Despite its broad spread, hate speech is a phenomenon which is not recognized as a separate problem by citizens. They do not discern hostile speech from the general background of aggressive and evil-minded political statements.
However, in Bulgaria there is a clear majority (85% of the respondents) which does not approve the use in public space of statements expressing hate, aggression or disapproval in terms of minorities – 54% express their strong disapproval and 31% rather do not approve it. The disapproval of the use of hate speech towards different minorities varies, but in any case over 64% of the respondents do not approve of the use of hate speech towards any on the minorities specified. There is a considerable share of people (58%) who think the state should protect the minorities against hate speech, and almost as many people are of the opinion the prosecutor’s office and the police should prosecute heat speech as a crime.
The support of the criminal prosecution, however, remains somewhat abstract. More than half of the people would not inform the police if they become witnesses of hate speech. This shows the pressing need of taking special measures on the part of the prosecutor’s office and the police in order to increase the overall confidence in these institutions and in particular to encourage the victims and witnesses of hate crimes to report them.
Apparently, in 2014 there is a growing public awareness that hate speech and hate crimes are crimes, i.e. they represent a socially dangerous and illegal behavior. The share of the people who know that preaching and inciting to national hostility or hate is a crime has increased from 70% to 77%. Most probably this is the result of the stronger opposition against such acts demonstrated by different groups of human rights protection NGOs and active citizens. Nevertheless, still more than 20% of the citizens are not aware that preaching and inciting to ethnic and religious hatred and discriminations is a crime.
The results of the survey clearly show the necessity of developing and adopting a nationwide policy on limiting hate speech and engaging the national institutions with its implementation.
The survey was financed by the Complimentary actions Fund of the NGO Program in Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2009-2014. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are solely the responsibility of the authors and should by no means be interpreted as reflecting the standpoint of the Open Society Institute – Sofia, the donor countries or the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area.