Ataka's views are a hodgepodge of Russian Orthodox fundamentalism, European anti-Semitism, and a local brand of venomous nationalism
Issue 3, December 2006
by Albena Shkodrova; photography by BTA
Is Volen Siderov a Bulgarian version of Haider or Zhirinovsky? Does his good showing in the first round of the residential election parallel the rise of Le Pen in France? Are all the 600,000 Bulgarians who voted for him racists and xenophobes?
When Siderov came second in the Bulgarian presidential election on 22 October, local and international analysts gave worrying answers to these questions. Siderov and his far-right party Ataka were dubbed everything from "extremist", "anti-Semite", "anti-European" and "xenophobic" by the French newspaper Le Monde, to a "natural disaster" by Bulgarian daily Standart, and "fascist" by political scientist Andrey Raychev.
Siderov and his cronies rebuffed all such categorisations. These ultra-nationalists reiterated their slogan "To return Bulgaria to the Bulgarians" and claimed that they were only trying to "awaken" the citizens. They fiercely resented being called fascist.
On the night following the first round of the election, viewers of the Bulgarian National Television channel witnessed a pathetic verbal duel. Ataka's deputy chairman Pavel Shopov confronted a reporter for labelling his party "fascist". "Lots of the media say it is," was the reporter's lame response.
Not that there isn't anything to support the reporter's view. Siderov is an advocate of the theory of a global Jewish conspiracy, as promulgated by the Nazis. He wants to curb minorities' rights and has been indicted by a court for incitement to racial hatred. He has been photographed with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan and is a passionate proponent of xenophobic views. In his "Bulgaria to the Bulgarians" policy, his opponents say that he implies that ethnic and sexual minorities are inferior.
But the reporter's bewilderment was an expression of many Bulgarians' confusion. Unlike citizens in the developed democracies, Bulgarians had not had experience of far-right political extremism before the spring of last year, and they still have difficulty in identifying it clearly. As a German newspaper felicitously put it, Bulgaria is an old culture with new problems. To add to the confusion, not only does Siderov blatantly reject the labels the press bestow on him, he denies much of what he has been quoted as saying, in public interviews and in court.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers