Public Attitudes towards Hate Speech in Bulgaria in 2013

Hate speech is a widespread phenomenon in Bulgarian public life. In the last year nearly half of the Bulgarian citizens (45.6%) have witnessed statements expressing disapproval of, hatred or aggression against representatives of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. These statements were predominantly aimed at Roma, Turks and homosexuals. This is what the data from a representative study, carried out by Open Society Institute – Sofia in July this year, reveal. The data were presented to the participants in the “Hate Speech and the Role of Civil Society” Conference, organized within the second annual meeting of NGO Programme in Bulgaria under the EEA Financial Mechanism.
According to the study during the past year about one third of the respondents have heard public statements that may incite to violence against representatives of the minorities. “This means that hate speech is not just widespread, but it is also characterized by high intensity of the criminal message, which reaches a large group of the population”, Ivanka Ivanova, Legal Program Director of Open Society Institute, says.
Hate speech is mainly spread by means of television. Approximately 75% of the respondents who witnessed hate speech have heard it on television. According to them the main speakers of hate speech are politicians (about 68% are of that opinion) and journalists (over 32% think so). The internet is the second significant media in terms of spreading hate speech among the young and the educated.
The majority of the citizens (86 %) do not approve the public use of words and phrases expressing disapproval of, hatred or aggression against representatives of minorities. 58% of the respondents think the state should protect the representatives of the Roma community, homosexuals and foreigners against such hostile speech, and between 66% and 73% of the respondents are of the opinion that the prosecutor’s office should prosecute politicians and journalists resorting to hate speech or advocating aggressive nationalism.
Meanwhile, one third of the citizens are not aware that hate speech is a crime, and more than a half of the respondents would not report to the police if they hear public speech expressing disapproval of, hatred or aggression against minorities or representing a form of aggressive nationalism.
About the study 
The study of Open Society Institute – Sofia was carried out in the period July 5-16, 2013 according to the method of direct standardized interviews among 1155 citizens aged 18 or over. The sample is nationally representative and the respondents are selected according to the cluster sample model, stratified in terms of regions and type of center of population (city/town/village).
The study of Open Society Institute – Sofia coincided with the moment when the refugee wave from the conflict in Syria reached the Bulgarian borders. According to data of the State Agency for Refugees in the period January–August 2013 five times more foreigners seeking protection were registered in the country as compared to the same period of 2012. In the period September-November 2013 the issue attracted great media and political attention. At the same time the use of hate speech against refugees escalated.