Public Attitudes towards Hate Speech in Bulgaria in 2014

Hate speech is a widespread phenomenon in Bulgaria. This year nearly half of the Bulgarian citizens have heard statements expressing disapproval of, hate for or aggression towards representatives of minority groups, and one in four Bulgarians has heard statements which could allegedly lead to the use of violence against such representatives. 2014 marked an increase in the number of social groups which are perceived as an object of hate speech and most likely to become victims of hate crimes. In 2013 these social groups were three – Roma, Turks and homosexuals. In 2014 the Roma remain the main group perceives as an object of hate speech, but there are already five, not three, minorities that stand out as most affected – Roma, Turks, homosexuals, foreigners and Muslims.
These are some of the findings in the Public Attitudes towards Hate Speech in Bulgaria in 2014 report of Open Society Institute – Sofia. The report contains data of two nationally representative surveys (2013 and 2014) aiming to establish the degree of spreading of and the public attitudes towards hate speech.
2014 saw the rapid spread of hate speech against foreigners. The share of those who have heard hate speech against foreigners has grown from 5% to 20% in a year. Undoubtedly, the problem is connected with the influx of refugees and immigrants in the country as a result of the ongoing military conflict in Syria and affects mostly the areas near Sofia and of the South-central Planning Region. The development and organization of active public campaigns aiming to limit hate speech towards asylum seekers in this region, together with the capital, should be a priority.

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.