, less educated, living in villages people). In comparative terms, the importance of television as a channel for dissemination of hate speech is steadily decreasing: if in 2013 75% of those who have heard hate speech have encountered it on television, in 2018 their share fell to 56%. For the same period, the share of people who say they have encountered hate speech on the Internet increases more than twice: from 18% in 2013 to 40% in 2018. The importance of public places (restaurants, cafes, public transport) as places for encountering hate speech has also increased.

Survey data show that a considerable majority of the citizens (77% in 2018) disapprove of the use of public statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression towards representatives of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. Only 14% of the respondents approve of these statements. The majority of citizens (63%) also believe that the prosecutor’s office should initiate criminal proceedings against politicians and journalists who propagate aggressive nationalism as well as those who publicly express disapproval, hatred or aggression against minorities (57%). Public approval of financial measures to counteract hate speech is also high: in 2018, as in 2016, the majority of the respondents (64%) agree that the state should withdraw public funding from political parties whose leaders use hate speech. Some 57% were in favour of withdrawing public funding from media whose journalists make statements expressing disapproval, hatred or aggression towards various minorities.

The lack of criminal convictions in flagrant cases of hate speech leads to reducing public support to the penal policy as a means of counteracting hate speech. In 2018 the share of those who know that hate speech and violence motivated by ethnic, racial or religious hatred is a crime decreased and it was at its lowest level for the last 5 years. Meanwhile, the share of those who would report to the police in case they have witnessed public use of hate speech also decreased – from 26% (in 2014) to 17% (in 2018). Approval of prosecution of politicians and journalists who use publicly hate speech also diminished (the number of those who agree that there should be prosecution in such cases fell from 66% in 2013 to 57% in 2018). Similarly, the number of those who agree with conviction and prosecution of aggressive nationalism has declined by the same share – for five years there has been a 10% drop in those who agree that aggressive nationalism should be prosecuted (from 73% in 2013 to 63 % in 2018).

“The law enforcement authorities ought to encourage the reporting of hate speech as a crime and ought to strengthen trust of certain minority groups in their impartiality and competence”, the author of the report Dr. Ivanka Ivanova said. At the same time, in her opinion, a national policy aimed at combating hate speech should not count only on the law enforcement authorities. The education system has also a key role here (through improving civic education and media literacy) as well as the introduction of measures against hate speech in the administrative regulation of the provision of public funding to political parties and media.

Full text of the report Public attitudes to hate speech in Bulgaria in 2018

 The report “Public attitudes to hate speech in Bulgaria in 2018”, mentioned here, used data from a nationally representative public opinion survey carried out in April 2018. The study was designed, implemented and financed by the Open Society Institute – Sofia. From 1200 planned interviews in 2018, 1179 were performed. The standard error with 50% sample proportion and 95% confidence level was ± 2,8%. The report also used data from previous studies carried out with a similar methodology in July 2013, June – July 2014, April – May 2016. All surveys were carried out based on a standard questionnaire and the method of a face-to-face interview. The respondents were selected among adult citizens of the country by means of probabilistic and two-stage cluster sample stratified by administrative districts (NUTS III) and type of settlement (city/village).